Political issues and social problems such as immigration, prison, bilingual education, employment, political jockeying, changing ethnic dynamics, and racial stereotypes that both divide and unite blacks and Latinos are examined in this topical analysis. This cutting-edge argument looks at how both minority groups frame and interpret these issues through the prism of their experience. It blends the personal and the analytical and ultimately serves as a guide to navigate race and ethnic relations through 21st-century America.
|Publisher:||Middle Passage Press|
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About the Author
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is a nationally acclaimed author and political analyst. His columns have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Newsday, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and the San Francisco Chronicle. He is the associate editor at New American Media and the author of The Assassination of the Black Male Image, Betrayed, Beyond O.J., Blacks and Reds, The Crisis in Black and Black, and The Disappearance of Black Leadership. He lives in Los Angeles.
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The Latino Challenge to Black America
By Earl Ofari Hutchinson
Middle Passage PressCopyright © 2007 Earl Ofari Hutchinson
All right reserved.
Chapter OneRising Latino Numbers, Rising Black Fears
In October 2005, one month after Katrina ripped through New Orleans, a plainly agitated New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin told a town hall audience, "I can plainly see in your eyes that you want to know, 'How do I take advantage of this incredible opportunity?' How do I make sure New Orleans is not overrun with Mexicans?" He referred to the fear of many blacks that contractors, with the federal government's connivance, would skirt labor laws, snub needy black workers and recruit thousands of unskilled, Mexican workers to do the clean up and reconstruction work in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.
The remark was insensitive and insulting. And within days an enraged United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce denounced Nagin, "The Chamber will not allow inappropriate and offensive comments made by Mayor Nagin to deter the hardworking spirit of our community."
The Chamber's denunciation was more than a mere slap at him. It conjured up the positive image of Latinos as productive, taxpaying, law abiding and above all else, hard working. For years, the Chamber and nearly every major Latino business, political, educational, and civil rights group had lobbied hard to sell that image to millions of doubting and skeptical American born whites and blacks. And now with one mindless crack, Nagin had tarred that image. But observers at the town hall meeting also noted that the mostly black audience applauded his remarks. Their applause, Nagin's quip, and the Chamber's swift outrage, told much about the fear, hostility, misconceptions, and ambivalence that haunts black and Latino relations in America.
The rising tension that underlay the Chamber's protest of Nagin was probably inevitable after the Census Bureau in 2002 publicly trumpeted that Latinos were now the top minority in the U.S. The news hit black America like a thunderbolt.
Sensing that the Census announcement and the press's seemingly too eager rush to play the news up could ruffle racial feathers, and could be exploited by some to intensify racial friction and the ill-feelings of blacks toward Latinos, dozens of Latino academics, writers, and activists signed an "Open to Letter African-Americans from Latinos." They passionately assured blacks that they would "combat the competitiveness" and "opportunism" of many that would seek to pit Latinos against blacks while minimizing the historic suffering of blacks and displacing them from the front running spot they still occupied in the struggle for justice and equality for justice. Writer Richard Rodriguez went even further and blasted federal demographers for malice and stupidity for blaring out that Latinos were now the number one minority. He saw this as a virtual conspiracy by the feds to further "trivialize" blacks and equally bad, to marginalize Latinos as a permanent minority.
The criticism from Rodriguez and assurances from the Latino letter signers was a welcomed effort. But it went largely unreported and unnoticed by blacks. Many blacks still complained that they would be shoved even further to the economic and political margin among minorities in the country. The Census report also showed that Latinos were widening their population growth gap on blacks. That gap will grow even wider in the coming years due to the higher birth rate of Latinos and the continued flood of new immigrants, both legal and illegal, from Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Columbia and other Latin American countries.
The reality that blacks will lose even more ground in the numbers comparison to Latinos as fresh waves of immigrants come to America will likely stir more complaints from many blacks. Those complaints rose to a high pitch during the immigration debate in Congress and the mass immigrant rights marches in the streets in March 2006. Though polls showed that blacks were generally more favorable toward illegal immigrants than whites, the polls seemed wildly at odds with the sentiments that many blacks privately expressed on immigration. At the peak of the immigration debate, legions of blacks flooded black talk radio stations and posted angry notes on Internet sites bashing illegal immigrants. The attacks were often little more than a thinly disguised attack on Latinos.
