Latino critics of The War seek assurance from PBS, WETA

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Advocacy groups protesting Ken Burns’ upcoming World War II doc asked PBS and WETA in Washington, D.C., Aug. 20 [2007] for assurance that the producers would work harder to include Latinos in “current and future programming.

The statement about Burns’ The War bore the signatures of 53 individuals, ten media, policy and educational organizations and Defend the Honor, the coalition that first challenged Burns.

In a response, PBS said it “continues to build upon our track record of inclusion in programming, in front of and behind the camera.” WETA has issued no response.

The full statements from Defend the Honor and PBS are below.


Why the Latino Community Can’t Let This Matter Rest

Defend the Honor released this statement through PR Newswire Aug. 20, 2007

The Latino “war” against Ken Burns’ upcoming documentary, The War, to be aired on PBS is not over. Despite recent press statements, key Latino organizations and leaders across the country today publicly announced that the issue is far from resolved and that they will continue pressing for a respectful resolution.

Latino organizations and leaders called on Ken Burns and Florentine Pictures to meet with a representative cross-section of the national Latino leadership to explain in detail the changes they have made to the film, how they plan to include the Latino experience in their future projects and how they plan to include Latinos on the Florentine team. They also call on PBS President and CEO Paula Kerger, as well as WETA-TV’s CEO and president, Sharon Percy Rockefeller, to explain the measures that will be taken to assure that such a gross exclusion of the Latino community does not occur again in their current and future programming, and how they will supplement The War with other programming and activities to include the Latino experience, in particular with the educational programming.

At the urging of a corporate sponsor, Burns met with two Latino groups in early May and reiterated that he would include interviews with some Latino veterans in the 14.5-hour documentary, without offering many details. This was a commitment that he and PBS had already made publicly. Citing the results of this meeting, Burns and PBS officials at both the national and local levels have declared the issue closed.

“Ken Burns cannot choose to make a secret deal with only two of the many Latino groups that were involved in this issue and in discussion with him and PBS, and then claim that the matter is resolved,” explains Marta Garcia, co-chair of the New York Chapter of the National Hispanic Media Coalition and one of the founders of Defend the Honor, a Latino grassroots mobilization that first raised the alarm about Latino exclusion from this PBS documentary at the beginning of this year. “He must bring closure to this issue by paying the Latino leadership of this country the respect, respeto, of meeting with us to explain himself and his future relationship to the Latino community.”

Some progress had been made on the issue over the past several months in that Burns has added interviews with two Mexican American veterans and one Native American to the 14 hour-28 minute documentary. “But make no mistake,” said Ivan Roman, executive director of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, “we will withhold judgment on how meaningful that additional material is whether it truly speaks to the Latino experience and whether it is reflected in the companion book and educational material.”

In subsequent statements to the press, Burns has been dismissive of the arguments that the inclusion of Latinos is about historical accuracy rather than political correctness.

“It is unfortunate that Ken Burns continues to see this issue as one of politics and rhetoric that he must rise above,” said Dr. Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez, the University of Texas journalism professor who co-chairs the Defend the Honor Campaign. “It has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with historical accuracy and inclusion.”

Rosa Rosales, national president of LULAC, said that it was crucial for the Latino organizations to publicly challenge statements in the press by Burns and PBS that the issue had been resolved. “As Ken Burns travels across the country as part of the $10 million promotional effort by PBS, he still characterizes this as a terrible misunderstanding,” Rosales said. “It’s no misunderstanding. We understand perfectly that he only added the new interviews under pressure and, right now, it looks like he’s not very proud of that new material.”

Another sticking point are the discrepancies between the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) grant proposal that provided federal funding for the film, and what he and PBS have said in recent months. For instance, Burns has said repeatedly in news interviews that in the more than 6 years of production, “no Latinos came forward” to be interviewed about their WWII experiences. But he apparently excluded Latinos from the beginning: in the NEH grant proposal submitted in 2004, Burns and Florentine Films said that the film “will celebrate American diversity” and that it will be about the “diversity of wartime America . . . African-American, Japanese American and white.”

