Dr. Caro will share some of those poems and essays during the monthly First Friday event to be held at the Sofia Quintero Art and Cultural Center (SQACC), 1225 Broadway, Sept. 6, 2013, 6 to 9 p.m. He calls many of the works he uses his “search for truth and understanding” and the stories Chicanos told “against the contradictions and distortions and racism of people who demeaned us in literature and history or excluded us.”
The presentation will be the first in a series for Dr. Caro at SQACC, based on his doctoral dissertation “From Homer to Homeboy: Heroism, War and Memory in Chicano Life and Letters.” The presentation is billed as “a personal and poetic journey from ancient roots to contemporary writings.”
Dr. Caro wants young Latinos, as well as anyone else, to understand how Chicano writers had to set the historical record straight through poetry, essays, and articles like his. He emphasized he had to “learn on his own” about the Chicano critics, because “everyone else excluded us from those histories and didn’t give us our fair due.”
“Mexican-Americans won more Congressional medals of honor in World War II than any other ethnic group,” he pointed out. “Still, in the movies and in the literature going way back, Latinos were never mentioned. It only reinforced that we were always stepchildren.”
Dr. Caro, 66, is the oldest boy of ten children, born and raised in the Old South End. His mother was pregnant with him when his migrant farmworker family moved from El Paso, Texas to Toledo. He grew up less than a block from Ss. Peter and Paul Catholic Church. He is the son of Manuel Avila and Carmen Ramirez Caro.
He was known as a good student-athlete, co-captain of a championship Macomber High School football team, and an all-state wrestler.
Following his military service in the Vietnam War, he continued his studies at California State University, where he earned an English degree; he earned a master’s degree in public administration at Harvard University; and his doctorate in English literature from Bowling Green State University.
During his career, he served as a professor and administrator at a number of colleges and universities, including California State, the University of Toledo, and Edgewood College, a private Catholic college based in Madison, Wisconsin. He also served as a White House consultant, serving on a youth employment and education task force.
Dr. Caro served his country with honor during the Vietnam War, but like many of his fellow soldiers, suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Some of his essays and poems speak to his time as a Marine Corps Infantry Rifleman. He spent 13 months in Vietnam, as he put it, “as a grunt who never saw De Nang or Saigon” but instead fighting in “the villages and the bush and the mountains and the jungle.”
He described “bookend” events in 1966-67 that marked his time and “framed” his experience in Vietnam.
“My company got wiped out the first week I was there,” he said, an event that made the front page of the New York Times. “I was one of seven people in my platoon that didn’t get killed or wounded. We lost 30 dead. It was the biggest firefight since Korea. Contrary to the myth, because they always talk about how many we killed, they kicked our ass.”
Dr. Caro was one of more than 120 people to win a Purple Heart for that two-day battle, as well as earning a number of commendations during his tour of duty.
The event “that sent him home” is the other bookend: when his transport truck hit a land mine on the way to fighting in De Nang—a group that volunteered to protect a convoy there because they had never seen the city. Three of the six combat Marines died that day. Dr. Caro was a fire team leader—and the explosion sent him to “plastic surgery in a burn ward for two months.”
“It shook us to the core of our complacency and changed forever how we would view the world,” he said of the Vietnam War. “That’s important.”
A return visit to Vietnam in 2001 and a fight at Edgewood over diversity and inclusion issues led Dr. Caro to resign his post there, return to Toledo—and a self-imposed period of “solitude.”
Only recently has Dr. Caro started to speak up about Latino issues—and it’s part of the reason he’s reviving his Chicano presentation, which draws heavily from his Vietnam experiences and the civil rights movement that resulted partially from an unpopular war. He also employs the racist writings of the last 50 years, which depict African-Americans and Latinos in derogatory ways. For example, many psychiatrists blamed a preponderance of both groups suffering PTSD post-Vietnam on their “troubled, unstable families.”
“They tried to put the illness off on us, which is historically what happens,” he said.
His frustration with the lack of progress on many social issues—both locally and nationally—led him to a self-imposed exile of sorts. That lasted the better part of the last decade. But he began to show up recently at events, as well as work with Latino activist Roberto Torres to address some inequities locally.
“Even my wife noted I was too secluded. Part of the reason I stayed secluded was I had concerns about what was going on in the community,” he admitted. “There was a need to up the ante. There was a need for people to understand the influence of the Chicano movement and all of the things that were really the fight for justice. We’ve forgotten that.”
Dr. Caro believes Latinos have grown complacent in Toledo and elsewhere—and no one is stepping up to raise the dialogue to a “more aggressive level” because younger generations don’t understand their roots and the battles already fought for social justice.
“There’s a gap. The immigration issue is an example. We need to take control of the dialogue,” he said. “I want to help establish a mode of critical thinking, so that other people don’t control the dialogue.”
Dr. Caro’s presentation is just the beginning of an upcoming series of community classes where he will be teaching Chicano/Latino history and culture. The classes will feature readings and multi-media presentations, as well as discussions on the art and literature, plus the political, economic, and cultural struggles and successes of Latino people. The classes will cover prehistoric, indigenous Mesoamerica, through the Chicano/Mexican-American civil rights movements and how those periods relate to the present.
“Our story is as legitimate and important as anyone’s story,” he said. “We’ve been beaten down so much and so long, many lack confidence. I want to tell them (young people) that’s not true.”