Based on A True Story, “Patriots from the Barrio” Heads to the Screen

Entertainment
Ramon G. Gutierrez. Photo Credit: Gloria Cadena
Ramon G. Gutierrez. Photo Credit: Gloria Cadena

Author Dave Gutierrez, San Jose Resident, reaches adaptation deal for his book which chronicles Chicano Soldiers in World War II

Arturo Hilario

El Observador

The Second World War (1939-1945) was a global war, felt by every country in every continent on this world. The alliances, the Allies and Axis powers, were made up most notably by the British, American, and Russian forces within the Allies, and the German, Italian and Japanese forces within the Axis powers. These groups fought for ideologies and power, revenge and life, all while leaving in their tracks destruction and despair.

One aspect of the American forces that is well documented are the efforts of ethnic Americans in the war, such as the Navajo Talkers, the Tuskegee Airmen, and the Japanese-American 442nd Infantry Regiment.  Another one of these segregated groups, one that is lesser-known, was the all Mexican-American Company E, of the 141st Regiment of the 36th Division of the Army, which fought in the European theater of World War II, mostly in the Italian region of San Pietro, in the Liri Valley.

Much like the other ethnic groups of the US forces, not only was this company of young Latino men ostracized and segregated, but they were also the first boots on the ground in Europe, facing insurmountable odds and horrors.

Author Dave Gutierrez of San José chronicled the history of these men in his 2014 self-published nonfiction book, “Patriots from the Barrio.” Now that story has been optioned for film and TV by Wilmer Valderrama, known for his roles in the sitcom “That ’70s Show” and most recently “NCIS”. He was able to obtain the filming rights to the book in September, to be produced through his own production company, WV Enterprises.

Gutierrez says he is, “very pleased to see this story on film”.

A Deadline.com article about the news had this comment from Valderrama, “During Hispanic Heritage Month, this story is especially timely, and I’m honored as a proud Latin American to amplify the courage and contributions of these incredible men.

The road from book to screen was as simple as a phone call, says Gutierrez. “Wilmer Valderrama read an article I wrote that was published on War History Online. After reading the article he had his people contact me and asked about the film rights availability. Because I self-published the book I still held all rights to the book.”

Since its publication, “Patriots from the Barrio” has been read, reviewed and consumed amongst Latinos and those interested in the fascinating story of Mexican youths from the barrios, (Spanish for “hood”, or a low-income neighborhood), of El Paso, Texas and their journey. From their beginning as a National Guard unit to becoming part of history in Europe, the story was one Gutierrez felt he had the responsibility to tell.

Originally the book was a biography of Gutierrez’s relative, Ramon G. Gutierrez, who was part of this unique and rarely talked about group of Mexican soldiers. More importantly, Gutierrez discovered how necessary it became for him to cover not only Ramon’s amazing story, but that of the group that he went in with, a group that was as crucial to the Allied war efforts as any other.

The elder Gutierrez served in Company E beginning in 1943 when they deployed to North Africa. Later in the fall they “spearheaded the Allied landing at Salerno Italy,” according to Gutierrez. Ramon was wounded on three different occasions, captured and tortured by German forces, but lived through the war, and for his efforts was awarded the Silver Star, three Purple Hearts, and the Soviet Union’s Order of the Patriotic War decoration, becoming one of few American soldiers to receive such a distinction.

After the war Gutierrez and his family moved to San Jose, where many family members still reside.

Now that the book and the story of the unit has been picked up for a potential screen adaptation, Gutierrez says he will remain a guiding part of the project.

“As the writer of the story I will be brought on board as a key consultant on the film. I expect to be sitting down with the screenplay writers as they construct the storyline.  Wilmer’s production team is leaning on a TV series with 6 to 8 episodes to tell the story.”

Although both options, film and television, are now potentially part of Valderrama’s production queue, Gutierrez says, “They feel that a two-hour film is not long enough to get into the details of the story and as the writer I can appreciate that.”

If the future of the “Patriots from the Barrio” adaptation turns out anything like other critically acclaimed WWII dramas like “Band of Brothers” and “The Pacific”, fans of war films as well as Chicano focused projects will have something to really look forward to and add on to the artistic interpretations of a very intense and globally affecting period of history.

Gutierrez ends by saying, “I’m ecstatic about being a part of this really ground-breaking project. We have the opportunity to inform the world on a huge media platform on the positive Mexican-American contributions to WWII.”

The author has a web page, accessible at authordavegutierrez.com.

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