- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 9, 2015

DALLAS (AP) - In 1967, Albert Valtierra, a working-class kid from West Dallas, joined the U.S. Air Force and headed to Vietnam.

The Dallas Morning News (https://bit.ly/1LXLfoQ ) reports his younger sister, Rosemary, marched defiantly to protest the war.

Their mother, Serapia, simply lit velas and prayed the rosary.

Rosemary would marry Ramiro Hinojosa, and together they raised a son named after his father. Ram, as the son was called, enlisted in the Army in 2004 and headed for Iraq. He was motivated by the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and by the service of others in his family.

“What did I do wrong?” Rosemary thought.

Then she found herself lighting velas in prayer.

The family’s story is one of many portrayed in a photo and video exhibit and lecture series highlighting Mexican-American veterans from the Dallas area. The montage covers more than 100 years in more than 1,000 photos portraying about 400 service members.

“The Untold Story: A Tribute to Dallas’ Mexican American Veterans and Families” opens at the Latino Cultural Center this Friday, Sept. 11, an emotion-laden day marking the 2001 terrorist attacks. It’s sponsored by the Dallas Mexican American Historical League.

The mission: to show respect for Hispanics who served in the military and for families torn by fear and questions over war.

“We were invisible in the history books,” said Valtierra, one of the co-founders of the historical league. “That’s why we did this exhibit. We included the family because they prayed for us.”

His sister sat next to him and recalled how she recorded cassette tapes for him to keep up his spirits. “I was protesting the war. I was proud of him,” Hinojosa said.

The exhibit is likely to stir deep memories. That’s why the curator, Viola Delgado, will have an old church kneeler with worn red cloth over its padded cushions before an altar, like many Catholic families of Mexican ancestry have in their homes. Visitors can place the names of their loved ones on paper ID tags, replicas of military dog tags.

Curating the work, Delgado said, reminded her of her mother, who traveled to a Corpus Christi airport to meet the coffins of those who died in Vietnam. Her mother was a member of the American GI Forum, a group founded in 1948 by an Army veteran medical doctor who was appalled by the discrimination that Latino servicemen faced.

The earliest photos in the exhibit are from World War I. One shows John Valdez on a bucking horse in front of some wooden barracks.

The photos move through World War II, with images of the American Legion hall in what was Dallas’ Little Mexico and of West Dallas children wearing cloth military caps. “Buy War Bonds” shouts a banner behind the kids.

Other photos tell a sadder story. Eladio Martínez poses in an Army helmet with his rifle and a dog. Across the sky in turquoise ink someone scrolled “Killed in Action.”

Vietnam photos show soldiers receiving gifts from home, reading letters or books, or mingling with the Vietnamese.

Alvaro Villanueva chomps on a chocolate from a Valentine-shaped box. Eliseo García poses shirtless, wearing a peace symbol necklace. Joe May, the now-deceased Dallas Independent School District trustee, stands tall under a palm tree with a cigarette in his mouth. In front of May are grinning Vietnamese women selling fruit and behind him are a cluster of skinny boys.

Some of the photos show soldiers at war, crawling through a river and hiking into the brush.

The photos, shown by Valtierra and Hinojosa on wide screen, tell other stories. One from 2010 shows Staff Sgt. Gianna Castillo in Army fatigues with the words: “Warrior in transition.” In a more recent photo, she poses in a crown as Miss Texas Belleza Latina. Behind her is a trailer that says: 1st Cavalry Division, Fort Hood, Texas.

At a photo of a thin serviceman, Hinojosa commented: “He said he had to do things against his religion. He said he could smell the burning flesh. He came back angry.”

Then came photos of her son, Ram. In one, he is a 3-year-old dressed in the oversized Army uniform of his Uncle Jimmy with rolled-up pant legs. His looks like he’s about to say something. “Why did we do that?” his mother said.

Another shows Ram on patrol in Iraq. Yet another shows him in front of a mural of the late Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, whose eyes appear pierced by bullets. Ram holds an automatic weapon.

Rosemary Hinojosa and Ram, now 35, say they are politically different. Yet both are deeply meditative about war.

He is working on a master’s degree in fine arts at Texas State University and devours war literature. He said he hopes the exhibit will bridge the divide between civilians and those who served. Many times, minorities and veterans become the “other” - people viewed as apart from the mainstream, he said.

The veteran said it is also time to rethink the divide that Americans have with Iraqis and Muslims.

Last year, he penned a war essay in Guernica, an online arts and politics magazine. He seemed to channel his mother’s voice.

“We have to stop looking at conflicts in black-and-white, or else we will fall into the same traps of previous wars, blinded by our righteousness and our disdain toward the people we were sent to help.”


Information from: The Dallas Morning News, https://www.dallasnews.com

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