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POV ON PBS

Soldados: Chicanos in Viet Nam
The Sixth Section

 
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Charley Trujillo holds out the glass eye he has due to injuries sustained during his tour in Vietnam. Photo by Sonya Rhee
They went out of pride; they went because they had no other choice. They wanted to fight for their country; they wanted to be heroes. For Charley Trujillo and four of his friends from the farming community of Corcoran, California, the Vietnam War was a life-altering experience that they and the nation still struggle with three decades later.

Soldados: Chicanos in Viet Nam, based on Trujillo's book by the same name, offers viewers an intimate and emotionally honest glimpse into the lives of the veterans who returned - and one who didn't come back. The men, joined by their wives, parents, and other family members, reflect upon the physical and psychological training they received in order to become killers - their term - as well as the healing process they underwent upon return from the war.

Soldados should be required viewing for any young person considering the service. Neither dogmatic nor a polemic, the film provides a complex, yet balanced look at the Chicano experience in Vietnam. One of the veterans wishes every young man went into the military. "It helps `him` to learn discipline and to learn teamwork," he says, without a hint of jingoism. Another veteran speaks of the difficulty he had adjusting to civilian life; his wife recalls fearing for their children's safety when her husband experienced flashbacks. Today, Trujillo, the most critical of the group, speaks and writes about the war. Drawing comparisons between the Vietnamese and Chicanos like himself, he remarks, "It seems as though they took our farmworkers to kill their farmworkers." Trujillo talks with the measured sabiduría of someone who was there, interlacing his comments with a hearty sense of humor and warmth while talking about such a painful and largely unrecognized part of our collective history.

Soldados is followed by The Sixth Section, an experimental documentary directed by Alex Rivera that looks at a group of Mexican immigrants who have carved out a niche in upstate New York while maintaining ties to their rural home in southern Mexico. Through their network of kin and community, the migrants organized Grupo Unión, a mutual-aid society that has raised money to help improve the community they left behind. •

Soldados and The Sixth Section air at 10 p.m. on Tuesday, September 2 on PBS. For more information, go to www.pbs.org/pov/.


More by Alejandro Pérez

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