For the 12 years her daughter was in the Navy, Margarita Cervacio worried about her. Not only for the dangers she might encounter while serving her country, but also the potential harm a woman might face in a male-dominated environment.
That’s why hearing about the disappearance of Army Private First Class Vanessa Guillen, 20, from Fort Hood, Texas — and her murder after her human remains were found July 1 and identified by Army investigators on July 3 — hit home for her.
“For me it’s terrible; how can this happen? Yes, it fills us with pride that they are defending the country, but they need to protect them,” Cervacio said.
“Just because they sign a contract, they are not (the Army’s) property. There should be a law or a contract that if something happens to them, they will be protected,” added the San Fernando resident.
Cervacio joined other mothers from the San Fernando Valley on July 3 to raise their voices in a “search for justice” for Guillen and her family.
Led by former state Assemblywoman Patty Lopez, the women gathered at Cesar E. Chavez Memorial Park in the City of San Fernando and railed at the Army’s lack of action when Guillen was first reported missing on April 22.
“This is not acceptable. Why? Because she doesn’t have blue eyes?” questioned Lopez.
“We feel the pain of the mom from Texas. My blood boils for justice, because people don’t take to the streets to protest to demand justice for a Latina who was killed working, giving her love for this country.”
Guillen’s death has sparked protests and marches in her native Texas and other states.
A “Massive Protest for Vanessa Guillen” is planned for July 25 at the Placita Olvera in Downtown Los Angeles. Organizers are asking participants to wear face masks, bring sanitizer, water and snacks.
The man suspected of killing Guillen, who was bludgeoned to death, was an Army colleague named Aaron David Robinson, who committed suicide when confronted by Army investigators. In custody is Cecily Aguilar, the estranged wife of a former Fort Hood soldier and Robinson’s girlfriend. Aguilar is charged with one count of conspiracy to tamper with evidence.
Chris Grey, a spokesman for the US Army Criminal Investigation Command, said in a statement, “We have made significant progress in this tragic situation and are doing everything possible to get to the truth and bring answers to the family of Pfc. Vanessa Guillen.”
But Guillen’s family has accused the Army of dragging its feet when first alerted to the soldier’s disappearance, which happened in the parking lot of Fort Hood.
The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) is calling for changes, and is urging all women, “especially Latina women or their families” to not enlist in the Army, “until we have assurance they will be protected and taken care of when they serve our country,” said LULAC National President Domingo Garcia in a recent statement.
“Right now I just don’t believe the military is capable of doing that because of what happened to Vanessa Guillen,” his statement said.
The LULAC is also demanding for a separate, independent agency to investigate reports of rapes, assaults and sexual harassment of women soldiers.
Guillen’s family alleges she was the victim of sexual harassment, although she never reported any such occurrence.
“We also know, as we hear from soldiers impacted, that there is a credible fear of reporting due to retaliation and that the majority of cases are not reported,” the LULAC stated.
“Step Up, Congressmen”
Guillen’s family has called for a Congressional investigation into the case.
And so have local Valley activists.
“Step up, Congressmen,” urged Denisse Mejia, who joined other moms at the San Fernando event and echoed this petition.
“Vanessa is not the first, but Vanessa will be the last” of these types of tragedies, Mejia said.
The San Fernando Valley mothers are urging others to call their Congressional representatives and demand an independent and thorough investigation of the case.
“We are asking for empathy, dignity. She’s with us and will remain with us,” Mejia noted.
Lucy Rivero, who has a son in the Army, said her son can’t believe what is happening in Texas.
“They are just sweeping it under the rug because she is not white and doesn’t have blue eyes. This cannot remain unpunished,” Rivero said.
“Our kids are there to give their life for this country, and incredibly, being there, Ms. Guillen was killed,” Rivero added.
Both Rivero and Lopez said they want a stop the recruitment by the military in high schools, colleges and universities.
“We’re going to fight so that our kids are not cannon fodder as they have always been. We’re not going to let them kill our sons, (daughters)” Lopez said.
Another protester, Bertha Ortega, blamed the Army for “delaying in believing (Guillen’s) mother.”
“They need to give it the proper importance when the family calls for help,” Ortega said. “Now I have to think twice before I tell my grandkids to go and serve because they have a war right here.”
In Support of Vanessa Guillen
WHAT: A “Massive Protest for Vanessa Guillen”
WHEN: Saturday, July 25, 2 p.m.
WHERE: Placita Olvera, Olvera Street in Los Angeles
You can call your Congressional representatives at (202) 224-3121 and ask them to join Rep. Sylvia Garcia in seeking an investigation into the murder of Pfc. Vanessa Guillen. You can also contact the Armed Forces Committee in Congress at (202) 224-3871 or (202) 225-4151.