Fullfilling their promise to hire a Latino producer to assist them in their search for a Mexican, any Mexican, who fought in WWII, Burns and PBS hired Austin-based doc maker Hector Galan to introduce them to a few. That's the good news. If anyone can knock some sense into Burns and point out to the East-Coast-centric-filmmaker that the current conversation about race and ethnicity in this country goes way beyond a simplistic Black-White paradigm, it's Galan. After all, not only did his PBS piece Chicano! History of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement proudly include the word "chicano" in its title, but empahsized the matter by putting an exclamation mark after it.
The bad news, however, is that it's still unclear exactly what Burns has planned to appease his critics. Based on this recent Washington Post story the only thing certain is Burns will not re-edit his film.
A PBS official said yesterday that filmmaker Ken Burns will not re-cut his documentary on World War II -- a statement that disappointed and angered minority-group activists who on Tuesday said they believed Burns and PBS had committed to reediting the film to address their concerns about its content.
This is not what Latino leaders who met with Burns said was promised them:
"It does not satisfy our concerns to be an amendment or some kind of addendum" to the documentary, said Raul Tapia, a spokesman for the American G.I. Forum, a Latino veterans organization. Latinos "who contributed so much to winning the war deserve better. They are not an addendum. They stood up for their country, and we are standing up for them."
Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus also met yesterday about the issue. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), a member of the group, issued a statement last night, saying: "Ken Burns is a well-known filmmaker, and whether it's fair or not, his films are viewed by many as definitive histories. It is socially responsible and historically accurate to include the invaluable contributions of Hispanic Americans not as a footnote, but as part of the actual story of World War II.
Galan addresses this concern in an article by Agustin Gurza in Saturday's L.A. Times.
Hold your fire, says the Austin-based Galán, a WWII buff who has made many films about Latino politics and culture. He promises that the new Latino stories will be "incorporated seamlessly into the series so it doesn't feel it was added on or tacked on or anything like that."
Galán says he has seen the series and notes that Latinos appear in the footage but not as interview subjects. (If the film had aired with Latinos only in the background, I'm sure it would have exacerbated critics' claims that Latinos were seen only as faceless "cannon fodder" in the war.)
"I don't blame them for being upset," Galán told me after his selection. "I was upset too. But you have to give us a chance. I would just say wait and see the series."
(And for those of you L.A. readers reading the story on a real newspaper, you'll notice the misspelling of "Galan" in the headine. "Burns hires Gulán for WWII doc" it says. Ni modo. Nothing new. See Daniel Hernandez's take on L.A. Times history of Latinos and the paper's typos.)
Meanwhile, as news of the pedo spreads, editorials blasting Burns continue from across the country. And while most tread the same old ground this column by Carlos Guerra of the San Antonio Express News makes a new, valid, and obvious point:
How could it happen that a 14-hour documentary was made that didn't include a single Latino? What this is really about is that in 2007, too many Americans — like Ken Burns — still see Latinos as recent immigrants, history notwithstanding.
Finally, for those of you needing to catch up on the whole Ken Burns saga, I came across a post from a very cool site called The Unapologetic Mexican. It's my favorite kind of history: told from a definitive point of view.