by Alex Meneses Miyashita
Hispanic advocates and executives from the Public Broadcasting System came to no resolution after 90 minutes of discussion and debate March 6 regarding a seven-part World War 11 documentary by Ken Burns that ignores the role of Latinos in the conflict.
Neither side yielded in what was otherwise described as a cordial meeting.
Hispanic advocates are demanding that PBS suspend the program’s Sept. 23 scheduled release until it includes the Latino contribution. PBS remains firm on its intent to air the documentary intact while offering alternatives that the Latino advocates rejected out of hand.
The Latino group, led by former San Diego State University staff member Gus Chavez, has requested a formal response from PBS to its demands (listed below) by March 13.
The community advocates maintained that releasing the documentary without portraying the Latino involvement would be “an insult to our community.” They also asked for a meeting with Burns, who has a contract with PBS until 2022. So far he has declined to respond to their invitation.
Contacted by Weekly Report, a PBS spokesperson said the company will reserve comment until it communicates with the Latino participants again.
In a statement, PBS gave the explanation, “It was never the goal of the filmmakers to create a comprehensive history of the War, thus many, many stories are left untold.
PBS said that editing the film would infringe on the filmmaker’s artistic expression.
It also stated that with the national airing of the documentary, The War, on Sept. 23, it will conduct an outreach initiative to generate local productions that add more perspectives of the conflict. During the meeting, the PBS executives said they would work to ensure that Latino participation is addressed with local additions.
Group members said that is not enough. “We’re not going to compromise, that’s the bottom line,” Chavez told Weekly Report.
Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez said, “We really have to have the Latino voice in that big documentary. Burns could not find a Latino in six years. It’s perpetuating the invisibility of Latinos.” She added it will be easier for them to exclude the community next time.
Rivas-Rodriguez is co-author of “A Legacy Greater than Words,” which showcases interviews with Hispanics in World War II.
Chávez added that the group is planning to contact corporations that provide support to PBS if it decided to air the documentary without changes.
President Bush has requested a slash of $145 million of federal PBS funding for next year’s budget, he said, adding, “This is not the time for you to be messing with this.”
The group plans to reach out to leadership at national and local levels, among other actions such as a national call-in day to protest the airing of the documentary. “This kind of omission is a national tragedy,” Chávez said. “It totally denies our experience.”
He called the meeting generally productive, saying Kerger “seemed to be shook up.” He remains optimistic that changes will be added to the documentary, he said.
PBS did change its initial Sept. 16 release date, Mexican Independence Day, to Sept. 23, following pressure from advocates.
An estimated 500,000 Latinos participated in the war, according to Chávez. American GI Forum chief operating officer Rolando Esparza told Weekly Report that Latinos earned proportionally more Medals of Honor during the last century than any other group, stressing the contribution the community had made to the country’s armed forces.