Guam’s Wounded Warriors

Every July 21st, Guam celebrates Liberation Day, the American liberation of the island from the Japanese during WWII, with a huge, throw-out-all-the-stops parade. One after another, blocks-long contingents of Guamanian-American soldiers march.

Guam is a non-incorporated territory of the United States, like Puerto Rico. Although its residents can’t vote in federal elections, they can serve in the military — and they do, at rates three times the rate of any state. At least one in eight adult Guamanians is a veteran.

“Guam is very traditional when it comes to the military,” says Sergeant Gonzalo Fernandez, a recruiter for the National Guard. “In every village on Guam you’re going to find a big amount of people who served in the military. It’s a family tradition to do it.”

That tradition makes it an easy place to get people to sign up. Fernandez has won the National Guard’s “Recruiter of the Year” award three times in a row.

“I couldn’t couldn’t duplicate the success I had here anywhere else, because I’m not sure the people of those places are as patriotic as the people on this island,” says Fernandez.

Patriotism or Poverty?

At the Liberation Day parade, that patriotism is on display everywhere. Part of it may have to do with the military’s massive presence on the island. Guam is known as the “tip of the spear” in the Pacific. Thirty percent of the island is occupied by military bases.

University of Guam professor Michael Bevacqua says that he believes that beyond the façade of patriotism, something else is going on.

“Many Guamanians spend their whole life dreaming about the United States and about how cool it is and that you’re a big part of it. And then you go there and you find that people don’t know anything about you,” says Bevacqua. “I think Guam has this problem of feeling like they’re shut out of America so some people join to try and prove they are really part of the United States.”

Another major factor, Bevacqua says, is poverty. A quarter of Guam’s population is below the poverty line. For many Guamanians, the military is a way out.

“A lot of it has to do with the shininess and the niceness of the military. It seems like there’s this excess of resources,” says Bevacqua.

Coming Home

Whatever their reasons may be for joining the military, coming home presents soldiers with a new set of challenges.

Pacific islanders not only serve at the highest rates, they are injured and die at the highest rates too. Yet Guam ranked dead last in medical care spending per veteran by the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, or the VA, in 2012.

In recent years, many servicemen and women have been returning from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq with physical and psychological scars. Many say they have trouble obtaining the care they need.

On of them is Roland Ada, a 34 year-old who served two tours in Iraq as a combat medic. At his home in Guam, he scrolls through photos her took of carnage on the front lines.

“This is where the IED went off,” he says, pointing to a place on the screen. The scene is of a roadside bombing he witnessed in which several Iraqi men and children were killed.

“This Is My Home, I Want To Be Here”

Today Ada suffers from severe post traumatic stress disorder because of experiences such as these.

“I still see those children once in a while,” says Ada. “That’s why I get drunk. So I don’t have to see them. When I get drunk it numbs everything.”

Some days, Ada feels incapable of even leaving the house. He says he has frequent thoughts of suicide. The first time was towards the end of his active service, while he was on base in Hawaii. Suddenly, while driving one night, he felt himself snap, and called his brother in a panic to talk him down.

“I was mad at the world, I was mad at everybody, I was mad at myself, and I never figured out why, really. That’s what scares me about myself. That when I get mad, those fleeting thoughts could become real,” says Ada.

Roland wants to get better. But, he says, he has been unable to find the intensive PTSD treatment he needs here in Guam. The nearest VA program offered is in Hawaii, eight hours away by plane.

“Sometimes I think about going back to the States and I would have a better opportunity and better care that I would here,” says Ada. “And it sucks because this is my home, I want to be here but I can’t get the help that I need. It’s not the help I want, it’s the help I need.”

Help On The Way?

The VA doesn’t operate a hospital in Guam. It did, however, open a new clinic for veterans in 2011.

Craig Oswlad, a VA official from Hawaii, responded to questions about Roland Ada’s claims about lack of PTSD services for veterans.