“This is certainly very different from the way he discusses his film today in defending himself against Latino criticisms,” observes Jess Quintero, president of the Hispanic War Veterans of America.

That documentary will shape how Americans view WWII, and if short shrift is given to the Latino contributions, there will be a reinforcement of the widespread ignorance of the Latino contribution to the building of the U.S. “Ken Burns and PBS are playing recklessly with our history, both as Latinos and Americans,” observes Gus Chavez, one of the co-chairs of the Defend the Honor. He concludes, “This is something every American should be upset about.”

“We are very uncomfortable with taking Burns and PBS’ word that they have addressed the Latino community’s concerns before actually seeing the product,” Armando Rendon of Defend the Honor Campaign of Northern California adds. “The anger in the grassroots Latino community continues unabated by the manner in which he and PBS have handled this matter.”

Preliminary signatories to this statement include the following, with additional signatures to be added through Sept. 22, 2007.

— Afro-Latino Project, Queens College (CUNY), Flushing, NY
— APITO Centro Cultural de Puerto Rico (ACCPR), San Juan, Puerto Rico
— Defend the Honor
— Latino Literacy Now, Los Angeles
— League of United Latin America Citizens (LULAC)
— Lic. Rudy L. Ramos Civil Rights Chapter of the AGIF, San Antonio, Texas
— National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ), Washington, DC
— National Association of Latino Independent Producers, (NALIP)
— National Hispanic Media Coalition (NHMC)
— National Institute for Latino Policy (NiLP), New York, NY
— National Latino Council on Alcohol and Tobacco Prevention (LCAT), New York, NY and Washington, DC

