Pride, Struggle for Hispanics on Veteran’s Day

Cindy Frías dreams of mofongo in the U.S. Air Force (Photo via El Diario-La Prensa.)

Cindy Frías dreams of mofongo in the U.S. Air Force (Photo via El Diario-La Prensa.)

To commemorate Veteran’s Day, El Diario-La Prensa has published a series of reports and profiles that offer a vivid portrait of Hispanic men and women in the U.S. Army: From the struggles of the Veterans to the sense of homesickness and patriotism of the ones deployed.

In a story entitled “Hispanic Veterans Fight Unemployment,” reporter Juan Matossian focuses on the struggles of the returned soldiers dealing with unemployment and mental illnesses.

Around 13 percent of the homeless adult population are veterans — some 62,600— according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Forty percent of them are African American or Latinos, even though they represent only 10.4 percent and 3.4 percent of the total number, respectively.

“The country has a moral obligation to make sure veterans are working and productive citizens,” said Derek Bennett, Chief of Staff of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA).

However, some 1.4 million veterans are at risk of losing their homes because of poverty, lack of social support networks, and poor living conditions in overcrowded or substandard housing.

One of such veterans is Héctor Clase, a retired sergeant who can barely walk, whom José Acosta profiles in an article entitled A Tireless Warrior.”

First Gulf War veteran  Héctor Clase (Photo via El Diario-La Prensa)

First Gulf War veteran Héctor Clase (Photo via El Diario-La Prensa)

Despite his many ills, Clase, 48, volunteers at a veterans hospital where he teaches photography and helps his colleagues in the process of applying for benefits.

“Many veterans don’t know how to get benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs. I help them with the application process and give them advice,” said Clase.

Clase, who grew up in the Bronx in a Puerto Rican family, volunteered for the first Gulf War in 1990, where he lived in fear of chemical attacks. After 15 years of service, he went back to his old neighborhood, where he felt “disconnected.”

“I saw many deaths and other bad things that no one would ever want to see, and when I got back I had changed and no one, not even my family, knew how to treat me,” said Clase.

The veteran was diagnosed with Gulf War syndrome, a disease of unknown origin that produces post traumatic stress disorder, fatigue and muscle pain.

“Because of war I have respiratory, heart and liver problems. I also got diabetes, and they don’t know why,” said Clase.

A very different story is told by Karla García, a Dominican woman who was deployed to a Japan military base in 2009, but was never sent to the battlefield. José Acosta profiles her in the story “I Always Wanted to Go to War.”

Veteran Karla García (Photo via El Diario-La Prensa.)

Veteran Karla García (Photo by José Acosta, via El Diario-La Prensa)

Launching grenades, shooting machine guns and jumping walls wasn’t in the plan when Karla García decided to study psychology.

But when the 26-year-old Dominican woman was in her third year of college, financial help got scarce and she decided to enroll in the U.S. Army to get help with her education.

“I always liked the army, and that’s why I never doubted to take that chance,” said the Puerto Plata native. “I entered the marine corps and I finished my degree while serving.”

The story ended well for the woman who grew up in New York after her parents moved here in 1992. In the Okinawa U.S. military base in Japan she met her husband, with whom she has a child. She is a professional psychologist now and helps homeless veterans in the organization Easter Seals New York.

Finally, in the story Cindy Frías Flies High in the Air Force,” reporter Zaira Cortés interviews another Dominican woman who is currently serving.

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Cindy Frías, 24, who grew up in the Upper Manhattan, belongs to the 52nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, based in Germany.

“Thanks to discipline I have built a decisive and strong character. The uniform is not only a piece of clothing, I wear it in my heart. My parents, Dominican immigrants, taught me to live my life with honor and honesty, the main pillars of my education which the Army only strengthened.”

Frías goes on to say that she sometimes misses her parents and siblings, especially when she spends special dates alone – like birthdays. But the thing she misses the most from home is her mother’s home cooked meals: “Mofongo is the dish I miss the most.”

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