A Matter of Honor

Latinos can be more than gang members & criminals

By Gil Contreras
Published on LatinoLA: April 10, 2003

A Matter of Honor

While anti-war demonstrators (though significantly fewer) continue to hold protests not many support, and groups like ?Latinos Against the War,? who no one has ever heard of, continue to whine about war, Bush, racism and 500 years of Latino oppression, some are proving that not all of us with Hispanic surnames spend our lives complaining about the very freedoms we enjoy and the country that provides them.

Lance Corporal Jose A. Gutierrez, one of the first U.S. Marine casualties in Iraq, paid the ultimate price in service to a country he loved more than life itself. Gutierrez was killed battling Republican Guard forces in southern Iraq last month. Orphaned as a child, the Guatemalan national was a legal resident of the United States, but not a citizen when he was killed in combat. Last week, for his service to a country he longed to be a citizen of, the U.S. government posthumously awarded Gutierrez his treasured citizenship.

After hopping trains to get to this country and moving from foster home to foster home, Gutierrez graduated from high school and joined the Corp. He wanted to ?give back? to a country that had given him, a Guatemalan orphan, the opportunity to have a home, go to school, and join the Marines. Cardinal Roger M. Mahoney, said in a recent L.A. Times article (4/8/03), that the gesture of posthumous citizenship was not adequate, and that all foreign born soldiers serving in the U.S. military should be immediately naturalized. Mahony said, ?They come with a generosity of heart to make our country better.?

Gutierrez believed that there was something larger than him at stake when he joined The Corps. He knew his life of poverty and hardship was not his fault, nor the fault of anyone else. He could have ?joined a group,? complained about all he didn?t have, he could have demanded that ?somebody? owed him something because he was orphaned as a child, or for transgressions against his ancestors that occurred hundreds of years before he was even born. He could have done that.

But he didn?t.

While Latino groups, so-called Latino leaders, and Latino activists like Dr. Rudy Acu?a fill young Latino minds with nonsense about 500 years of oppression, racial profiling by law enforcement and the military, and teaching them to see the Cucui everywhere else, some Latinos like Gutierrez know what they believe in and what they stand for. While activists teach young Latinos to blame the government for their position in life, Latinos like Gutierrez take responsibility for their own lives and make their own way.

While activists at Cal State Northridge protest the military R.O.T.C. program under the guidance of ?leaders? like Acu?a from the comfort of a university campus while having heady discussions and sipping on lattes, real leaders like Gutierrez were on the front lines ensuring that Acu?a and company have the right to do so.

So, the next time some Latino starts to whine about how bad Latino gang members, drug dealers, and career criminals are treated by the police and the criminal justice system, remind them that not all Latinos involve themselves in such activities. The next time some Latino activist wants to ?stage a protest,? tell them to protest low test scores, high drop out rates or illegitimate Latino children. Remind them that not all Latino immigrants are anti-American or come here to get on AFDC or GR and that perhaps, just perhaps, some Latinos in juvenile hall, probation camps and state prison could learn a very valuable lesson from an orphaned child from Guatemala who overcame adversity and became a local hero. It's a simple matter of honor.

Semper Fi Lance Corporal, we won?t forget!

About Gil Contreras:
GilContreras is a former police officer, award winning jounalist and writer in Los Angeles. Email:

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