Jose Angel Garibay, Everybodys All-American Mexican

Local war stories, there've been a few, but in the early slogging, none was more poignant than that of Jose Angel Garibay, the 21-year-old who joined the Marines in 1999 so he could study. Instead, Garibay died in action in Nasiriya, becoming Orange County's first Iraq War hero.

Local and national media have cranked out volumes on Garibay's death, his Mexican heritage and touching memorial tributes. But other, disquieting reports have emerged as well. Garibay and other Southern Californians have been cited in articles in which the Los Angeles-based Latinos Against the War in Iraq coalition has accused the U.S. military of using young Latinos as cannon fodder in this war. Adding ammo to the charges is a March 27 Pew Hispanic Center study that found Latinos are underrepresented in U.S. military ranks but overrepresented in combat positions.

Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach) has used Garibay in a far different way. His office's website worships the war hero from Costa Mesa, which is part of Rohrabacher's congressional district. And The Orange County Register breathlessly reported that on March 27, Rohrabacher wrestled with his emotions as he got up from his seat in the House and said, “Mr. Speaker, I rise today to pay homage and respect to Corporal Jose Angel Garibay, a 21-year-old Marine killed in Iraq. Jose Garibay was a proud American of Mexican descent and is now an American hero. Born in Jalisco, Mexico, Corporal Garibay moved here with his family while still a baby. Like all Americans, his family came here seeking opportunity and freedom.”

Your local congressman is supposed to pay tribute to fallen military personnel. But while we do not know exactly how Garibay's family “moved here,” it's a safe bet they crossed the Mexican border illegally, since the Garibays had to receive amnesty before they could become legal U.S. residents. And that makes Rohrabacher's statement curious. We searched in vein for another Rohrabacher reference to a family from Mexico having come to this country “seeking opportunity and freedom.” But there are countless articles, town-hall speeches and statements from the House floor in which Rohrabacher says illegal immigration is a “catastrophe” that will “doom” this country if it's not stopped. He has also made a point of singling out Mexico as a country the U.S. should closely monitor because its government is “headed by people who are sympathetic to Fidel Castro.”

Since his election to the House in 1989, Rohrabacher has sponsored or voted for bills and amendments that would put U.S. troops on the Mexican border, increase the number of border agents and inspectors, fortify the screening and tracking of immigrants in the U.S., forbid immediate family from joining immigrants allowed by law to be here, establish mandatory legal immigration-status verification programs in the workplace, and deny constitutionally guaranteed citizenship to children born in the U.S. to illegal immigrants. Meanwhile, he has steadfastly opposed measures that would ease restrictions on immigration; allow more foreign workers into the country; or, as recently as 2002, grant amnesty to illegal immigrants—the manner in which the Garibays became legal residents and the parents of a future American war hero saluted on Rohrabacher's website.

Another immigrant-basher, columnist Allan Wall, references Garibay and other young Latino war dead in his March 27 piece posted on the website. Named after Virginia Dare, the first English child born in the so-called “New World,” the arch-conservative, anti-immigrant site carries stories with such headlines as “SARS: The Immigration Dimension,” “Anti-Americanism Spurred by Immigration” and “California's Being Invaded, Too–By Hispanic Holidays.” In “Why Is Mexico Meddling in Our Military,” Wall mentions Garibay in passing as the first Mexican to die in the war. That's apparently okay in Wall's world because the Marine was only a legal resident. But when Mexico City's El Universal newspaper describes a second fallen Marine—a U.S. citizen of Mexican descent—as the second “Mexican” to die in the Iraq, Wall goes apeshit. Once you're deemed an American citizen, you're no longer a stinkin' Mexican in Wall's view. He goes on to fret that so many foreign-born Hispanics in the American military raise the specter of dual loyalties to this country and the countries of their birth.

O. Ricardo Pimentel, the “Latino beat” columnist for the Arizona Republic, takes the opposite view: he holds Garibay's death as proof that anti-immigrant groups are full of shit when it comes to the “knotty question of dual loyalty.”

“This is getting really old,” writes Pimentel—and you can almost feel the fatigue in his fingers as he typed. “To have our loyalty questioned is often part and parcel of the Latino experience in the United States. Triple the scrutiny if we're immigrants, with only slightly less leeway given for children of immigrants. Two world wars, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War and now Iraq apparently have failed to answer the question.”

However, when it comes to putting a political spin on the death of Jose Angel Garibay, no one does a better job than his devastated mother. Simona Garibay, who barely speaks English, revealed in media interviews that her son never wanted to fight and that Bush “needs to have sympathy for mothers like me and stop the war.”

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