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Latino Democrats push for Hispanic recognition in military base renamings

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus urged the commission tasked with removing Confederate names to use criteria that recognizes diversity and historic discrimination in military ranks.
Image: The Congressional Hispanic Caucus Holds News Conference On Evenwel v. Abbott Voting Districts Case
Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., center, speaks as Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, right, and Thomas Saenz, left, general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, listen during a news conference in front of the Supreme Court, on Dec. 8, 2015.  Alex Wong / Getty Images file

Latino members of Congress are pushing for a U.S. Army base to be named after a Latino military hero and for a greater recognition of the role of Hispanics in the nation’s defense.

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus and several members of the House Armed Services Committee sent a letter April 12 to the commission tasked with removing Confederate names from military bases and other Department of Defense properties.

In the letter, provided to NBC News, they urged the commission to “develop new criteria” that increases chances of honoring enlisted service members as well as officers, and recognizes the diversity and demographics of a base’s community.

Many military installations are named for high-ranking officers, including those who served in the Confederate army.

Historic discrimination and exclusion have kept Latinos from rising in the military ranks and kept the numbers of Latino officers low, meaning there's little chance of a base being named for a Hispanic, according to the letter signed by Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., and Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, along with others.

“Latinos have fought and died in every single American war since our nation’s independence, yet too often our community’s service and sacrifice has been overlooked," Castro said.

Castro's office said that the current criteria essentially emphasizes honoring senior officers, as has been the practice. That tends to mean more white service members would be honored. But Castro, who is from San Antonio which has several military bases, and Gallego, a military veteran, say enlisted service members tend to be more diverse and deserve to be honored too if they have performed heroic or honorable acts. They called for the military's diversity to be reflected, and said for names of facilities also to reflect the communities where they are located.

“U.S. Army bases should not be named after traitors who rose in rebellion against the United States and attempted to destroy that same U.S. Army in the field,” Gallego said. “We should instead honor the people who upheld their oaths to the Constitution through brave and honorable service to the United States."

The members also supported the renaming of Fort Hood after Master Sgt. Roy Benavidez who was awarded the Medal of Honor in 1981 by then-President Ronald Reagan for heroic actions to save several wounded comrades in Vietnam.

“MSG Benavidez was a Texas Native and Mexican-American Vietnam War veteran who grew up experiencing the discrimination of Jim Crow," the letter said, "MSG Benavidez is an extraordinary example of the determination, skill, and courage that Latino Americans in uniform have exemplified for generations."

The lawmakers pointed out that renaming Fort Hood after a Latino service member “would be a symbolic step forward” after the slaying of Spc. Vanessa Guillén at the base. 

Guillén, 20, was last seen April 22, 2020, at Fort Hood where there were allegations she had been sexually harassed. Demands for #JusticeForVanessaGuillen were made after her remains were found in June. When police moved in to arrest Spc. Aaron Robinson, 20, in connection with her disappearance, he shot and killed himself, authorities said in early July.

Guillén's case resonated with Latinos around the country, especially given they are one of the fastest growing minority populations in the military.

The letter included other Latinos in U.S. military history whose careers and heroism should be considered by the commission.

Aside from Benavidez, the list includes Macario Garcia, a World War II veteran and the first Mexican immigrant to receive the Medal of Honor; Marcelino Serna, a World War I veteran and the first Latino to receive the Distinguished Service Cross; Richard E. Cavazos, a Korean War veteran and the first Mexican American to reach the rank of four-star general; and Carmen Contreras-Bozak, a World War II veteran and the first Latina to join the U.S. Women’s Army Corps.

The honored names behind military installations are symbolic, the letter concludes, and should reflect the armed forces and the nation's diversity.

The bipartisan commission includes one Latino, Lawrence Romo, national commander of the American GI Forum. The commission will ultimately decide the bases and other military assets whose names should be changed or any symbols, monuments, displays or other items commemorating the Confederacy that should be removed.

Others who signed the letter are Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chair Raul Ruiz, D-Calif., Rep. Sylvia Garcia, D-Texas, and House Armed Services Committee members Reps. Filemon Vela, D-Texas, Salud Carbajal, D-Calif., and Veronica Escobar, D-Texas.

Other members are California Democratic Reps. Pete Aguilar, Juan Vargas, J. Luis Correa, Linda T. Sánchez, Nanette Diaz Barragán, Grace F. Napolitano, Norma J. Torres, Tony Cárdenas and Lucille Roybal-Allard, as well as Democratic New York Reps. Adriano Espaillat and Ritchie Torres, and Rep. Darren Soto, D-Fla., and Rep. Jesús G. "Chuy" García, D-Ill. 

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