A reader writes … By Scott Fullerton

October 22, 2001

It is Mr. Santillan's final claim concerning the Vietnam War dead I find particularly noxious, a perpetration of one of the worst fallacies connected to that long-misunderstood conflict.

According to all reputable accounts, the ethnic breakdown of those American (there's that word again) military personnel killed in Vietnam paralleled each group's stateside numbers.

Mr. Santillan said fully one-third of all those killed in Vietnam were black; in fact, 12.5 percent of those names on The Wall belong to blacks, which is commensurate with their total then-population of 12 percent but below their proportion in the population of draft-age males.

The Hispanic total is harder to pin down as they were lumped in with the 86 percent listed as "Caucasian." I visited The Wall in 1992 and I can tell you Mr. Santillan's claim that 20 percent killed were of Hispanic descent is ludicrous. The total U.S. Latino population (including Puerto Ricans, Cubans and others) in 1970 was 10 to 12 percent; I would bet a dollar to a dime the total number of Hispanic KIAs is in that range.


But here's something else: Of the 239 Americans who won the Medal of Honor in Vietnam, 11 have Hispanic surnames, less than 5 percent. Does this mean Hispanics gave less than others? Certainly not. I served with dozens, if not hundreds, of Latinos in the Marine Corps, many better men than me. And in case anyone is wondering if the poor paid an inordinate price in Vietnam, it was found proportionate numbers of those killed in Vietnam stretched evenly across class lines as well, rich, poor and the great majority in between.

The point here is this: We are all Americans and we have all done our share of dying, regardless of individual characteristics. It is time, especially in lieu of the recent events on the East Coast, to stop the inflammatory and ill-informed rhetoric that does nothing but divide us, something our enemies would relish in this dark time.

On this page in the Oct. 5 edition of this newspaper, Mr. Daniel Santillan made several assertions, most of dubious veracity, one egregiously so.

First, the fact that a Hispanic has never represented "our valley" in Sacramento is in part due to the fact that reapportionment has always attached us to another, more populous area, i.e., the Coachella Valley or eastern San Diego County. If voting has been skewed in favor of other groups, so be it, that is democracy, the ultimate numbers game.

Though Hispanics have ethnically been a majority in the Valley for some time (this was not always so), they have historically lagged in voter registration, a point noted by Mr. Santillan in his call to arms in one of his earlier missives to this paper.

Most disturbing, however, is his demand a "Mexican" be appointed to represent us in the state legislature. I prefer an American: It does not matter if that candidate is of Mexican, Irish, South Asian, African or any other descent. We vote for who we think is most qualified regardless of what body that person physically inhabits.

His second point concerning how we only come together in times of crisis is, I believe, without merit. Despite our wayward preoccupation with cultural diversity (or separatism, it works both ways), outrageous materialism and, lately, a flirtation with rootless nihilism, national unity — patriotism, if you will — has lain underneath the surface of the fabric that is daily life in this country.

Indeed, the patriotism so out of style since the early Vietnam years seems so far to have resurfaced albeit with a heavily commercial slant (I have never accepted the false jingoistic patriotism of the Reagan-Bush years). Yet I agree with Mr. Santillan it is regrettable that it took the Sept. 11 attack to galvanize our people.

SCOTT FULLERTON, a government teacher at Southwest High School in El Centro, is a Marine Vietnam veteran whose son is serving in the U.S. Air Force.

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