“We’re very concerned about hearing that from veterans. Over the last 20 years, we’ve been building a health care system in the Pacific to meet what we call unmet demand,” says Oswald. “All I know is that in an area like the Pacific, we’ve grown tremendously to help these people over the years. And we have future plans to go even further.”

A Problem Of Representation

Not everybody would agree with Oswald’s claims that things are getting better. Governor Eddie Calvo, the highest elected official on the island, says the U.S. Senate cut funds for mental health care for Guam two years in a row.

“Unfortunately some of the policymakers out there is Washington DC, maybe because of the distance that Guam is from the United States, have a cavalier attitude towards the citizenry out here Guam,” says Calvo.

“Of course it doesn’t help that we’re an unincorporated territory that has no vote in a Congress or a Senate and no vote for a president. It makes it that much more difficult to get our voices heard, either in Washington DC or to the American public.”

For Calvo, Guam’s lack of federal representation is the biggest hurdle in securing further resources for the island’s veterans.

Until those resources arrive, vets like Roland Ada may have to either leave the island for care of learn to get by on their own—and hope they make it out without hurting themselves or others. Ada knows his family is worried about him.

“Every night when I go out to shoot pool or when I go out to drink, I don’t want them to have to worry and think, ‘is he going to make it home tonight’,” says Ada. “The only thing that snaps me back to reality is thinking about my family.”

Featured image by Paul de Lumen

OPINION: Latinos Cannot Be Silent to Alton Sterling and Philando Castile

EDITOR’S NOTE: The opinions expressed in this piece are solely those of the author. A previous version of this opinion piece was published here.

American policy is broken in more ways than one. Refusal of American politicians to compromise represents further damaged systems. Moreover, police officers are the enforcers of law that isn’t always just. Ask yourself: what entry-level position carries more power than a police officer? When you factor in the granted rights of discretion and all of the stress of the streets, any police officer is potentially a ticking time-bomb, at any moment. And just like immigration policy is broken, a system that allows police to kill citizens with impunity must be changed.

Already I’ve lost or tuned out a population of people who don’t want to hear their precious police culture dismantled.

One of the worst aspects of this whole thing is that there’s a population of people in this country who aren’t even listening. They don’t want to listen nor accept that there’s a systemic problem. There’s a population of people in this country that are angry that #BlackLivesMatter even exists. Worse yet, for those who aren’t willing to open their minds—those same individuals are developing a scorn and annoyance with those that are woke; and the ignorant are turning to the other side. Our continued cries for justice are creating stronger police supporters, Donald Trump voters, and further divisions in an already polarized country. They’re the first ones to question what Alton Sterling was doing in the first place; they’ll state how the video doesn’t show the entire story or that Sterling was threatening with a weapon. How can anyone justify this sort of execution that’s already being labeled a legal lynching?

2016 has been a violent year. Police brutality. Mass shootings. Perpetual hate portrayed by Donald Trump; the same Donald Trump that unequivocally put his support behind police officers. (Watch him throw his support behind these officers who viciously ended Alton Sterling’s and Philando Castile’s respective lives.)

No doubt that law enforcement has an incredibly difficult job, no one is denying that. And I’m sure there are ignorant detractors to this argument who will immediately ask, what about “Black on Black” crime? The answers to this are simple: when Black people kill Black people, they go to prison. If you haven’t noticed, we have a nation full of the incarcerated. When police officers—officers who are sworn to protect and uphold the law—kill Black people, they get off. We’ve seen it time and time again. And we wonder why our children are filled with so much rage. Distrust in the system. How can any nation, a nation that touts that it’s governed by law, allow this practice to occur?

The pressure should continue to be applied to the system that lets these cops walk free.

Already, I know, there are policies and procedures in place to make officers think twice about using their guns. However, how can these officers who shot Alton Sterling use their pieces so indiscriminately? The officers knew they were wearing body cameras, which were put into place to hold officers accountable to these sorts of issues. And still, as Alton Sterling becomes a hashtag, how long will it be before another Black man receives the same fate?

Not even a full 24 hours. Rest in peace, Philando Castile.

