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Guest Column

Tio Sam wants Hispanics – go to war and assimilate

 By Elsa Salazar Cade

 The U.S. military sees that Hispanic Americans are patriotic and grateful.  That makes our sons and daughters more likely to be targets for recruitment when others have decided to give the war in Iraq a pass.  One of the arguments used to recruit is that going into the military will give Hispanic youth a hand in assimilating into American life.  Well, gosh, we have been in America for hundreds on years, so what gives.  As I have said in previous articles, our men and women have gone into uniform in defense of America for several generations.  But, we still struggle to get adequate funding for schools that serve our children. As long as that young person is in uniform he/she is ok.  Take them out of uniform and watch out, third generation Americans are looked upon as dirty illegal immigrants by the Minutemen types and the likes of Lou Dobbs.

     There are those who argue that going into the military helps with getting higher education.  Unfortunately there is a catch to this idea.  One must truly be realistic about how young people develop and the stages that young adults proceed through.  As people we grow and learn though our experience.  Our experience changes us and our mind and bodies continue along a path that is nurtured.  Train a soldier you get a soldier.  Train a biologist you get a biologist. This is the crux of the problem.  Please read Lizette Alvarez's piece below. 


      Please consider that when you are young person, you don’t want to do your homework but you do.  You don’t want to listen to the teacher, but you do.  There is a stage in a young person’s life where they see themselves as a “student”. They know they have to devote time to hit the books and write essays that combine their own thoughts with information they have glean from their studies. This is a powerful ability, but it takes dedication.  But the payoff is huge, but the payoff is also somewhat delayed.  Make no mistake however, that the payoff is there in the form of a glass ceiling that separates the educated from the not.  I have seen this repeated in my own family.  Hispanic Americans have a reputation as incredibly hard working and smart. But this is partly because having missed the opportunity to go to university the only option left is to prove one’s self in the work place.  Over and over the story is that a capable Hispanic American worker is passed over in favor of an inexperienced manager with a degree. That worker often has had to train his/her own boss.  This I have seen in my own family. 

      In today’s information society there is not much room for people who have not achieved their bachelor’s degree.  Time and time again, the high achievers in the Hispanic community are the ones who stuck to their guns and got their degree.  THEN they went into the military and developed leadership skills using the knowledge they gained while in university.  These folks have done well. 

     On the other hand, we have young men and women who enlist right out of high school in hopes of getting help to pay for higher education upon completion of their duty.  But there is a problem that is not readily apparent.  Young people age.  The young student that entered the military has changed.  They are no longer are 18, no longer a student, and are hungry to move on with their lives.  This is no surprise.  Who doesn’t understand that a young soldier returning to his/her loved one after military service has a desire to start a family, buy a home, settle into a job and a routine life after a harrowing time in a foreign country.  This is the obstacle that remains under the radar.  After traveling the world, seeing death and devastation a young person is not really excited about sitting behind a desk to take notes from a professor’s lecture.  A bachelor’s degree is at least a four year effort and our youth are getting into the game late. There is something wrong if our kids must line up to be cannon fodder before they can get into university. 

     We can not advance as a people when we get stuck in a perpetual cycle of proving ourselves generation after generation in the battlefield but fail in advancing ourselves through the ranks of American society.  American society is a society that places a high value in education. This is a very hard and fast rule that has consequences for those that try to go around it. Witness the resignation of George Deutsch, who lied about his degree.  In spite of his credentials in and devotion to President Bush's re-election campaign, he had to resign because he lied about having a degree. But even he was in university at the time he was offered the job.  No time soldiering for him. 


Without going into the issue of an “uneducated” 24 year old person telling NASA scientists what to say, it is clear the lack of a degree is a liability that even the highest political connections can not overcome.  (Ok Rove’s an exception.)  What the chances for socio-economic climb of our youth who enlist in the military in order to better themselves? Maybe you might get money to go to university if you sign up for a program of study approved by the GI bill, maybe GI loan for your house, but all that is useless if you now are also trying to start a family, and have to work to pay your bills. In a choice between baby food and college textbooks we know how that will be decided.  When do you go to class?  When do you write your papers, do your reading, see you professor? No self respecting soldier is going to go back and live as a college student and leech on their parents after years of sending money home to help their parents out. The kid has moved on and the government is counting on it. For many these "benefits" never get cashed in.  They were used to support the argument for enlistment but never pay off. 

     I had many conversations with my Dad (in his 80’s) during the Viet Nam war about how a student can hang out, be scruffy, party hard and then land a good paying job after university, but a clean cut kid who served his country couldn’t get an even break.  He always thought it was due to racism. I maintained that it was the degree.  After four years, when you clean up the student, he still has the degree.  Even Presidents Bush and Clinton admitted to some behaviors in their college years.  But when the clean cut soldier comes back, he served his country, but has little to show for his efforts in a way that helps him face his/her future.  America should do more for the young people who agree to do America’s bidding.  Unfortunately, the attitude is that this is a volunteer army and these soldiers get paid to do the job.  That is ok, I can accept that, getting paid to do a job.  But let’s not deny that choices have consequences.  Choosing the military over going to university has long term consequences and we should be aware of the price that we and our young people pay.

     Many Hispanic American students work part time to pay for their schooling and take a longer time to finish.  This results in many Hispanic American starting university but not finishing. Hispanic Americans need to help their young people get into university, help pay for it and do it in as quick a time possible.  Parents have a real responsibility to themselves, their children and their grandchildren to understand that pride in serving one’s country can also come from becoming educated and taking one’s place in American society as a leader and decision maker.  We must move into a situation where we make the decisions about our lives in our interests and that of our children.  It sounds selfish, but it obviously has worked for other segments of American society.  “A rising tide lifts all boats”.  When we better ourselves we make our country and the world better. Hispanic Americans have much to offer America.  There is should be place for us at every table from boardrooms to editorial rooms, and not just as stick figures on a table in the general’s war room

Elsa Salazar Cade holds a Bachelor of Science in Education from the University of Texas at Austin, a Master of Arts in Educational Administration from Niagara University and also holds School District Administrators Certificate For New York State from Niagara University. Her home page at: http://www.telusplanet.net/public/ecade Contact at: ecade@telusplanet.net

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