Individuals (affiliations for identification purposes only):
— Vicente “Panama” Alba, New York, NY
— Dr. Frances Aparicio, Professor, Latin American and Latino Studies, University of Illinois at Chicago
— Luis Aponte-Pares, Boston, MA
— Louise Bonanova, Civil Rights Investigator (Retired), Office for Civil Rights, United States Department of Education, San Francisco, CA
— Maria Caban
— Grissele Camacho, Esq.
— Ed (Gato) Castillo-Rubio
— Commander, Viet Nam Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 9305 of Imperial County
— Maria Elena Cepeda, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Latina/o Studies, Williams College, Williamstown, MA
— Evelyn Collazo, New York, NY
— Edgar De Jesus, AFSMCE East Region Area Organizing Director, and National Bronx Member, Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LACLA)
— Minerva Delgado, Bronx, NY
— Dra. Rosalina Diaz, Associate Professor of Education, Medger Evers College (CUNY), Brooklyn, NY
— Martin Espada, Professor, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
— Jaime Estades, Brooklyn, NY
— Myra Y. Estepa, Brooklyn, NY
— Dolores M. Fernandez, Ph.D., President, Eugenio Maria de Hostos Community College (CUNY), Bronx, NY
— Ricardo R. Fernandez, Ph.D., President, Herbert H. Lehman College (CUNY), Bronx, NY
— Juan Flores, Ph.D., Visiting Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis, New York University, New York, NY
— Cynthia Garcia Coll, Ph.D., Charles Pitt Robinson and John Palmer Barstow Professor Professor of Education, Psychology & Pediatrics, Brown University, Providence, RI
— Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas, Queens, NY
— Gabriel Haslip-Viera, Ph.D., Chair, Department of Sociology, City College of New York, City University of New York, New York, NY
— Hilda Hernandez-Gravelle, MSW, Ed.D.
— Tanya K. Hernandez, Professor of Law and Justice, Frederick W. Hall Scholar, Rutgers University School of Law, Newark, NJ
— Dr. James Jennings, Ph.D., Professor, Tuft University, Boston, MA
— Miriam Jimenez Roman, Afro-Latino Forum, New York University, New York, NY
— Francisco J. Gonzalez, Cottage Grove, MN
— Aldo Lauria Santiago, Ph.D., Rutgers University
— Raul Madrid, Ph/D., Department of Political Science, University of Texas at Austin
— Miguel “Mickey” Melendez, New York, NY
— Carlos Molina, Ph.D., New York, NY
— Edwin Karli Padilla, Associate Professor of Spanish, University of Houston-Downtown
— Franklyn Perez, Esq., Hostos Community College, Bronx, NY
— Luis O. Reyes, Ph.D., New York, NY
— Eugene Rivera, Clinical Coordinator, Hill Health Center, Middletown, CT
— Dr. Clara E. Rodriguez, Bronx, NY
— Luz Rodriguez, New York, NY
— Carlos Rodriguez-Fraticelli, Ph.D., University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras
— Placido Salazar, San Antonio, USAF Retired Vietnam Veteran, State Veterans’ Affairs, Officer of The American GI Forum of Texas
— Carlos Sanabria, Ph.D., Coordinator of Latin American and Caribbean Studies, Eugenio Maria de Hostos Community College, City University of New York, Bronx, NY
— Izzy Sanabria, publisher, Latin NY Magazine;
— Dr. Jose Ramon Sanchez, Chair, Department of Urban Studies, Long Island University, Brooklyn, NY
— Nelson Sierra, Albany, NY
— Hector Soto, Esq., La Resurreccion UMC Social Justice Committee, Bronx, NY
— Candida Tapia
— Donato Tapia, JD, San Francisco, CA
— Esteban Torres, former U.S. Congressman, California
— Gloria Tristani, former Commissioner, Federal Communications Commission (FCC)
— Luis Urrieta, Jr., Ed.D., Department of Curriculum & Instruction, University of Texas at Austin
— Richard Valencia, Ed.D., Department of Educational Psychology, University of Texas at Austin
— Angela Valenzuela, Ed.D., Dept. Curriculum and Instruction and Educational Administration, University of Texas at Austin
— Armando Vazquez-Ramos,Ph.D. , Chicano & Latino Studies Department, California State University, Long Beach
— Emilio Zamora, Ph.D., Department of History, University of Texas at Austin


Rosa Rosales, president, League of United Latin American Citizens, (210) 733-5454 or
Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez, Co-chair, Defend the Honor campaign, (512) 471-0405 or
Gus Chavez, Co-chair, Defend the Honor campaign, (619) 807-8938 or
Armando Rendon, Esq., Defend the Honor Campaign of Northern California, (510) 219-9139 or
Jess Quintero, president, Hispanic War Veterans of America, (202) 439-8028 or
Marta Garcia, National Hispanic Media Coalition, (212) 965-9758 or

Further information: Defend the Honor Campaign Website

First item was published under slightly different headline in print.


PBS responds: Will ‘build on track record of inclusion’

The network provided this statement Aug. 22, 2007.

Since the issue was first raised earlier this year, PBS and Ken Burns have met and corresponded with a range of organizations from the Latino community, we have listened to their concerns about The War and we have addressed those concerns.

We are pleased that Florentine Films, HACR and the American GI Forum were able to reach an agreement in May about the new content. PBS feels that Ken’s willingness to add content after the completion of his production is highly commendable.

Florentine Films has scheduled many screenings in recent months, including one in June at the Library of Congress, attended by representatives of Latino groups, where clips from the new content were shown in rough-cut form. In July, the American GI forum invited Florentine Films to show clips from The War at their annual conference. That screening included clips of the new content featuring Latino veterans of World War II and the featured vets appeared at the conference in person.

PBS met with a broad cross-section of Latino leaders in July and provided an update on steps underway to ensure that PBS continues to build upon our track record of inclusion in programming, in front of and behind the camera, as well as in staffing at PBS and in the system as a whole.

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