On March 27, 2003, Fernando lost his son Jesus when he stepped on a US cluster bomb while fighting in Iraq. Since then, Fernando has been traveling around the country speaking out against the invasion and occupation of Iraq. In December he traveled to Iraq with Global Exchange and a group of military families to listen to the needs and desires of the Iraqi people, and returned home to meet with congress people, UN officials and the media to call for the withdrawal of US troops. Fernando is also an active member of Military Families Speak Out www.mfso.org.
Fernando sees no contradiction between supporting the troops and being against the war. When he visited Iraq with the human rights group Global Exchange in December 2003, he brought thousands of letters of peace and love from US children for both Iraqi children and the soldiers. "My heart goes out to the soldiers, many of whom come from poor communities and joined the military as a way to get an education," says Fernando. "Then they find themselves sent off to a faraway land where they are exposed to death every day, with their families suffering back home—all for the whims and lies of President Bush. I support the troops, but I don't support the commander-in-chief who sent them into this unnecessary war."
Prior to his son's death, Fernando lived a quiet life in Escondido, California, where he immigrated from Tijuana with his wife and children in 1997. The 48-year-old father made a modest living working as a cashier at a 7/11 store and delivering newspapers.
The death of his son turned Fernando's life upside-down. His love and grief compelled him to get a deeper understanding of how his son died and what the war was really about, and to try to stop more young men and women from getting killed. He devoured information about the war, sought out other military families, attended anti-war gatherings. He went to Washington to talk to congresspeople. He demanded answers from the Pentagon. And at great risk to his own life, Fernando traveled to Iraq to pay his last respects to his son, and to see first-hand how the war was affecting both US soldiers and the Iraqi people.
Fernando has received criticism for his outspoken anti-war stance from all corners, from his in-laws to other immigrants who call him an "ingrate" to military families who support the war. But he refuses to be silenced. He set up a group to provide psychological counseling for Hispanic families who have loved ones serving in the military or have suffered the loss of a family member. He joined the organization Military Families Speak Out and makes powerful speeches at peace rallies.
But his greatest passion is working with young people, particularly Hispanic youth. He is deeply troubled by the military's heavy recruitment of Hispanic youth in low-income communities. He has created a foundation in his son's name to teach young people about the harsh reality of military service and to provide them with modest scholarships that will help them pursue alternative careers. "America doesn't need more heroes," Fernando tells the young people. "It needs more students." "Mr. Suarez himself is a new kind of American hero," says UC San Diego professor Jorge Mariscal. "He considers himself an ordinary citizen compelled to expose—without bitterness—the lies and injustices perpetrated by the Bush administration in its war in Iraq. His most immediate goals are to assist immigrant families who have children returning from war and to educate Latino youth about how they can create a better world. Undaunted by the pain of his loss and the obstacles that confront him, Fernando Suarez del Solar continues his journey for peace. He has no doubt that his son Jesus would be proud of him."
Fernando founded his own counter-recruitment organization, Proyecto Guerrero Azteca, http://www.guerreroazteca.org/
, which aims to bring a message of peace and justice to sectors of the population which have historically lacked information about vital social issues in our society.
Countering Military Recruitment of Youth
Iraq Under U.S. Occupation
Voice of Peace
If you would like to plan a speaking event with Fernando, please email him at fvsuarez2000 [at] yahoo.com.mx