Does anyone else immediately start shaking when approached by a police officer? It’s because we, as Black and Brown men (sub-groups that are disproportionately affected by the criminal justice system as a whole), are afraid that if we make any move that could be confused for threatening—we’ll be popped.

This is all of the more reason that Latinos need to also join the efforts along with the Black community against police brutality. We’re dictated and live under the same system. We as Latinos are painted as a monolithic block consumed by immigration policy, but we in fact are so much more. What about civil rights? Police brutality is a personal issue to African-Americans, with ties to the days of slavery, just as immigration and stolen land is personal to Mexicans and the Indigenous. Mexicans have been lynched by Texas Rangers just as Blacks were attacked by slave owners and white supremacists. Blacks picked cotton and we pick fruits; what’s so different?

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: the difference between Blacks and Latinos is a boat stop. The same detention officers that put their hands on us are guided by the same law that allows municipal officers to do the same. We’ve both been scarred by colonialism and imperialism. The history, fate, and experience of Latinos and Blacks in this country will forever be intertwined. Our issues are more alike than dissimilar and we need to stand in solidarity with each other. Our issues are one because we’re both seen as second-class citizens in this country. The Latinx community is already woke and non-Afro Latinx & Latino individuals need to jump on board. With the world increasingly changing, different than it was say 20 years ago, and facing new challenges; how can one offer the blunt tool of law enforcement as the solution? What will give? What will it require to stop the bloodshed? Have we as a nation peaked with answers and will this violence become a moot point?

You live by giving. We need to give and stand in solidarity with our Black brothers & sisters who’ve also been taken advantage of by a brutal system of injustice. For if we don’t, how can we expect any change to occur? We can accomplish more together. And when I say ‘we,’ I’m talking to Latinos, Chicanxs, Hispanics, Dominicans, Boricuas, Mexicans, Mexicants, lo que sea; we know who we are and once we find out where we’re going, we’ll be able to make progress.

I look forward to hearing support from the Latino political establishment and the Latinx community for these individuals, their families, and the Black community.

Because something’s got to change. And we cannot remain silent.

Yours in unity.

***

Máximo Anguiano is an actor, athlete, creative, personality, organizer, scholar, and politico out of San Antonio, Texas. He is the Executive Director of the Adelante U.S. Education Leadership Fund and Founder of Independent Creative Services. Through various community, artistic, and educational works, Máximo’s passion and charisma bring a fresh, progressive and driven approach to changing the world. He has recently been featured with various organizations such as Voto Latino, Latino Rebels, Latino Justice PRLDEF, Texas Association of Chicanos in Higher Education, the University of Texas at Austin, the University of Northern Iowa and many more. He tweets from @blurbsmithblots.

Latest Latino Voter National Tracking Poll: Clinton 80%, Trump 13%

The latest New Latino Voice (NLV) online tracking poll conducted by Florida International University and Hispanic mobile advertising company Adsmovil shows that Hillary Clinton has reached the 80% support mark with Latinos, her highest number with respondents since the poll began in April. Conversely, this latest version of the NLV poll was also Donald Trump’s worst performance since late April, as the presumptive Republican nominee got 13% of Latino support. An “Other” candidate got 7%.

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The poll was conducted from June 27–July 4 and asked 3,037 online Latinos their choice for President. It did not take into account today’s news that the FBI did not recommend charges against Clinton for use of personal e-mail as Secretary of State.

Since the poll’s inception in April, Clinton has seen her numbers jump almost 20 points, as the “Other” candidate has dropped about 18 points. Trump has seen a 1-point increase overall from April to early July. His highest performance was 17% in early June.

In this latest poll, Trump got 20% of Latino support with respondents over 65 years old. (Click here for stories about previous polls in this series.)

The toplines to this latest set of numbers from NLV are here:

Protesters Camped Outside Federal Courthouse in Puerto Rico Vow to Remain

In response to the bipartisan PROMESA financial rescue bill which President Barack Obama signed into law last week to address Puerto Rico’s ongoing debt crisis, a group of protesters who have set up an Occupy-like camp outside the island’s United States District Court building told local media today that they have no plans of leaving, even claiming that their movement is growing.

