The unwavering pride of Chicano Vietnam War veterans is epitomized during a scene in San Antonio director Laura Varela's documentary As Long As I Remember: American Veteranos when Michael Rodriguez*, one of the three vets featured in the film, displays genuine frustration when a fallen comrade’s name is mispronounced during a ceremony at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.
“I told her how to say Pérez’s name: Anthony Pérez,” Rodríguez tells his wife, stressing the accent the speaker overlooked. “What does she do? She gets up there and says, ‘Anthony Per-ez.’ What’s so hard about Pérez?”
The short but significant scene of candid emotion captured by Varela falls between her interviews with Rodríguez and fellow Chicano vets Juan Farías and Eduardo Garza, all of whom reflect on time served in a war they consider an unnecessary one.
At the start of the 54-minute film, Varela shares a statistic: Latinos (mostly Mexican-Americans) made up 20 percent of the casualties of the Vietnam War, although they were only 10 percent of the U.S. population at the time. Whether young Latino men were joining the military in the ’60s to follow in their fathers’ footsteps, or because they had few options after high school, or were suffering from a momentary case of what Garza calls pendejitis (loosely translated as a sudden loss of common sense), the sacrifice of the men who fought is irrefutable.
It’s through the unguarded words of Farías, Rodríguez, and Garza when American Veteranos is at its best — like listening to your own grandfather’s eye-opening war stories of heroism and heartbreak.
While Varela spreads the narrative a bit thin by covering so much territory in less than an hour (the Chicano anti-war movement, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and the men’s artistic endeavors), what comes across effectively is the veterans’ own recognition that the healing process is a lifelong journey that has shaped them into the heroes they are today.
* Originally misidentified by the author as Juan Farías. The Current regrets the error.
As Long As I Remember: American Veteranos
10pm Thu Sept. 15, 1:30am Sun, Sept. 18, 3:30am Tue, Sept. 20, 4:30am Wed, Sept. 21