In 1973, the U.S. military terminated its use of the draft and established the All-Volunteer Force, a development coinciding with the burgeoning growth of the U.S. Latina/o population. Throughout the 1980s and 90s, this demographic increase was fueled in part by immigration from Central and South America—a result of protracted civil wars and neoliberal economic restructuring in countries such as El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. This expansion and diversification of the U.S. Latina/o populace, particularly in the Southwestern United States, overlapped with significant geopolitical and economic shifts throughout Latin American and the U.S. For example, by the early-1990’s the end of the Cold War led to concerns over recruitment and retention within the Armed Forces. Before long, strategists at the Department of Defense looked to the growing Latina/o population to meet its manpower needs, with one top military official remarking that “our nation’s ability to fill ranks in the future will depend on our ability to successfully recruit Latinos.” Today, Latinas/os constitute the fastest growing pool of military-age people in the U.S. and comprise nearly 20% of combat troops in the current military conflicts. Although the history of military service by Latinas/os in World War II, the Korean Conflict, and the Vietnam War has been well documented, there exists a scholarly deficit on the post 1973 period. Given the long term implications of the global “War on Terror” and ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which have seen disproportionately high casualty rates among soldiers of color and/or immigrant Latina/o soldiers, my study intersects at critically historical and contemporary junctures.
Irene's dissertation, Ground Forces: Latinos in the Military Industrial Complex, 1973-2006 traces the broader macro-economic and political forces that have shaped military participation by Latinas/os over the last four decades. She argues that the military industrial complex—the network of defense manufacturing plants and military bases —not only relies on Latina/o labor, but has played a key role in militarizing the landscapes of the U.S. Southwest in which they are historically concentrated. Moreover, it has helped to promote a valuation of military service among Latinas/os, while delimiting what gets included and excluded from “service”. Drawing from a range of archival records and oral histories with military base workers, Irene examines what the substantial presence of Latinas/os in uniform, and as workers in defense industries, reveals about their contributions to and within the U.S. Armed Services.
She views her research interests on the role of militarism in the cultural and political life of Latinas/os in the Southwest as one that makes an intervention in the fields of Latina/o studies, Empire Studies, and U.S. military studies. Historically, the field of military and/or war studies has been dominated by scholars concerned with U.S. foreign relations, defense policy, and conflict resolution. However, the ways in which racial, class, gender, regional, and even juridical identity (i.e. citizenship status) affects participation within the contemporary military remains understudied. As an academic, she takes seriously the mandate to fill this deficit in the scholarship by contributing an analysis of how gender and/or race shape practices of war and war-making. For example, an exciting area of her research involves interviews with Mexican-American/Chicana women working in defense manufacturing industries throughout the Southwest since the early 1980’s. She examines the experiences of these women to explore cultures and processes of militarization in Texas, the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands, and trans nationally
The Powers Fellowship will help relieve her of teaching responsibilities so that she may have more time to conduct research and complete her dissertation.