An Open Letter to Black Americans from Latinos
By Elizabeth Martinez
The media have been full of it this year, with such headlines as "Hispanics Now Largest Minority," "America’s Ethnic Shift," "Latinos pass Blacks unless you count Black Latinos," "Hispanics Pass Blacks ..." We even hear late-night TV host Jay Leno "joke" to his musician (a Black man) that since Latinos are now the largest minority—not African Americans—he and the musician are minorities together.
As Latino/a teachers, activists, community people, students, artists and writers, we stand fiercely opposed to anyone making those statistics a reason to forget the unique historical experience of African Americans, the almost unimaginable inhumanity of slavery lasting centuries, the vast distance that remains on their long walk to freedom. We cannot let whatever meager attention has been given to the needs of Black people up to now be diminished by those new statistics.
In the Latina/o community, we will combat the competitiveness that could feed on those headlines and blind some of our people to the truth of this society. We will combat the opportunism that is likely to intensify among Latino politicians and professionals. We celebrate the unique resistance by African Americans over the centuries, which has provided an inspiring example for our communities, as shown by the Chicano movement of 1965-75. We affirm the absolute necessity of standing with you against racist oppression, exploitation and repression—the real axis of evil—and of supporting your demand for reparations.
Latinos/as who may find it hard to see beyond their own poverty, their own struggles against racism—which are indeed real—need to think about one simple truth. Only solidarity and alliances with others will create the strength needed to win justice.
Those newly announced statistics emphasize difference and pit Brown against Black, like athletes racing against each other in the Oppression Olympics. But other numbers show how much we share the same problems of being denied a decent life, education, health care—all human rights. In times of war, look who fights and dies for the United States out of all proportion to our populations: Black and Brown people.
To put it bluntly: We are both being screwed, so let’s get it together!
History makes the message clear. It is worth recalling a major reason why George Washington—the invader who wasn’t
our Great White Father any more than yours—became president. He made a name for himself by successfully using the tactic of divide and conquer
against different native nations and tribes. Divide and conquer, later divide and control, has sustained White supremacy ever since. It will continue to do so, unless we cry out a joint, unmistakable, thunderous, NO!
That will not be easy. Our peoples have different histories and cultures, together with great ignorance about each other. Competition for scarce resources, from jobs to funding for university departments, can be real. Latinos/as do not always see how, in a nation so deeply rooted in racism, they may have internalized the value system of White supremacy and White privilege
As Latinos/as, we are committed to help build alliances against our common enemies. We oppose the divisiveness encouraged by statistics about who is more numerous than who. As activists, we urge our community to support Black struggles and to fight together at every opportunity for our peoples’ liberation. As educators, we work to teach about both Black and Brown history, and our past alliances. As men and women, we can never do too much to assert our common humanity across color lines.
Last, but hardly least, Latinas/os are a very diverse
people with many different nationalities and histories. We also have various roots. In particular, we should recall that more Africans were brought to Mexico as slaves than the number of Spaniards who came, as can be seen by the all-African villages in Mexico today. The African in us demands proud recognition.
SIGNATORIES: Dr. Rodolfo Acuna, historian and author, California State University, Northridge; Juan Carlos Aguilar, program director, Solidago Foundation, Northampton, Mass.; Gloria Anzaldœa, writer, scholar and spiritual activist, Santa Cruz, Calif.; Ricardo Ariza, director, multicultural affairs, Creighton University, Omaha, Neb.
Frank Bonilla, professor, University of California-Riverside and professor emeritus, Hunter College, N.Y.; Roberto Calderon, associate professor, history, University of North Texas, Denton; Antonia Casta–eda, associate professor, history, St. Mary’s College, San Antonio, Texas; Marta Cruz-Jansen, associate professor, Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton; Raoul Contreras, associate professor, Latino Studies, Indiana University-NW, Gary; Kaira Espinosa, student activist, San Francisco State University, San Francisco; Estevan Flores, executive director, Latino/a Research & Policy Center, University of Colorado, Denver; Bill Gallegos, Freedom Road Socialist Organization, Los Angeles; CŽsar Garza, graduate student, Loyola University, Chicago; Yolanda Broyles-Gonzales, professor, Chicano Studies, University of California-Santa Barbara
Francisco Herrera, community singer and activist, San Francisco; Jacque Larrainzar, musician and civil rights activist, Puerto Rico; Aya de Le—n, writer, performer and activist, Berkeley, Calif.; Emma Lozana, director, Centro Sin Fronteras, Chicago
Jennie Luna, teacher, danzante and activist, New York; Roberto Maestas, executive director and co-founder, El Centro de La Raza, Seattle; Frank Mart’n del Campo, president, Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, San Francisco; Elizabeth "Betita" Mart’nez, author, activist and teacher, San Francisco; Adelita Medina, free-lance journalist, New York; Roberto Miranda, editor-in-chief, "Spanish Journal," Milwaukee, Wisc.; Carlos Montes, board president, Centro Community Service Center, Los Angeles
Richard Moore, executive director, Southwest Network for Environmental and Economic Justice, Albuquerque, N.M.; Cherr’e Moraga, author and playwright, San Francisco; Aurora Levins Morales, writer, historian, educator and organizer, Berkeley, Calif.; Ricardo Levins Morales, artist, educator and organizer, Minneapolis, Minn.; Estela Ortega, director of operations and co-founder, El Centro de la Raza, Seattle; Joe Navarro, school teacher, poet and activist, Hollister, Calif.; JosŽ Palafox, doctoral candidate and filmmaker, U.C.-Berkeley ; Eric Quezada, housing activist, San Francisco; Raœl Qui–ones-Rosado and Mar’a Reinat-Pumarejo, Institute for Latino Empowerment, Caguas, Puerto Rico; Marianna Rivera, Educator, Zapatista Solidarity Coalition, Sacramento Ca.; Dr. Julia E. Curry Rodriguez, assistant professor, San Jose State University; Victor M. Rodriguez, Crossroads Ministry board member and associate professor, California State University-Long Beach; Graciela S‡nchez, executive director, Esperanza Peace & Justice Center, San Antonio, Texas; John Santos, musician, author, educator and founder of Machete Ensemble, Oakland, Calif.; RenŽe Saucedo, activist-attorney and director Day Labor Program, San Francisco; Olga Talamante, executive director, Chicana/Latina Foundation, Pacifica, Calif.; Luis "Bato" Talamantez, human rights activist, former political prisoner and poet, San Francisco; Piri Thomas, author, poet and activist, Albany, Calif.; Dr. Mercedes Lynn Uriarte, professor of journalism, University of Texas, Austin; Leonard Valdez, director, Multi-Cultural Center, California State University, Sacramento.
(The letter was prepared by Elizabeth Mart’nez, director of the Institute for MultiRacial Justice, in consultation with Phil Hutchings, last chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and co-founder of the Institute. Send comments to the Institute in San Francisco at firstname.lastname@example.org