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How Military Recruiters Pitch to Latinos

Jorge Mariscal -

PowerPoint Racism

In a 1958 CIA information report on revolutionary activities in Cuba, the agent in charge wrote "Che [Guevara] is fairly intellectual for a Latin." A racist assertion such as this was not uncommon in government documents. Throughout the Cold War, official bureaucratic language and content continued to be influenced by long-standing"scientific" theories about national character and racial psychology.

Those of us engaged in anti-racist activism and research are well aware that many racial stereotypes with origins in earlier centuries persist in corporate boardrooms, universities, and shop floors across America. But although we know the conservatives’ claims about "level playing fields," "the end of racism," and "post-civil rights society" are hollow rhetoric, we can still be stunned to find 19th century images and assumptions being reproduced in public spaces at the beginning of the 21st century.

As has been widely reported in the media over the last two years, the Pentagon’s interest in young Latino men and women peeked in the late 1990s when demographic indicators revealed that Latino youth would be the largest pool of military age youth in coming decades. Because Latino youth were (and continue to be) underrepresented in the military and because their educational and economic opportunities are limited compared to other groups, recruiting strategists have been busy concocting a series of well-funded "Hispanic initiatives."

For almost a decade, the Pentagon has thrown millions of dollars at Spanish-language recruitment campaigns and promoted fast-track naturalization procedures for non-citizens. Even laudable proposals that would provide provisional residency for non-citizen students so that they could attend college (the DREAM Act) have been salted with covert military options (see note below).

The Return of "Scientific" Racism

One of the founding documents of modern racism is Count Arthur de Gobineau’s The Inequality of Human Races (1853-1855). This remarkable manual of racist thinking found its most enthusiastic audience in the German Reich but also exerted its influence over all Western racisms, especially their North American mutations.

In the conclusion to his chapter on the "Inequalities of languages," Gobineau writes: "All the facts, however, mentioned in this chapter go to prove that, originally, there is a perfect correspondence between the intellectual virtues of a race and those of its native speech; that languages are, in consequence, unequal in value and significance as races are also that their qualities and merits, like a people’s blood, disappear or become absorbed, when they are swamped by too many heterogeneous elements Hence, though it is often difficult to infer at once, in a particular case, the merits of a people from those of its language, it is quite certain that in theory this can always be done."

Today, Gobineau’s name is known to only a handful of scholars. But the racist logic that informed his writings lives on deep in the structures of U.S. society.

During a 2005 training session for employees of the Department of Defense’s Joint Advertising and Marketing Research and Studies program (JAMRS), representatives of the New York-based Michael Saray Hispanic Marketing firm made a power point presentation designed to upgrade the military’s campaign to attract Latino youth.

The mission of JAMRS, according to the official website, is the following: "Our marketing communications programs help broaden people’s understanding of Military Service as a career option, while our internal government market research and study programs help bolster the effectiveness of all the Services’ recruiting and retention efforts." The presentation by the Saray group, whose clients include major corporate players such as Allstate and Geico, was designed to explain "Hispanics" to JAMRS employees in order to facilitate the military’s niche marketing efforts.

This kind of activity belies the Pentagon’s frequent contention that recruiters do not target by ethnicity. In fact, reports such as the one prepared by the CNA Corporation in 2004 reveals that the Marine Corps recruiting station in San Diego, California, collects detailed information on "economic and race/ethnic distributions in its fifteen substations and eleven contact areas." The report notes that "Hispanics" make up 31% of the population in this station area that stretches from the U.S.-Mexico border to southern Utah.

In the "Language and Cultural DNA" section of the Saray group’s presentation, we learn three important assumptions: 1) "Latinos are culturally ‘hard wired’ differently," 2) "Hispanics" are "right brain" and thus "emotional, intuitive, creative, and visionary" (unlike "left brain" groups who are "intellectual, sequential, analytical, logical"), and 3) "America’s system of education was built on a strong cultural bias toward the left hemisphere of the brain."

Citing a study by the influential Yankelovich, Inc., public opinion research firm, presenters showed audience members a typology of consumers composed of four basic types: "Fervents, Indifferents, Practicals, and Emotionals." According to the study’s authors, "Hispanics are twice as likely to be Emotionals."

Simply put, JAMRS trainees were taught "the Spanish language has not favored intellect over emotion. It’s [sic] bias or thought process has not favored the left brain over the right brain. This is a real cultural difference." Therefore, the Saray group’s advice to Pentagon ad men devising Hispanic campaigns for military recruitment is to "avoid blatant overuse of numbers. You want to reach the heart, not the left brain." To sum up, "the traditions of Hispanic culture are not necessarily in-synch with the concept of ‘mainstream society’ or the ‘American Dream.’ In general, Hispanics are right brain thinkers. The marketer must ‘acculturate’ or risk losing relevancy by continued reliance on left brain thinking."


The Fastest Growing Segment of the Population-Hispanic Right Brain Emotionals

What is not at all clear is the extent to which Pentagon officials subscribe to the Saray’s group language-based system of racial types. One can only assume that the consequences for diversifying the officer corps, to take one area where Latinos are grossly underrepresented, would be quite negative since undoubtedly no one wants "right brain" non-logical and emotional officers leading troops into battle.

A cursory examination of recent recruiting advertisements, however, suggests that the JAMRS audience, like other government and corporate policymakers, was already in tune with the contents of the Saray presentation. Ads featuring adoring Latina mothers and slogans like "¿Estás listo para lo que te espera?" ("Are you ready for wait awaits you?"-emotional and painfully ironic given the war in Iraq) have proliferated since the "war on terror" began.

As journalists Tom Hamburger and Peter Wallsten, authors of One Party Country: The Republican Plan for Dominance in the 21st Century, told Amy Goodman on a recent "Democracy Now!" program, Republican planners in the 2004 election operated from a set of stereotypes similar to those promoted by the Saray and Yankelovich marketers: "George W. Bush won 40% of the Hispanic vote nationally, which is a pretty remarkable number for Republicans and they did this with a strategy that some strategists call the "I love you" strategy, where they manage to appeal to a sense of emotion, rather than issues, in the case of Latinos."

According to this racializing model, "right-brain" irrational Hispanics, unsuited for "America’s system of education," will vote their way into Karl Rove’s projected Republican majority, and for decades to come fill the ranks of the lowest echelons of the service sector, the prison system, and the combat units of America’s imperial army. Were he alive today Che Guevara, whom a CIA operative once described as "fairly intellectual for a Latin," would undoubtedly be asking progressive Latinos what they plan to do about it.

JORGE MARISCAL is a Vietnam veteran and director of the Chicano-Latino Arts and Humanities Program at the University of California, San Diego. He is a member of Project YANO (San Diego). Visit his blog at: jorgemariscal.blogspot.com/ He can be reached at: gmariscal@ucsd.edu


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