Editing history:
Ken Burns should remember N.M. when remaking film

When I learned that PBS filmmaker Ken Burns, whose documentaries I've always enjoyed, made a 14-hour film about World War II without mentioning Hispanic soldiers and their sacrifice, I felt betrayed as a New Mexican.

How could a documentary called "The War" not interview the few remaining survivors of one of the most hallowed events in New Mexican and American history - the Bataan Death March?

As a former editor of New Mexico Magazine, I'm saddened but not surprised that once again our state, the Hispanic heartland of North America, has been treated as if it didn't exist.

Bowing to rational criticism from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and other groups, Burns recently agreed to include stories about Hispanic veterans in his film. I hope he remembers New Mexico.

The Japanese invasion of the Philippines in 1942 caught combined Filipino and American forces unprepared. New Mexico's 200th and 515th Coast Artillery units of the National Guard, along with 58,000 other soldiers, were captured and marched some 90 miles across the Bataan Peninsula to a prison camp. More than 10,000 died along the way in appalling conditions.

New Mexico Guardsmen had been sent to the Philippines because Spanish is the spoken language there.

Captured with his troops, Lt. Gen. Jonathan Wainwright specifically praised the 200th and 515th Coastal Artillery units, saying famously that "they were the first to fire and the last to lay down their arms and only reluctantly doing so after being given a direct order."

I'm always puzzled about why the American mainstream ignores the overwhelming reality of Hispanic culture in the New World in all its energy and genius. And why would otherwise reliable scholars, such as Sir Kenneth Clark in his book "Civilization," completely omit any reference to the Spanish contribution to European culture?

Is it related to the xenophobia that's behind the American "English only" movement, in which multilingual speakers are deemed somehow less well-educated than people who speak only one language?

The missing Hispanic presence in mainstream American history is particularly galling in New Mexico, the nation's only officially bilingual state.

Even most New Mexicans are not aware of what historian Marc Simmons says was the "phenomenal emergence of the Spanish language press" in the 19th and early 20th centuries, when "almost 200 distinct papers in that language had been published in New Mexico and southern Colorado." It's agreed, Simmons wrote, that "this journalistic outlet helped preserve Hispanic regional culture."

One wonders what firebrand editorials would have been written about "The War" and Burns by Enrique H. Salazar in his "La Voz del Pueblo" or in the pages of "El Independiente," edited by Felipe Chacon.

I'm glad, at least, that Burns and PBS have agreed to do their part in halting the erasure of Hispanic culture in America.

V.B. Price is an Albuquerque free-lance writer, author, editor and commentator.
April 13, 2007