The protesters —who last Wednesday night formed the camp to speak out against an oversight board that would essentially run Puerto Rico’s finances as part of a solution to the debt crisis— believed that the Campamento en Contra de la Junta (Camp Against the Control Board) is just the beginning of a new larger movement in Puerto Rico against PROMESA.

“In the short time that we have been here,” Ada Isabel Moreira told El Nuevo Día in Spanish, “we have been growing very nicely. I am very proud of all the people inside the camp and hope we keep growing more.”

One protester compared the camp to the early days of a protest campaign in Puerto Rico that in 2003 successfully put an end to the United States Navy’s live bombing training exercises on the island of Vieques.

According to reports, federal authorities issued a citation that will go into effect on Wednesday morning, although it is unclear whether they will take action against the camp. Protesters have told local media that some people near the fence of the federal building have shone high-intensity lights on the camp at night. Such actions led Amnesty International Puerto Rico (AIPR) to call for authorities to ensure the safety of protesters.

“We believe this group wants to express its concern about the decision to impose a fiscal control board and [the demonstration] is being carried out peacefully. We demand that any attempt to evict the camp fully respect the human rights of these young people who are expressing their feelings,” said Liza Gallardo Martín, AIPR’s executive director.

The Twitter profile @campamentoclj is sharing updates in Spanish about the camp, including requests for supplies. It is also tweeting out photos and videos from the scene:

Hashtags such as #CampamentoContraLaJunta (Camp Against the Control Board) and #NoALaJuntadeControlFiscal (No to the Fiscal Control Board) also contain tweets from the camp.

The camp also has an official Facebook page, where it is sharing additional updates and statements. The page has about 4,2000 likes since the time of this posting.

Security Tops Most Important Election Issue in Latest National Tracking Poll of Latino Voters

The latest New Latino Voice online tracking poll conducted by Florida International University and Hispanic advertising company Adsmovil reported that security is the most important 2016 election issue among Latino voters, the first time this issue topped the survey since the NLV tracking poll launched in April.

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FIU professor Eduardo A. Gamarra, one of the poll’s co-authors, attributed this latest finding to the June 12 shooting in Orlando.

“Most likely this is a result of the tragedy in Orlando that directly affected the Latino community,” Gamarra told Latino USA.

The poll also tracked Latino voter preferences between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. According to the latest results, Clinton leads Trump with Latino voters by a margin of 58 points (75-17). About eight percent of voters chose Other. (Click here for previous stories about the NLV poll.)

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The June 13-19 survey asked 9,844 online Latinos the question about presidential preference and 4,815 online Latinos the question about the election’s most important issue. According to poll organizers, 200,000 Latinos have responded to the NLV poll since it was launched in April.

The latest toplines are below:

Supreme Court Blocks Obama Immigration Executive Order with 4-4 Tie

On Thursday morning the Supreme Court ruled 4-4 on an immigration executive order from President Barack Obama that would have offered temporary relief to millions of immigrants, upholding a lower court injunction against the plan.

However, the deadlock ruling in the case of United States v Texas, did not preclude the possibility of a future appeal if an Obama-appointed justice were to be added to the Court or after the 2016 presidential election, if Hillary Clinton were to be elected President.

The Court’s opinion contained just one sentence: “The judgment is affirmed by an equally divided Court.”

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In November of 2014, after the midterm elections, President Obama announced a Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) executive order that would give temporary immigration relief and work permits to about five million undocumented immigrants, most of whom were parents of DREAMers or legal permanent residents. The order had also expanded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which was announced by President Obama in 2012. The 2012 DACA program was not affected by this latest decision, just the expansion of it.

A few weeks after DAPA was announced, 24 states, led by Texas, sued the Obama administration.

On Thursday afternoon, the White House tweeted out a video clip of President Obama responding to the Court’s decision.

