Sunday, July 24, 2005

National black and Hispanic leaders say work must be done to improve their relations at the grass-roots level.

“Too often, in too many cities, despite a large presence of blacks and Hispanics, the [grass-roots] leadership don’t know each other and don’t work together as well as they might,” said Julian Bond, board chairman of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

Mr. Bond said that despite good working relationships at the “leadership level” between minority civil rights groups like the National Council of La Raza, League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the NAACP and others, “there must be more cooperation and understanding at the grass-roots level. That is where we are weak.”

“And Jesse Jackson is absolutely right: This is the future, and we either embrace the future or it will kick us out of the way, and he urged us to address this, and that is what we are going to do,” Mr. Bond said.

LULAC President Hector Flores agreed. “We do have some work to do,” he said, but added that there are examples of black-Hispanic unity that can be learned from.

“In Texas, we are taking it so seriously that we have drafted a memorandum of understanding with the NAACP so that blacks who live in communities where there are not many blacks they can, and we encourage them, to join LULAC and the NAACP does the same for Hispanics,” said Mr. Flores, who is based in Irving, Texas.

Mel Mason, president of the NAACP’s Monterey, Calif., chapter, said he has seen both unity and struggle among the grass roots, but has a different explanation as to why there is a perceived disconnect. “In L.A., if you look in the prisons where all the gangs’ leadership is headquartered, whether you are talking about Crips, Bloods, Nortenos or Surenos, whatever, they are very segregated, and that translates to the outside within those gangs, but not everyone else,” Mr. Mason said.

The Washington Times reported in May that Los Angeles was a hotbed of racial tensions between blacks and Hispanics, including escalating violence between black and Hispanic gangs. Mr. Mason said that is exactly where the problem is, but added that it was folly to believe that tensions between criminal gangs represented tensions between the two racial groups at large.

He said black and Hispanic community organizers in Monterey and Salinas “saw the light” 15 years ago. And in 2000, the NAACP; the Salinas, Calif.-based Aguila Inc.; LULAC and others united to form the Monterey-Salinas Civil Rights Coalition, which Mr. Mason heads.

He said the biggest problem both groups found in Monterey was a misperception that Hispanic immigrants were taking jobs that blacks were used to having and wanted. Monterey is a tourism-intense area, with resorts and hotels being the largest employers.

“What we found is that the jobs many African-Americans were concerned about, management and supervisors’ positions were not being taken by Latino immigrants or Latinos in general, but were in fact being taken by whites, and that it was people in those industries that were promoting these misperceptions,” Mr. Mason said.

And while blacks and Hispanics are working to find areas of common ground in the United States, Mr. Bond said it is now becoming exceedingly clear that more outreach needs to be done in Mexico, from which many Hispanic immigrants gain entry to the United States.

Some NAACP members said recent remarks by Mexican President Vicente Fox, who said Mexican immigrants in America were taking jobs that “not even blacks” would do, and the country’s issuance of postage stamps depicting a Sambo-like caricature is proof that the organization needs to have a voice in that country.

“That would be an idea. We have branches in Italy, France and other countries, and it would be a good move to get some folks organized in Mexico,” Mr. Bond said. “What we are most surprised about is that a country like Mexico, as racially diverse as it is and with a large compliment of black citizens, that you would have its president make a statement like that and then have the government issue a ‘Sambo’ stamp, and we are outraged by both of these.”

The NAACP in May issued an invitation to Mr. Fox to speak to members at its annual convention held in Milwaukee July 10-14, but Mr. Fox declined. The Mexican government a few weeks later commissioned more than 700,000 stamps depicting “Memin Pinguin,” a black comic-book character with oversized facial features — specifically, his lips — and a goofy personality.

The stamps drew the ire of black-Mexican activists, including Sergio Penalosa, from the small black community on the country’s southern Pacific coast, who told the Associated Press the government should be more sensitive and “avoid continually opening wounds.”

Mr. Bond said his organization intends to speak with Mr. Fox, or at the very least meet with Mexico’s ambassador, to address what Mr. Bond called the Mexican government’s apparent lack of racial sensitivity.

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