Belonging, Recruitment, and Remembrance

This episode was produced in collaboration with the Texas Observer. Please visit their site for the longer report of this story. 

Latino USA continues to mark its 30th anniversary and look back on its reporting throughout the decades. A topic the show has heavily reported on is Latinos serving in the military and today we take a new look at that subject through the life of Lance Corporal David Lee Espinoza.

David was killed on August 26, 2021, in Afghanistan during the U.S. withdrawal from the country.

“As a mom, you just lose it to find out that you lost your son,” said Elizabeth Holguin to Latino USA. “It’s just very hard.”

Elizabeth Holguin, mother of Lance Corporal David Lee Espinoza, at her house in Laredo, TX, earlier this year. (Photo by Christopher Lee)

David was one of 13 service members killed in a series of suicide bombings that day. About half of them were Latinos. An additional 170 Afghans were also killed.

David was just a few months old when the war in Afghanistan began and he was one of the last people killed as the United State’s longest war came to an end.

President Joe Biden “is very proud of the manner in which the men and women of the military conducted this,” said Spokesperson of the National Security Council John Kirby at a press conference earlier this year about the withdrawal. “I’ve been around operations my entire life and there has not been a single one that goes according to plan.”

In this episode, producer Reynaldo Leaños Jr. travels to Laredo, Texas in the U.S.-Mexico border to meet with David’s parents and others closest to him to help tell the story of who David was.

Elizabeth Holguin and Victor Dominguez visit their son David’s grave in Laredo, Texas. (Photo by Christopher Lee)

Elizabeth Holguin and Victor Dominguez, David’s parents, have decorated their home with items that remind them of David to help keep his presence alive, including a large glass display cabinet in their hallways that is filled with so many items.

“Those are actually the 21 bullets from the 21-gun salute from his funeral,” Elizabeth said pointing towards the cabinet. “They gave us all of the casings.”

David’s parents keep their son’s memory alive at home. A hallway is filled with photos of David and a large glass cabinet holds different items, including military medallions and glass shots. (Photos by Christopher Lee)

We visited Lyndon B. Johnson High School in Laredo where David attended.

A Hall of Honor at Lyndon B. Johnson High School in Laredo, TX, where David attended. The hall displays a photo of David and of the other 20 former students who also joined the military. (Photo by Christopher Lee)

At LBJ we met one of David’s teachers, Mr. Michael Carrillo, who taught him about video and audio production.

“I love David,” he said. “He was a very quiet student, very quiet individual.”

Miguel Carrillo, who was David’s audio and video production teacher at Lyndon B. Johnson High School, in Laredo, TX. (Photo by Christopher Lee)

We interviewed one of David’s childhood friends and a friend David made in boot camp after he graduated high school.

“He was never sad. He never once thought about quitting,” said Angel Sanchez who met David in boot camp. “He was always laughing. He always had clever comebacks, or quick little zingers and stuff.”

Angel Sanchez met and became friends with David in California during basic training after they enlisted in the Marines. (Photo by Christopher Lee)

We also spoke with Jesús M. Cavazos Jr., a local veteran who served in the Army in Afghanistan.

“I think he belongs not only in history, he also definitely belongs here as a remembrance of all the valor and the sacrifices that some of us, or some of them have done,” said Jesus.

Jesús Maria Cavazos Jr. at his gun shop in Laredo, TX. Jesús, a local veteran, served in the Army in Afghanistan in 2016. (Photo by Christopher Lee)

Jesus recently had a mural of David painted outside his local gun shop to honor him for his service.

Jesús commissioned this mural of David outside his business. (Photo by Christopher Lee)

In this episode, we also explore how the military has historically, and continues, to seek Latinos and Latinas to fill its ranks.

“What we saw was that recruitment was strongest in the schools that had higher rates of poverty,” said Jessica Lavariega Monforti, co-author of “Proving Patriotismo: Latino Military Recruitment, Service, and Belonging in the U.S.”

A Marine Corps recruitment poster sits at Lyndon B. Johnson High School’s library. The library was renamed after David in April 2022. (Photo by Christopher Lee)

You can read a longer report of this story at the Texas Observer’s website, which collaborated with us on this story. You can also pick up the latest copy of the Texas Observer and find the story there too.

Featured image by Christopher Lee.

One thought on “Belonging, Recruitment, and Remembrance

  1. I listen to the story of David Lee Espinoza on PBS. It made me think of my military experience. My mother was born in Mexico and became a naturalized US citizen. I was born in the US. In 1966 one year after graduating from high school, I was drafted into the Army. I learned many life long lessens and used money under the GI bill to attend a community college. I have also used the VA loan mortgage program to purchase a home. I did not have to serve in Vietnam. So is the recruitment of minorities a bad thing? The individual still has to approve. The military can provide opportunities to individuals that otherwise they would not been able to experience.

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