Puerto Rican Farmworkers Say Michigan Company Discriminated Against Them

A June 22 media release from LatinoJustice PRLDEF said that 15 Puerto Rican farmworkers have filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) because the farmworkers claimed a Michigan company discriminated against them.

According to the release, the Puerto Rican farmworkers had been recruited to work in Michigan for Manzana LLC, but they were all fired “after repeated comments comparing them to other Latino workers.” The release added:

Upon arriving in Michigan to work, Manzana officials immediately began to make comments comparing Puerto Rican workers with Mexican workers and questioning their ability and willingness to work. Company officials began to treat the Puerto Rican workers disparately, challenging them to “race” other Latino workers, calling them insulting names, and even sending workers away who had just arrived from Puerto Rico before they were able to start working.

“I felt discriminated against at Manzana, especially when I came to work and was constantly being compared since the day I arrived with other Latino workers. My supervisor would frequently make comments about my background that had nothing to do with my ability to work,” said Wilson Torres Rivera, one of the workers recruited.

Manzana LLC does not have an official website but a job listing from 2015 advertised Farmworkers/Laborers. Pay was listed as $11.56 per hour.

The farmworkers came to Michigan through the Puerto Rican Workforce Agency. The release also said that the workers were “consistently harassed about their work and threatened with being fired.” Eventually, all the workers were fired.

The EEOC complaint, Villegas, et al v. Manzana LLC, was filed on June 17.

More Afro-Latinos in US Identify as White than Black (VIDEO)

A Facebook video posted Monday by Atlanta Black Star is revisiting the results of a March 1 Pew Research report, which states that 39% of Afro-Latinos in the United States identify as white.

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In addition, even though Hispanic is not classified as a race by the U.S. Census, 24% of Afro-Latinos say they identified as Hispanic. 18% of respondents identified as black.

The Pew report stated that “one-quarter of all U.S. Latinos self-identify as Afro-Latino, Afro-Caribbean or of African descent with roots in Latin America.” It also listed Afro-Latino populations by Latin American countries (numbers listed in the following graphic are in the thousands):

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Recently, Latino USA dedicated an entire hour about what it means to identify as Afro-Latino:

OPINION: Queer Puerto Ricans and the Burden of Violence

In the light of the recent Orlando massacre, where a large number of LGBT Puerto Ricans and Latinas/os lost their lives, it becomes self-evident that to be queer and Puerto Rican or Latina/o in the United States is strange and at times profoundly dangerous.

Strange because many people do not understand who we are and seem not to care, and we live lives marked by invisibility, as demonstrated in the ways that many journalists minimize the specificity of our experience, except perhaps for unusual cases such as CNN’s Anderson Cooper and the New York Times’ Lizette Alvarez and Nick Madigan. Dangerous, because we are at risk of multiple prejudices and aggressions, whether they are racism, homophobia, lesbophobia, transphobia, or a combination of the above. What’s worse, these challenges come along with the general risks of life in the U.S., given the prevalence of weapons, profound social inequalities, lack of comprehensive mental health care (and in some cases, basic health care), and the rise in xenophobic, ultranationalist and extremist discourses that we face.

Many Puerto Ricans in the archipelago of Puerto Rico and many Americans in the United States have been slow to acknowledge and accept queer persons, or more specifically, to allow queer-identified ones to live openly and embrace their identities publicly, as a political act, demanding full social, political, and cultural recognition. A case in point: it was only this year that the National Puerto Rican Day Parade in New York City recognized LGBT leaders, in spite of decades of activism. Another example: when I started the research for my Ph.D. dissertation on queer Puerto Rican migration and culture, many people were bewildered by the topic and asked me if there was really enough material to carry out such a project.

Common thinking has it that it is preferable to do things in silence or in secrecy, while allowing comedians, politicians, religious clergy and others to make fun of, ridicule, or condemn our experiences. Many want us to pretend that we are just like them. In their minds, everything is alright as long as you follow social conventions that require heterosexuality, marriage and gender compliance, including masculine behavior for men and feminine behavior for women.

