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South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Broward Hispanics Draw On One Anothers Strength As Their Children Fight A War In Iraq
By Sandra Hernandez
March 26, 2003
Sol Rivera's dark brown eyes fill with tears when her 2-year-old granddaughter asks to have a small yellow ribbon pinned on her blue T-shirt.
Natacha's parents were both called up to serve in the Iraqi war, changing everyday life for her and Rivera, her sole caretaker.
"I don't sleep at night anymore," says Rivera, 45, who moved to Miami from Venezuela almost a decade ago. "I take care of my granddaughter and watch television for any news.
"When she asks for her mother, I just tell her she is at work. I tell her that her father is at work. How else can I explain this to a small child?" Rivera asks. "I never imagined my daughter would be sent to war and I would be in this situation."
Her story resonates with the handful of people gathered at a Pembroke Pines home on Monday night for the first meeting of Amor y Libertad, or Love and Liberty, a support group for South Broward Hispanics with family serving in the war.
The brainchild of Maria Farach, whose 20-year-old son was sent to Kuwait in January, the group offers comfort in a familiar language to the area's Latino community.
There are more than 146,000 Hispanics serving in the military. They make up 18 percent of the 1.4 million enlisted men and women, according to Department of Defense figures released in September 2002. Latinos account for 8 percent of the 1.2 million members of the ready reservists. More than 240,000 of all enlisted soldiers are deployed in the Middle East.
"I came here because I think the group can offer me some company, a place to talk about things with people who are going through the same thing," said Raquel Castellano, 42, whose daughter was called up last month. "I think one thing about Latinos is they tend to be closer as a family. Americans tend to be more independent. I don't mean they love their children less, but we Latinos need solidarity in a different way. I never met some of the people here tonight, but I hugged them as soon as I saw them."
Like Rivera, Castellano is taking care of a grandchild. Her daughter, an active duty reservist, is in Kuwait, and the infant's father is stationed in South Korea.
"I am so afraid to leave her alone. You just hear so many bad things happening to children, and I'm afraid of something happening to her. I'm afraid of something happening to my daughter," says the Cuban native.
Castellano says the war has already altered her life. She was laid off from work a few weeks ago for failing to meet her sales quota after she brought her granddaughter to work. Now she cares for the child at her Kendall home and watches television newscasts to keep up with where her daughter might be fighting.
The support group is dealing with war in a community that is increasingly divided over how it views the merits of the conflict. While Latinos staged anti-war protests in California, Texas and New York, a February poll by the Pew Hispanic Center found almost 48 percent of Hispanics supported military action against Iraq.
While politics isn't off-limits at the meetings, the group's members say they hope the gatherings will steer clear of policy disputes and offer comfort instead.
"I'm here because I just want my son to know he has [our] support," says Grace Castro, 39, of Cooper City.
She heard about the meeting through a Spanish-language newscast and arrived at Farach's home carrying a photograph of her only son, Jonah, 20, who left two months ago. She points to the picture of an olive-skinned youth whose face is more boyish than manly, and her eyes fill with tears.
"I just want him to be strong, I want all our soldiers to feel strong. I don't want to talk about `What if our children die?' This is about them seeing that someone supports them and that they can do their job with pride instead of seeing all the protests," she says.
Aleida Rojas shakes her head in agreement. A native of Panama, she says the current operation is a replay of her own experience when U.S. troops ousted Gen. Manuel Noriega.
Now a resident of Hollywood, Rojas says she worries about her son Josue, 18, who was shipped out two months ago. She says that is why the group is so important for her.
"I guess because I know what war is like, I can't help but worry," she says.
Farach smiles as she listens to the mothers comfort one another.
"I want to give people who are in my same situation a place and a way to help and get help instead of just sitting and watching the news every night and getting depressed," she says.
The group's next meeting is Saturday evening. For information, call Farach at 305-345-7840.