Most civil rights leaders and black Democrats vigorously condemned the ethnic assaults. They publicly backed and embraced the immigrant's rights struggle as a crucial and compelling civil rights fight. Yet, the dread many blacks have of being bypassed in the eternal battle against poverty and discrimination was not totally groundless. Corporations leaped over each other to grab a bigger share of Latino consumer dollars and are in slow retreat on strengthening affirmative action programs for upwardly mobile, college trained black businesspersons and professionals and to increase funding for job and skills training programs for the black poor. The day the Census report was released the AC Nielson firm, one of the country's top marketing information companies, predicted that retail stores and supermarkets would launch a massive marketing and promotion pitch of their products to Latino buyers.
And since dollars and politics are tightly linked, Republicans and Democrats would radically ramp up their efforts to bag the Latino vote. President Bush understood the crucial importance of the Latino vote better than any other Republican politician. As Texas governor during the 1990s, he adroitly read the political tea leafs. He wined and dined Latino voters, politicians, business leaders and Mexican government officials.
Despite his towering mistakes on many major policy foreign and domestic policy issues, and highest on that list of blunders is the Iraq war, as president he didn't miss a beat in his court of the Latino vote. His tout of Mexico-U.S. relations, championing of relatively liberal immigration reform, and his radio broadcasts in broken Spanish washed away some of the bad taste that die hard Republican opposition to bilingual education and immigrant rights had left in the mouths of Latino voters in California and the Southwest in the mid-1990s. That paid big dividends for him in grabbing the crucial Western and Southwestern states and Florida in both his presidential wins in 2000 and 2004.
Even if Bush hadn't wooed Latino voters, a substantial number of them would still have backed the Republicans. Polls showed that a sizeable number of Latinos, especially the more than 20 million Latino evangelicals in America, are pro-family values, pro-small business, anti-abortion, and gay rights, and supportive of the military. They are ripe for the GOP line. They also are not tightly bound in the straitjacket of the Democratic Party. In California and Texas there are politically active and influential Latino Republican Legislative Caucuses. In the 2004 election, Bush nabbed more than one-third of the Latino vote.
* * *
The emergence of Latinos as a force in politics and their rising economic clout forced the Democrats to scramble even harder to match and top the Republicans in the hunt for Latino votes. In the run-up to the 2008 presidential election both parties will spend millions to bump up their share of the Latino vote. Democrats feel no need to make the same effort with blacks. They are already solid Democrats. And in the wake of the Katrina Hurricane debacle that struck New Orleans and the Gulf Cost in 2005 their fury against Bush and the Republicans was even more boundless. But there may be a steep cost to blacks of that one-dimensional support for Democrats.
The Democrats may well spend fewer dollars on black voter registration, and place less emphasis on the vital public policy issues that especially impact poor black communities. That would put blacks in a double bind. If through, anger, alienation, or distrust of the Democrats, they stay away from the polls in droves in 2008 they doom themselves to be pushed even further to the political edge.
The Democrats are banking that announced their 2008 presidential contenders Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John Edwards, can energize more black voters, especially the younger voters. They hope that New Mexico governor Bill Richardson, who is Hispanic, and who tossed his hat into the 2008 presidential ring, can do the same with Latino voters. All of the Democratic presidential contenders will sink massive amounts of money as well as expend extensive time and energy trying to sell their campaigns to Latino voters.
Then there's immigration. Whether Congress eventually passes an immigration reform law or not, and no matter what kind of law it would be if it does, the issue will still be at or near the top of national debate in 2008. That debate will continue to prick a tender spot with many blacks. They'll continue to blame illegal immigrants for stealing jobs, and for their getting even shorter shrift in the dole out of shrinking funds for education and heath care. Some blacks out of fear, anger and desperation will even flirt with the borderline racially suspect fringe group, the Minuteman Project.
There is one other concern that engenders more anger and resentment among some blacks and confusion among whites and some Latinos. And that is what, or more accurately, who should be called and counted in the Census as a Latino? Are Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Panamanians, Mexicans, Columbians, Venezuelans, Nicaraguans and Brazilians of African ancestry in the United States truly Latinos, and do many of them identify with, and as, Latinos?
