Ken Burns and Hispanics
One wonders if PBS producer Ken Burns will ever show Mexico, Mexicans or any Hispanics in a good light even when they are victims of a monstrous dislike by a President of the United States.
Probably not as long as the President involved is a passionate liberal Democrat, for they can do no harm as far as biased Burns is concerned. It helps that the President is an ultra-liberal Democrat who without help from a third party candidacy of Theodore Roosevelt would never have been elected in 1000 years.
Woodrow Wilson’s distaste for Blacks is well known, but his hate of Mexicans is not. He instructed his ambassador to Mexico, Henry Lane Wilson (no relation) to interfere in Mexican politics including two invasions in 1914 and 1916.
Proof number one: In the great Burns PBS Special of the American Civil War, as outstanding and award winning as it was, not a single second of the massive multi-hour production mentioned that Hispanics fought in the Civil War or that two of the very first Civil War Medal of Honor awardees were Hispanic, one, Spanish and the other Chilean born. Nor is there any mention of New Mexico Union troops led by an officer who was a Mexican citizen until 1848 when the United States took over New Mexico. Nor is there any mention that entire cavalry units were 100% former Mexican citizens who also became Americans in 1848. They fought on both sides. In fact the very last battle of the Civil War was fought by Union and Confederate cavalry in Texas between 100% Mexican American troops.
Proof number two: In the fine Roosevelt production currently being shown on PBS, the fact that Hispanics served in Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders in Cuba is ignored by Burns even though they included his most favorite company Commander Maximiliano Luna of New Mexico who led the charge of Company A up San Juan Hill. The impression Burn’s leaves the viewer is that the Rough Riders were all dilettantes from Harvard, sheriffs and other lawmen and cowboys from Oklahoma -- but no Hispanics.
Proof number three: The Roosevelt production builds up a young Franklin Delano Roosevelt as well he should but he also goes overboard on President Woodrow Wilson and does so by ignoring the fact that Wilson ordered two separate invasions of Mexico in 1914 (with supervision by Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin Delano Roosevelt of the 1914 invasion) and 1916 with the Pershing Punitive Expedition sent by Wilson to find and punish Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa after he attacked Columbus, New Mexico. There is no mention in the production of these two invasions.
Proof number four: Burns ignores the two Mexican misadventures of which the Punitive Expedition failed and was marred by fighting between the Mexican Army and Wilson’s Black 10th Cavalry -- Buffalo Soldiers --that suffered at the hands of the experienced Mexican soldiers and were taken prisoner. Nonetheless, he dwells on the famous Zimmerman Telegram in an effort to make Mexico look bad. The Telegram was sent by a German official – Zimmerman – that asked the Mexicans to attack the United States if it entered the War in Europe that started in 1914. If it did, Germany promised Mexico that it would return Texas, Arizona and New Mexico back to Mexico, lands it lost 7 decades before to America’s Manifest Destiny. Burns thought the telegram was important enough to present and he led viewers to believe that Mexico was conspiring with the Germans to stab the U.S. in the back. It was not; it was too busy fighting in the middle of a ten year civil war/revolution that didn’t end until 1919.
The biggest proof of all is number five: In his otherwise magnificent WWII production for PBS, he presented the war through the eyes of several servicemen, including a segregated Black soldier, from various parts of the country ignoring the hundreds of thousands of Hispanics, mostly Mexican Americans and Puerto Ricans who served with great distinction in all theaters of the war in ranks from private to general including General Pedro Del Valle from Puerto Rico who commanded a division of victorious Marines in the final invasion of the war, Okinawa. And then there was PFC Cleto Rodriguez, a Mexican boy from San Antonio, who was the second most decorated soldier of the war. But no Burns viewer would ever know that from his productions.
Hispanic veterans had had enough and protested nationally about Burns’ WWII production because his viewers had no idea that an estimated 300,000-400,000 Hispanics served in WWII including Mexican Army fighter pilots who flew under the command of General Douglas MacArthur in the Pacific.
Under severe pressure, Burns finally edited some Hispanic WWII content into the WWII production. It obviously didn’t have much impact however, as the current Roosevelt production has the defects noted here. Will Ken Burns and PBS ever learn? Hispanics have been here for a long time and have served the country well, even when they weren’t Americans.
Contreras formerly wrote for the New America News Service of the New York Times