He sits in a multi-colored, plaid shirt, his metal-rimmed glasses resting on his nose.
“That’s me,” he says, pointing to one of the soldiers on the cover of the novel he’s clutching. The book is his first novel, “Soldados: Chicanos in Viêt Nam.”
This past Friday night, Vietnam War veteran, novelist, filmmaker, publisher and editor Charley Trujillo came to the campus to discuss the novel and screen his documentary of the same name.
Trujillo’s American Book Award-winning (1991) novel “Soldados” consists of 19 accounts of Vietnam War veterans from Trujillo’s hometown of Corcoran, Calif. and their struggle to readapt to society upon returning from war.
The 63-year-old wrote the book because he wanted to include Chicanos and show the ways they participate in history, such as in significant historical events like war, he said.
“I felt like I really accomplished something,” Trujillo said about the release of his first book. “We’re always excluded from history so I thought this was a good way (to show our role). We have a lot of problems coming back, adjusting to society. (‘Soldados’) shows a side of war from a cultural perspective that is very seldom discussed or even exposed and also I do not romanticize war.”
Around 1984, Trujillo began interviewing war veterans in Corcoran for the novel.
Though Trujillo didn’t work on the book every day, it took him approximately three years to finish. He then looked for a publisher for three years, but was rejected by 100 of them, he said.
“I got turned down, so I just decided to publish the book myself,” he said.
“Soldados” was published through Trujillo’s Chusma House Publications and came out in 1990.
Approximately 10 years after the release, the accompanying documentary was in the works.
Sonya Rhee, a freshly graduated New Yorker at the time, contacted Trujillo about making a documentary on Chicano soldiers after picking up Trujillo’s book at Barnes and Noble. And so the creation of the documentary began.
Modern languages and literatures professor Gloria Velásquez, who has known Trujillo for 15 to 20 years, also has a connection to the documentary.
Velásquez’s song “Son in Vietnam” made an appearance in Trujillo’s documentary.
“I was very honored when (Trujillo) used the first song I ever wrote and recorded, ‘Son in Vietnam,’” she said. “He was very moved by that song and so he asked for permission to use it in his documentary.”
Velásquez was also asked to play the song live at the documentary’s premiere in Corcoran.
“He’s a great human being who has suffered tremendously and has been able to find a way to turn it into something beautiful and share it with others,” Velásquez said. “Vietnam has been an ongoing theme in my work because my only brother was killed in Vietnam and so it’s something close to my heart in my own writing and in my own life so I thought (Trujillo) captured that beautifully. So many veterans don’t come back and those who do come back come back severely hurt and damaged.”
In his novel, Trujillo documents the experiences of some of the Chicano Vietnam War veterans through their varying perspectives.
“I’m very fair,” Trujillo said. “I disagree with some of these things (the veterans say), especially one guy in (the documentary), but I let them speak and I don’t censor them.”
Velásquez believes Trujillo’s novel and documentary are important pieces of work that should be read and seen.
“Everyone should know their history,” Velásquez said. “How can we improve society if we’re not aware of the things that happened in the past? I think it empowers you when you know your history.”
And this is a history Trujillo wants to make known through the eyes of Chicano Vietnam War veterans.
When asked about his experience in the Vietnam War, the salt and pepper-haired Trujillo said, “No tortillas, no beans, — man, it’s hard.”
“I know war is evil,” Trujillo said. “I don’t romanticize war. I hate war.”