Yet, more than 40 years of lesbian, gay and trans activism and radical cultural productions in Puerto Rico and the United States and in other countries in Latin America have had a profound impact, and now things are decidedly better. But better does not mean ideal, particularly in Puerto Rico, a territory that has been subjected to colonial rule by the United States since 1898, where the economy has been in a recession for over a decade and the government is banned from declaring bankruptcy by the United States legislature and Supreme Court. The U.S. colony has been profoundly affected by the HIV/AIDS epidemic, by drug violence and by the collapse of the social contract. The constant social, political, and economic crises in Puerto Rico throughout the 20th and now 21st centuries have generated major migration to the United States, facilitated by the fact that all Puerto Ricans hold U.S. citizenship since 1917, which means that we can travel freely between the two locations. And millions of Puerto Ricans have left the island, many of them LGBT. Thousands have gone to Orlando, Florida, because of the poverty, violence, lack of opportunities, and in some cases the homophobia they face back home.

Orlando might have 600,000 Puerto Ricans, but as Steven Thrasher has observed, many mainstream news sources in the United States have ignored or minimized the specificity of the murder victims at Pulse nightclub in Orlando: the fact that 23 of the 49 persons who were killed by Omar Mateen were Puerto Rican; that 90% of those killed were Latinas/os, mostly LGBT Latinas/os and their relatives and friends; that their faces were black, white, and brown, the children of the African diaspora; that most of them were working class and extremely young; that, as Juana María Rodríguez has pointed out, they were at Pulse on Latin night, celebrating the life-affirming practices of music and dance and shared culture among friends.

Memorial in Warsaw, Poland, for the victims of the Orlando Massacre.
Memorial in Warsaw, Poland, for the victims of the Orlando Massacre.

What can LGBT liberation offer us, when leaders, journalists and regular people ignore the multiplicity of oppressions and fail to see these in an intersectional framework? Or when well-meaning LGBT white persons systematically exclude the voices of queer people of color, maintaining spaces of white hegemony?

Radical thinkers such as Gloria Anzaldúa, Cherríe Moraga, Sylvia Rivera, James Baldwin, and Audre Lorde demand that we reflect critically on these exclusions. Sadly, Orlando is not the only case of recent homophobic violence: a large number of persons were shot and killed on May 22 at the Madame nightclub in Xalapa, Veracruz, Mexico. While love, understanding, and forgiveness are powerful tools that help us to heal and honor our victims and our dead, anger, fury and rage are also useful and at times absolutely necessary emotions that we must tap into to address the profound violence we suffer at the hands of bigoted individuals, antidemocratic governments and repressive states. Tapping into these emotions means channeling our energies to demand social change: speaking out against racism, homophobia, lesbophobia and transphobia; demanding stricter gun control laws; addressing the social and economic crisis in Puerto Rico by focusing on the needs of its people and not those of Wall Street vulture funds.

Perhaps, to survive as queer, feminist, radical persons of color, we need to embrace the paradox of love and rage, and use these in a transformative way.

***

Lawrence La Fountain-Stokes is Associate Professor of American Culture, Romance Languages and Literatures, and Women’s Studies at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, where he directs the Latina/o Studies Program. He tweets from @larrylafountain.

How Organizations Are Helping Latinos Affected by the Orlando Shooting Get the Help They Need

When the names of the victims of the mass shooting in Orlando were read last week at press conferences, vigils and on news broadcasts across the world, it became clear just how profoundly the tragedy had affected the Latino community in particular.

Latino community leaders report a staggering 90 percent of the 49 people killed were Latino or of Latino descent; of those, 23 were Puerto Rican. At least three of the victims, two of whom survived, are undocumented.

While much has been done to raise money for medical and domestic travel expenses in the wake of last Sunday’s tragedy, many of the Latino survivors and victims’ families continue to face a mounting number of unique challenges, such as dealing with language barriers, obtaining visas and organizing repatriation logistics for the deceased.

Read more at HuffPost Latino Voices.