Click here to go to the Home Page African American and Latina/o Unity - By Joe Navarro - Guest Commentator

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It has been eight years since Elizabeth �Betita� Martinez drafted the letter titled, �Open Letter to African Americans From Latinos,� which was co-signed by 43 Latina and Latino activists, nationally. BC Question: What will it take to bring Obama home?This historic letter made a call to strengthen African American and Latina/o unity, and challenged the attempts by the government and media to stir division among people by using the census information that declared Latinos as surpassing African Americans as the largest ethnic minority. I was a co-signer to that letter because I firmly believe that an alliance of our peoples can make a significant contribution to expanding democracy and achieving social justice in America.

African Americans and Latinas/os have shared a common history, being subjected to racism, discrimination and violations of human rights, but they also share a common vision for justice and equality. As I reflect on this, I am reminded of being awakened politically and philosophically as a result of the civil rights movement, Black Power Movement and Chicano Movement. As a teenager in San Francisco in the late 1960s I was influenced by the struggles of people to end police brutality, poverty and racism.

I remember when seven Latino youth were hunted by police, jailed and portrayed as thugs in the media as they were falsely accused of killing a cop. The community responded spontaneously and protested the arrests and a committee was formed to free �Los Siete de la Raza.� After an 18-month legal battle and street demonstrations the seven Latinos were acquitted and it was believed that one cop, who had a history of brutality against Latinos, was trying to pistol-whip the youths and accidently shot his own partner.

The Black Panther Party immediately recognized the injustice that was perpetuated by the police, because African Americans suffered the same brutality. The Black Panther Party allowed the newly formed group to free Los Siete to use The Black Panther newspaper to spread its message. On one side of the tabloid was The Black Panther on the flipside was �Basta Ya!, a bilingual Latina/o newspaper. Additionally, Charles Garry, the attorney who defended Huey P. Newton and other Black Panther Party leaders became the attorney for Los Siete.

The Black Panther Party�s call for self-determination (echoing the sentiments of Malcolm X) and their model of organizing �serve the people� programs inspired us to create similar programs in San Francisco�s Mission District. In his book, Seize the Time, Bobby Seale (former Chairman of the Black Panther Party) made reference to building unity between the Black Panther Party and the Organization to Free Los Siete de la Raza as he wrote: �We will continue to have working alliances with other groups like Los Siete de la Raza, a group supporting the seven Latino brothers who are accused of killing a cop in San Francisco.� He added that, ��the brown American people are suffering from the same things black Americans are.�

African Americans and Latinas/os have parallel historical conditions, even though each group has its own unique history. In the areas of labor, civil rights, criminal justice, education, housing, health care and quality of life, we can see specific overlaps and intersections of oppression and resistance. African Americans and Latinos have made efforts to work together in the Poor People�s Campaign, including such leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Corky Gonzales during the 1960s. In the aftermath of the unjust acquittal of the cops who senselessly beat Rodney King, a young African American, Latinos took to the streets in massive numbers to protest the racist verdict. Recently, when Oscar Grant was murdered by a BART cop in Oakland, Latinos were actively organizing protests against racism and police brutality. On other social issues, such as language rights, I remember presidential candidate, Jesse Jackson, articulately criticizing the proponents of English Only.

Even though one could argue that we have made a great deal of progress in overcoming some of the racial, social and economic barriers, I would argue that we have a long way to go. The social agenda of the Tea Party Republicans is systematically working to dismantle all social programs that may alleviate some of the pressures on our peoples caused by inequality, discrimination and oppression. Tea Party activists are no longer afraid to use coarse racist terminology as they target African Americans and Latinas/os, using derogatory references and depicting them as unrepentant criminals and unmotivated people who are a burden on society, and they have openly used the �n� word in reference to African American elected officials.

Elected Democrats, under the guise of balancing the budget, have become accomplices in this tragedy by allowing social programs to be cut. Instead of providing opportunities for education and meaningful employment, our youths are being used as cannon fodder in an unpopular war of occupation or are facing incarceration. Instead of forcing the wealthiest Americans and corporations to pay their share of taxes, the poor, working poor and middle income earners are forced with the burden of paying the lion�s share of taxes. The end result is that the poorest, marginalized and most disenfranchised people in America will continue to be African American, Latina/o, Native American and Southeast Asian people.

The great social movements for civil and human rights of African Americans and Latinas/os have demonstrated the fierce potential that our people have in our common struggles for equality and justice. In every area, such as civil and human rights, labor, education, gender equality, gay equality, criminal justice, housing, health care, anti war and immigrant rights, there are opportunities for building alliances, greater dialogue and working toward a better society. Guest Commentator, Joe Navarro, is a 21st century Chicano activist teacher and poet. Click here to contact Mr. Navarro.

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July 21, 2011 - Issue 436
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