Do many of them suffer the same anti-black prejudices and indignities that many blacks suffer in this country? Are they really accepted as equals by white and lighter skinned members from their respective countries? "Put bluntly, what does an English-speaking third-generation, upper status white Cuban American in Florida," asks Latino scholars Marcelo M. Suarez-Orozco and Mariela M. Paez, "have in common with a Maya-speaking recent immigrant from Guatemala?"
They could have easily added that a white, third-generation, upper crust Cuban has virtually nothing in common with the newly arrived Guatemalan. But that same upper crust Cuban would more likely than not deny the newly arrived Guatemalan immigrant a business, or home loan, and if he or she had the money and skills, employ every scheme imaginable not to rent or sale a home or apartment to him or her in his neighborhood, erect every barrier possible to keep him or her out of a management job in a Cuban owned business or corporation, solely because of his or her dark skin. Being Latino makes no difference. This is not mere speculation countless studies and surveys have documented broad patterns of discrimination by white Cubans against dark skinned Cubans and blacks in Miami.
Though far too many government officials in Latin American countries still downplay, or deny that color discrimination exists in their countries, the harsh fact is that those of African ancestry in Latin American countries wallow at the bottom of the social and economic ladder. This is a strong indictment of the color prejudice against blacks and dark-skinned Indians in Mexico and Latin America.
Yet, the Census simply lumped all those from Spanish-speaking countries into the catchall category of "Latino" and made no national or regional distinction between Latinos from various Latin American countries. This generic labeling of those who hail from Spanish speaking countries and native-born Latinos insured that Latinos would surpass blacks in population numbers in America.
It also obscures the profound differences in the motive that drives many Spanish-speaking immigrants to this country. It isn't always the eternal search, or maybe even stereotypical, and facile view that says Latino immigrants regard America as their ticket out of poverty and destitution in their own countries. The 3 million El Salvadoran immigrants and 1.5 million Guatemalan immigrants in the United States in 2004 fled their countries during and after the 1980s to escape the civil wars, death squads, and harsh military quasi-fascist regimes that claimed thousands of lives in those countries. "Many Salvadoran immigrants were already political activists and refugees, notes Randy Ertll, a second generation El Salvadoran in Los Angeles and director of el centro de accion a social service agency in Pasadena, California. "They knew how to mobilize people and many established their own community organizations." The organizations he mentioned are el rescate, Central American Resource Center, and clinica romero. The groups have provided services to blacks as well as El Salvadoran and other Central American immigrants.
This made a difference in how many blacks have related to El Salvadorans and Guatemalans in Los Angeles. When Los Angeles Police Swat officers stormed a business during a hostage standoff in South L.A. in July 2005, and killed three-year-old Suzie Pena, the daughter of El Salvadoran immigrants, blacks held candle light vigils and demonstrations against the police killing.
The interaction between blacks and El Salvadorans in the schools, on the streets, and in the case of the Pena killing, in protests over alleged police abuse, has fostered a relationship that can be characterized by a mix of passivity, indifference, and in some cases cooperation rather than friction. In Los Angeles, the tens of thousands of Guatemalan and El Salvadoran refuges and immigrants in addition have not as yet been as vocal or visible in pushing demands for greater political power, more El Salvadoran teachers and administrators in the schools, or public sector jobs. These have been flash-point areas of friction between some blacks and Mexican-Americans.
There is also little evidence that El Salvadoran gangs, and there are reportedly hundreds of El Salvadorans in gangs in the city, have fought battles with black gangs over the drug trade or turf control. Nor has there been any evidence that El Salvadoran prison gangs have precipitated the violence against blacks in the prison brawls that have wracked L.A. County jails and California prisons since the mid-1990s. This is another reason to be cautious of the generic lumping of all Latinos in the category of protagonist to blacks.
* * *
In the 1980s, Puerto Rican Author Felix M. Padilla was one of the first to protest the labeling of Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Cubans, Dominicans, and others from Spanish speaking countries under the generic term "Latinos." Padilla noted that a homogeneous Latino culture has never existed in Latin America, and it certainly doesn't exist in the Untied States. The cultural differences and historical development are so radically different between Puerto Ricans and Mexicans in this country that it renders absurd the stuffing of both groups under the term Latino.
There are also major differences in relations between blacks and "Latinos" in different parts of the country. Blacks and Puerto Ricans in Chicago and New York City have had a long, close, and personal history of working and living together in neighborhoods and barrios. Puerto Rican and black elected officials, educators, and community activists in both cities have cooperated to get more blacks and Puerto Ricans elected in city elections, in the battles for school improvement, and increased neighborhood services. In November 1983, Harold Washington effusively thanked Hispanic leaders for putting him over the top in the Chicago mayor's race in 1983.
