Vazquez Post # 939, a Latino-focused veteran association, was recently launched in Chicago for Puerto Rico veterans. Formed by Marcos Torres, the group was named in honor of Jason Vazquez, a 25-year-old Puerto Rican soldier killed in Afghanistan in 2008. Torres wants the group to enhance representation and inclusivity, inform the non-veteran community of Puerto Rican culture, and champion the history of Latino soldiers through events, resources, and community partnerships.

Lack of representation

As he was growing up in Humboldt Park, Chicago, Torres noticed a lack of representation surrounding Puerto Rican veterans and the vital role they played in the US military. “How sad is it that we almost act like they are not part of the Latino community?” said Torres. “We do a poor job of representing our veterans.” In 2009-2010, Torres served as an honor guard and funeral soldier, and was stationed in Missouri, Oklahoma, and Chicago. “I wanted something that represented the community we are from and to show youth that veterans looked like them, talked like them, ate the same food as them,” Torres said. “It’s important.”

Launch party on National Borinqueneers Day

Torres launched Vazquez Post # 939 on April 13, National Borinqueneers Day, a national holiday honoring the Borinqueneers, Puerto Rican soldiers who fought in the Korean War, WW1, and WW2. The regiment’ experienced persistent discrimination and unfair treatment for expressing their Latino culture while in the military; their contribution to US history has only recently been nationally recognized. At the launch party, Chicago veterans along with their family and friends gathered to honor Vazquez, as well as celebrate the new post and National Borinqueneers Day.

Support for veterans

Leaving the military and transitioning to civilian life can be challenging for veterans, so it’s important they take advantage of all support programs available. For example, securing affordable housing is often a priority for veterans. Fortunately, VA loans are mortgages available to help veterans purchase homes with a 0% down payment, Hero Loan explains. Partially backed or guaranteed by the Department of Veteran Affairs, VA loans also require no Private Mortgage Insurance, have limited closing costs, and no prepayment penalty if the buyer pays off the loan early. Additionally, support groups also play a key role in helping veterans re-enter society after leaving the military or recover from issues like substance abuse, PTSD, and trauma. Ultimately, Torres wants his post to provide support to local veterans who are struggling.

So far, the Vazquez Post has around five officers and 40 members who meet once a week in  Ravenswood, Chicago. Torres hopes more Latino veterans join the group, so they can collectively “change the face of the American Legion and show that different kinds of soldiers exist — not just white men or white action figures seen at the store or in the media”. People think Latinos “don’t fit the stereotypical description of a soldier,” Torres said. “We are G.I. Joe. There are many different G.I. Joes.”