Tuesday, May 24, 2005

The NAACP has invited Mexican President Vicente Fox to speak at its annual convention as part of its continuing effort to unite blacks and Hispanics and avert disharmony between the two ethnic groups.

Two weeks ago, Mr. Fox told a group of businessmen in Mexico that “there is no doubt that Mexicans, filled with dignity, willingness and ability to work are doing jobs that not even blacks want to do there in the United States.”

The Mexican president has refused to apologize for those remarks, including in a meeting yesterday with the Rev. Jesse Jackson and the Rev. Al Sharpton.

Julian Bond, chairman of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said that the organization is “justifiably proud of our many efforts to find common cause with citizens of all races and with our growing immigrant population” and that Mr. Fox’s comments caused “great concern” among members.

He added that the convention offers Mr. Fox a unique opportunity to explain what he meant.

“We think there is a misunderstanding by Mr. Fox as to the types of jobs African- Americans are willing to do and an assumption on Mr. Fox’s part that is not based in fact and is in part based on a stereotype,” said NAACP spokesman John White.

“Our major concern is that some people will see those comments as meaning that black people don’t want to work and that is not true. The work ethic does not belong to one race or ethnic group.”

President Bush, who has not commented on Mr. Fox’s statement, has not addressed the convention since he was a candidate in 2000. NAACP officials said that Mr. Fox has not accepted the invitation and that they are undecided about inviting Mr. Bush in tandem with Mr. Fox.

The NAACP invited Mr. Fox after Mr. Jackson and Mr. Sharpton traveled to Mexico urging him to apologize for his comments.

Mr. Fox yesterday rejected that demand, saying after the meeting that his original remarks “only reflect the conviction that exists in our country of the importance of the multiple contributions that Mexicans make to the economy and the U.S. society and did not have the intention of creating any offense.”

Mr. Sharpton said that was unacceptable.

“If I step on your toe, I should apologize,” the New York activist said. “I should not say that I regret that you think your foot hurts. I should apologize that I caused your foot to hurt.”

Mr. Fox “could have apologized and made a strong moral statement, moving forward,” Mr. Sharpton said, but said that despite the refusal to apologize, there was still hope “of our communities working together.”

Mr. Sharpton called for political solidarity between blacks and Hispanics, saying, “I think that Mexicans and African-Americans and Latino-Americans need to be on the same side on everything.”

Mr. Fox has said his words were misinterpreted, and the Mexican Embassy did not return phone calls requesting a comment.

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus, however, in a letter to Mr. Fox calling for an apology, said there was no linguistic mix-up.

“We believe that the problem is not that your statements were misinterpreted, but that they were rightly perceived and unintentionally imply a class system based on race that we simply reject,” the Hispanic caucus said.

“At a time when Latinos are a vital emerging presence in a growing coalition with African-Americans, Native Americans and Asian/Pacific Islander Americans, your comments are especially harmful to the relationships built throughout our communities.”

Nearly every Hispanic civil rights organization has denounced the comments as potentially racist and harmful.

Margie McHugh, executive director for the New York Immigration Coalition, said that the comments were “obviously offensive” and that it was “ludicrous” for Mr. Fox to embrace stereotypes about income and occupation status based on race.

She added that the message sent “ironically, implies support for a system that exploits both blacks and Mexicans.”

Janet Murguia, executive director for the National Council for La Raza said the statement suggests that there is a competition between blacks and Hispanics for work — a touchy subject that historically has led to violent American backlash against all immigrants.

And although some black and Hispanic leaders are reaching out to Mr. Fox and trying to help him understand the implications of his remarks, others say the effort is futile.

“It is absolutely a waste of time unless you give the right message,” said Roy Innis, national chairman of the Congress on Racial Equality.

“Fox was an ignorant man when he said what he said. What he should have said is that Mexicans who are American citizens don’t want those jobs either; they want something better, to be doctors, lawyers and mayor of Los Angeles, which they are now.”

• This article was based in part on wire service reports.

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