What You Can Do About The War

Ken Burns and the exclusion of Latinos in PBS documentary on PBS

By Nancy De Los Santos
Published on LatinoLA: September 22, 2007

What You Can Do About The War

Friends, Family, and Viewers Like You, Filmmaker Ken Burns (The Civil War, Baseball, Jazz) has produced a 14.5-hour major documentary that documents the heroic actions and experiences of U.S. Serviceman during World War 2.

The series will air on PBS during September and October - National Hispanic Heritage Month.

What Mr. Burns did not include in his production, was any mention of the over 500,000 Latinos - Mexican Americans, Puerto Ricans, Mexican Nationals, Spanish Americans, and Latinos from other Latin American countries - who served the United States in this war proudly and heroically.

The documentary was made with public funds from the National Endowment Association, and PBS - money that comes from "Viewers Like You." Through the efforts of a national coalition of interested parties lead by by UT Journalism professor Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez and retired San Diego, Ca., university administrator, Gus Chavez, and including members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, the National Council of La Raza, the League of United Latin American Citizens, and the American GI Forum, Mr. Burns has - to the best of our knowledge - added 28 minutes of footage from interviews with two Latino WW2 and one Native American servicemen.

While 28 minutes seems like a pitiful amount in an over 800 minute production, we are glad that he chose to amend the documentary.

Of course, this decision was made only after considerable public pressure was brought to bear: it is unconceivable that in nearly seven years of research and development for this production, no one thought to include a single Latino.

Many who have seen portions of the new material have been critical that the added material - short interviews with two individuals - is not a substantial reflection of the Latino experience in the War. Furthermore, it is unclear whether the Latino interviews are included in the actual documentary or if they are just 'added on' before the credits roll.

While we're not sure what will be shown on nationwide television during National Hispanic Heritage Month, we are even more concerned what version of the documentary will be sold as a DVD set in stores and on iTunes, and what will be offered to public school libraries - will that DVD version incorporate the Latino interviews within the episodes? The DVD is the legacy of this series that will form the opinions of generations to come.

We are also concerned that the accompanying book, authored by Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns and published by Knopf, may not include a meaningful representation of the Latino contributions to the WWII efforts, both on the battlefield and on the home front. We want you to be aware of the issue, and offer you a list of what you can do to express your opinion on this matter.

These are all suggestions from many conversations with concerned viewers - like you. This is not a one-size-fits-all list -- some suggestions are more severe than others. But it is important that you take a stand today, and insist that the Latino contributions to our country are recognized and acknowledged. Do what you feel you can do comfortably - and proudly.

1. Go to the website "Defend the Honor" and read the background of this situation -- discuss it with friends, family, neighbors, coworkers.

2. Contact your local PBS station, express your dismay and disappointment that Latinos were not initially included in this documentary film. You can do this through email, phone, or letter. Ask to be assured that the DVD of the film include the Latino interviews. A list of the local PBS stations is on the website.

2b. OR Contact your local PBS station, and cancel your subscription, citing the lack of concern to include Latinos in this major documentary series.

3. Contact the president of PBS National - Paula Kerger - ( - and let her know of your disappointment and dismay that PBS would have this production in the works for seven years, and not question the lack of a Latino presence. Ask her to be sure that the DVD of the film include the Latino interviews.

4. Contact the PBS Ombudsman Michael Getler. His job is to ensure that PBS upholds its editorial standards, which include diversity and inclusion. Tell him your opinion of this situation.

5a. Watch the documentary series when it airs, and discuss the Latino sections with your friends, neighbors, relatives. Send your comments to your local station, or to your local newspaper.

MAKE SURE TO SEND INFO@DEFENDTHEHONOR.ORG a copy - we'll keep it in our archives, for future scholars to study.

5b. Or don't watch the documentary series, and let your local PBS Station know you will not watch, and why.

6a. Call your local PBS station during the Pledge Drive, and tell them you will not pledge because of the lack of respect show Latinos in this documentary series. We were only included after the public outcry.

6b. Or Call your local PBS station during the Pledge Event, and pledge your subscription - but insist that the DVD you receive INCLUDES the LATINO INTERVIEWS.rnrn6c. Attend the press conference and protest at KCET studios this Sunday, September 23rd. 3:00 -4:30 P.M. - 4401 Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles, California 90027 Press conference at 3:30 pm

7. If you listen to talk radio program with a call-in line . . . call in and comment on THE WAR.

8. Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper or community organization in response to this situation regarding THE WAR. Defend the Honor has sample letters and comments by people across the country. Use that information.

9. Contact your local cable company about interviewing Hispanic/Latino veterans during the time period when PBS is airing THE WAR.

10. Contact your local school board and library board, exhort them not to purchase the DVD of the documentary series, unless they are assured that it includes the Latino interviews. rnrn11. Contact any of the shows sponsors - Ford, Anheuser Busch, and Bank of America - and express your disappointment in their sponsorship of this program. The full list is on the website, plus a draft of a letter.

12. Contact your Congressman - and express your disappointment that Federal funds were used to support this documentary series that initially ignored Latino servicemen and women in World War 2. This website includes the phone, fax number and URL for that office. Insert your state zip code for the ca at the end. rn

13. A good assignment for secondary students, to seek out and report on the Hispanic/Latino Medal of Honor recipients and those that received the Bronze Star, Navy Cross, or Purple Heart during WW II. OR interview Hispanic/Latino veterans in the community and send them to the DefendTheHonor website. Their stories will be added.

14. Find opportunities within your personal outreach - Speak about the problem of Burns' history of exclusion among your own family, and personal friends and associates, at work, church, play, by phone, email, or in person.

15. Send this list to everyone on your personal and professional email lists.

17. Just Do Something! Make your concerns heard! Voice your opinion! It matters

About Nancy De Los Santos:
Nancy De Los Santos is co-writer and co-producer of documentary The Bronze Screen: One Hundred Years of the Latin Image in Hollywood Cinema and Lalo Guerrero: The Original Chicano. She's a member of the Writer's Guild of America, West.

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