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Helping Latino veterans thrive

Members of a Puerto Rican infantry pose for a photo in Kora, September 1950.
Screen capture
VPM News Focal Point
Members of the 65th Infantry Regiment were nicknamed "The Borinqueneers" during the Korean War.

There are nearly 1.5 million Latino veterans in the United States today. In Virginia, ALVA – the American Latino Veterans’ Association, is the only national non-profit focused on helping all Latino veterans thrive after service. 


DANNY VARGAS: We all know that freedom is not free. It is protected and defended by people who are willing to wear the cloth of the country and sacrifice their lives if need be to be able to defend freedom. I grew up in New York City, in Brooklyn. I joined the Air Force at 17, right out of high school. My mother had to authorize me to serve underage. I joined the Air Force because it was a fascinating mission that I was able to choose.

DANNY VARGAS: I started ALVA, the American Latino Veterans Association, as a way to be able to give back to that community, but also to be able to make sure that we can tell the stories of Latino contributions to the military from the Revolutionary War to today, and to better serve that population of the 1.5 million Latino veterans who often need support and help in many ways. If we go to World War II, there were half million Latino troops that fought in every period of World War II, making a huge difference and a massive impact. In the Korean conflict, the US Army's 65th Infantry Regiment, the Borinqueneers of Puerto Rico, was one of the most highly decorated combat units in the Korean conflict. And if you go to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington D.C., you'll see thousands and thousands of Hispanic surnames etched on that wall, and there have been over 60 Hispanic Medal of Honor recipients, and not to mention the young Latinas and Latinos who have served in sacrificed in our behalf in the battlefields of Afghanistan or Iraq, so Latinos take a backseat to no one in the defense of freedom. Together, we are working very hard to make sure that we find ways to empower our veteran community.

DANNY VARGAS: We created ALVA as a way to be able to focus on some key areas. Number one, workforce development and job placement. Number two, entrepreneurship. Because in many cases, starting your own business is the fastest way to self-sufficiency. Number three, telling those stories that we talked about, about Latino contributions to the military throughout history. Four, around making sure that we have a voice around advocacy and policy issues. And lastly, as a repository for information on resources and benefits so that they can begin to access those benefits that they've earned through their service and sacrifice.

JUSTIN VELEZ-HAGAN: What we've done is just be a convener of information to help military personnel transition from the military life to career, and then to progress in their careers beyond that. As well as ALVA serves as a function to help to support the idea of the importance of the Latino veteran throughout Washington D.C. as well. They've made immense contributions from the beginning of this country, and that's something that should be understood better as well as supported, and hopefully and continue to support in the future.

DANNY VARGAS: I'm able to use my microphone to be able to share that information with everyone, to better their chances to be able to, you know, succeed and thrive in the future. So this, it's really important for us to be able to communicate directly with our audience in a lot of different ways.

DANNY VARGAS: My message to everyone is, when you see a veteran that might need help, you know, thank a veteran, hug a veteran, hire a veteran, because at the end of the day, we would not be a free nation today were it not for their service and sacrifice.


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