Soldados: Chicanos in Viet Nam came about because we believe there is a need for a documentary that not only tells the story of an often forgotten group, but how the Vietnam War affected the families of veterans regardless of ethnic background. We decided to use Charley's book Soldados: Chicanos in Viet Nam as a base to structure the film. The book is the story of 19 Chicano Vietnam veteranos from Charley's hometown of Corcoran, a small agricultural town in the San Joaquin Valley of California.
We chose four veterans from the book. The fifth story about Jose Barrera who died in Vietnam, is told by his mother. We selected these particular veterans because of their contrasting personalities and perspectives. The personalities range from somber and serious to humorous, and at times, bitter and sarcastic. Their political perspectives range from pro-war to anti-war. This all provides an insight into how the war affected the veterans.
The documentary is meant to show an honest and candid view of war. We show the cultural nuances of Chicanos in linguistics, gastronomy, religion and humor as well as inter-ethnic relations, philosophy on death, pride and machismo — in a word, their worldview.
It was a learning experience for both of us. For Sonya, it was the first time she had ever been immersed in a Chicano community as well as a rural environment. It resulted in many humorous incidents one of which also illustrated our generational and cultural differences. One night after filming we went to a bar to have a beer, and when the bar maid told Sonya to return tomorrow because there was going to be menudo (a traditional tripe soup), she thought it was the singing group Menudo.
For Charley, who had triple duties as the co-director, co-producer and as a participant, it gave him an insight of how family members saw the veterans. After reviewing the footage of his parent's interviews he found about his post-Vietnam behavior that he never realized. It also brought to light this time in his family's life they had never discussed. It was the same way with all the other families. Through the interviews he conducted with the veteran's families he gained an insight how the war affected families.
We have directed "Soldados" with the intentions of showing the unromantic view of war and moreover, the legacy of war. It is often said that there are two wars, the war that was actually fought and the war that is remembered. In the case of our soldados, not only did they have a disconnect with their past but were forgotten altogether by United States history. So for each of them, the process of unearthing these thirty-year-old memories built a connection between those two wars and gave each veteran a means of remembering themselves as part of this history.
We hope that our film serves to bring connections and community for other Vietnam veteranos and especially their families. And also for the public to finally recognize a long ignored group in this painful and pivotal moment in American history.
— Charley Trujillo and Sonya Rhee