The Young Lords, a radical Puerto Rican activist group, and the Black Panther Party conducted joint marches and protests against police and landlord abuses during the late 1960s. A major reason for the closer affinity between blacks and Puerto Ricans than blacks and Mexicans, and blacks and first generation white Cubans is part racial and part economic. A significant number of Puerto Ricans are black, or mixed race, black and white, and are more likely to suffer the same intense anti-black racial abuses as black Americans, and they have the highest poverty rate among Latino groups.
Even Linda Chavez a conservative Republican writer and ideologue who attacks any hint of racial one-upmanship by minorities, points squarely to race as a big reason for the huge lag of Puerto Ricans behind Mexican-Americans and Cuban-Americans in income, education, and the high poverty rates. She brands it the "Puerto Rican exception."
Excerpted from The Latino Challenge to Black America by Earl Ofari Hutchinson Copyright © 2007 by Earl Ofari Hutchinson. Excerpted by permission.
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Table of Contents
Rising Latino Numbers, Rising Black Fears 8
Stereotypes Drive Black and Latino Conflict 24
Warped Perceptions in Black and Brown 35
The Forbidden Zone 54
Reluctant Classroom Allies 66
Neither Political Friends nor Enemies 82
Black and Brown Political Coalitions: A Romantic Image? 99
Immigration-An Age Old Black Fear 111
Illegal Immigrants Versus Black Workers 119
Discrimination Fuels the Job Crisis of Young Black Males 131
Immigration Wars Make Strange Bedfellows 141
Packaging Immigration as the New Civil Rights Movement 152
Iraq War Divided Blacks and Latinos Too 162
Postscript: Diverging Views in Black and Brown of Immigration 176
Essay on Notes 182
What People are Saying About This
"Mr. Hutchinson's book is an important contribution to the continuing examination of the evolving relationship between Latinos and African Americans. It is this relationship and its fissures that will play a major role in defining American society and politics in the 21st century."--(Nicolás C. Vaca, author of The Presumed Alliance: The Unspoken Conflict Between Latinos and Blacks and What it Means for America)
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Another in a long line of flawed work that attempts to define the relationship between African Americans and so called Latinos or Hispanics. The premise is based on a total lack of understanding when dealing with milennia old migration patterns of Native American peoples, particularly Mexicans. What Hutchinson and all other Black writers fail to understand is that the term Mexican is an Ancient Name of a vast indigenous group of people that are Native to the Americas. Many people are ignorant to the fact that the modern borders of the U.S and Mexico are nascent and do not deter from the fact that Mexica 'meh shee ka ' people are Indigenous to the Americas unlike African and European Americans. Before the European arrived with their African captives the Ancient Language of the Mexica people was rooted in what is now the Western United States, to the tip of Panama. It was the language of tradesman, merchants and migrating peoples proven by the existence of remnants of goods, jewelry, art and textiles which testfy to the milennia old practice of migration. Ancient Mexican is still spoken today by Tibal Americans of Wyoming,Utah, Nevada, New Mexico,California and Texas. Black writers should be seeking the understanding of their devastating impact upon Native Americans by their arrival. Many Africans were only to happy to curry favor with their captors by doing their dirty work which often resulted in the degradation and even death at the hands of African surrogates on behalf of ther European captors. Where as virtually all Native American Caribbeans , such as the Caribes, Tainos and Arowaks were wiped out due to genocide and disease, The Mexica survived to a great extent due to the Spanish prohibition of importing African slaves into New Spain (Western U.S and current day Mexico). It seems that virtually all Black writers judging by output, have taken a new twist on the 'Its the Man's fault for the situation we're in. They are rehashing that tired old refrain and simply pointing the finger in a new direction for what ails current African American society. Descendents from the Ancient Mexica people cannot be immigrants in their own ancient homeland no matter what the European did to the African in America. It is irrelevant as to the orgin ofThe Americas. Whether captor or captive, it makes no difference, you are both alien and certainly not Indigenous therefore lack the God given moral standing to rant, whine or complain of the milennia old pracice of migration of Native Peoples. Know thyself to better know another.