Chicano Students Getting Bullied by Military Recruiters

It seems like every light pole on Whittier Boulevard in East Los Angeles is draped with the U.S. flag. Every 50 feet there is another.

Can this be the same boulevard that saw over 20,000 Chicanos march against the Vietnam War on Aug. 29, 1970, and popular Chicano reporter Rubén Salazar killed by police that day? Where thousands of students have fearlessly walked out of Eastside schools for three decades to demand educational equity and relevance?

One of those schools is Roosevelt High, and it is still underfunded and overcrowded. Today's students face the same bad options as those that came before them: enlist in the military or apply for the next non-living wage job.

For every college counselor at Roosevelt High, there are five military recruiters. "The recruiters prey on immigrant students trying to get citizenship, senior-class students lacking credits to graduate, and anyone they can persuade that the army will train them for the real world," reported Lester García, a Roosevelt graduate and youth organizer.

Between 1992 and 1997, the number of high school ROTC programs more than doubled from 1,600 to 3,500 nationwide. With a "drop-out" rate of over 48 percent, many Latinos view military enlistment as the only viable opportunity for economic survival. They are wooed with promises of college money and computer training.

And, like car salesmen, military recruiters don't take no for an answer. It's no wonder that today Chicanos make up over 37 percent of all active-duty Marines.

And what has happened to critical thinking and dissent -- all part of education in a democracy? "Many teachers and students are afraid to question the 'war on terrorism' out of fear of retaliation or isolation," said Elizabeth Lugo, an organizer with InnerCity Struggle.

"Since 9-11, if we don't agree with Bush and question him publicly at my school or refuse to pledge allegiance, we get sent to the administration and are threatened with suspension," added Nadia Del Callejo, a student at Bell High in Southeast LA.

Because few schools provide outlets for serious dialogue about 9-11, youthful feelings of hate, revenge, violence, destruction and love are too often channeled into negative actions. "The day after 9-11, my friend, who is Lebanese, was verbally attacked for 'her people's actions.' Many of the Middle Eastern students didn't attend school for weeks after the 9-11 incident," said Del Callejo.

Recently students at Roosevelt High have begun a campaign called Students Not Soldiers that opposes the military tracking of their lives. "We hope to rid our school of military recruiters and create a non-military zone. We want funds for college and job training programs, more counselors, and courses in ethnic, women and queer studies," said Lester García.

"And we want to create opportunities for young people to grow, to reach their potential, as critical thinkers -- not as gun-toting soldiers who take orders and promote violence," he added.

Luis Sánchez works with Youth Organizing Communities and InnerCity Struggle in Los Angeles.

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