The Unperceived Marines

The Latino representation in the Marines has increased considerably. More young Latinos are attracted by the idea to become part of the military industry.

By Cynthia Lemus


The Latino population in the United States has grown in the last decade, because of natural increase and immigration. The US Census Bureau reports that Latinos constituted 16 percent of the population in the United States in 2009. Latinos are now the biggest ethnic minority in the country. The US Census shows that the number of young Latinos has increased considerably, in 2009, Hispanics comprised 22 percent of children younger than 18. With this increased in the Latino population, the search of opportunities has been limited; that is why the armed forces have become a strong escape for many young Latinos. According to Celia Simonds, a Central America Studies professor at California State University Northridge “They (All branches of the Military) look for youth that might find an opportunity under the guides that ‘You get an education if you come back home alive’, ‘You might get your citizenship or even your residency if you do it’ and that sounds attractive for young latinos.”
2nd batallion of the 23rd Marines Corp

Members of the 2nd batallion of the 23rd Marines Corp. set a wire barricade for training porpuse at the Camp Pendleton San Diego California. Photo credit Gustavo Reyes

Of the four main branches of the military, the Marines Corp. has the highest depiction of Latinos. According to the Department of Defense, in 2009, 17 percent of the members in the Marines were Latinos. The enlisting can be attributed to many reasons. Such as economic situations, social problems, and personal attitudes.

Gunny Sergeant Arturo Blanco states that Latinos become part of the lower class in the United States, forcing many of them to leave school in order to work in unwanted jobs resulting in a low wage job. According to the US Census in 2006, those who identified themselves as Latinos had the lowest overall median personal income.  Furthermore, many end up choosing a fast solution for their problems, like joining the military. As reported by a report published by Population Reference Bureau, by September 2006, about 14 percent of the enlisting marines were Hispanics.

The Marines have become popular for young Latinos; more teenagers prefer to go to boot camp first than go directly to college. According to a CNA Home Schooling study, about 43 percent of the Latinos decide to join the Marines in order to get educational benefits. Many of them believe that the Military is the only way they can reach their goals. High School student, Christopher Montenegro says, “I want to join the Marines mostly because of educational benefits and I want to be independent, and i wouldn’t get that just from my mom and my dad to support me.” The decision to join the Marines brings good results to the recruits. According to USMC Staff Sergeant Argueta “Latinos can have a lot of opportunities when they join the Marines.” Staff Sergeant Argueta states: “In my personal experience, the Marines have opened up a lot of gates and opportunities, simply by stating in a resume the employer will focus on that part of your skills.” CNA Home Schooling study also demonstrated that more than 40 percent of Latinos that join the Marines get employment benefits.

Members of the 2nd Batallion of the 23rd Marines Corp.

Member of the 2nd batallion of the 23rd Marines Corp. posing for a photo in Iraq, 2008. The ages of these Latinos are between 19-24. Photo credit Gustavo Reyes

The U.S. Military provides opportunities to non-citizens. The Marines have an exception clause of waiver that assists non-citizens to put their paper work in process. In 2003, The Defense Manpower Data Center estimates that 6.440 non-citizens were enlisted in the United States Marines.

There are also negative consequences in joining the Marines. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, in the Iraq War Latinos make up 9.5 percent active enlisted forces, they are over-represented in the most dangerous categories such as infantry, gun crews and seamanship; and they constitute over 17.5 percent of the front line.

According to the article “The Congressional Medal of Honor and Hispanics in the American History” by  CNP News San Antonio, Only forty two soldiers of Latino background have been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in the whole military history of the United States. What happened with the rest of Latinos who died in the battlefield when fighting for their country? Many people believe they are discriminated in the military. Maria Isabel Leyva, mother of a USMC Corp. says, “Latinos are seen as bait. They are formed in the front line in order to be the first to get killed.” Latinos confront a blockade in society. An Associated Press-Univision Poll found that 61 percent of people overall said Hispanics face significant discrimination . They are discriminated because of their race, poor English, culture, and legal status according to this poll.

There are many ideologies around Latinos in the Military, with positive and negative overview. It is a fact that with the increasing of the Latino population, the military industry will become a target for young Latinos. A study, done jointly by the Population Reference Bureau and the National Council of La Raza, a Latino civil rights group, found that by 2030, 44 percent of poor children in the United States will be Latino, compared with one-third today. Why does the military look for young Latinos? As Simonds, stated “That [the opportunity the Marines offers for a better life] is enticing to young people who might not have an opportunity in other areas of society.”

Reasons why young people join the Marines.

Factor Latinos (%) Non-Latinos (%)
Educational Benefits 46.3 34.3
Develop Self Discipline 42.3 39.2
Prove that I could do it 42.3 34.4
Training in job skills 40.0 32.7
Gain Job Experience 34.0 27.4
Medical Care Coverage and Benefits 21.6 16.9
Pay and Allowances 15.5 12.3
Family Support Services 14.4 8.4
Change for adventure 29.5 28.5
Change for travel 25.6 21.5
Desire to Serve the Country 22.2 24.8

Source: Department of Defense

This video gives an expanded explanation of the role of Latinos in the marines

To Learn More:

– Recruiting Hispanics: The Marine Corps Experience Final Report by Anita U. Hattiangadi , Gary Lee, Aline O. Quester.

– Black and Hispanic Marines: Their Accession, Representation, Success, and Retention in the Corps by Anita U. Hattiangadi , Gary Lee, Aline O. Quester, Robert Shuford.

Study Finds Young Hispanics Face Obstacles to Integration by Sam Roberts

Salvadorans fighting for the United States by Cynthia Lemus.

Tags:  CSUN cynthia lemus Education employment hispanics Latinos marined young people

Bookmark and Share

Previous Post
An Injury to All!
Next Post
LA workers rally in solidarity with Wisconsin labor

Cynthia Lemus

You might also like

More Story
An Injury to All!
By PAUL MAVERICK POLITICAL MUSCLE I can't stop thinking about the pro-democracy uprising in Wisconsin. The intensity...