When I lived in California the black and brown divide was discussed pretty regularly. As the largest minority group in the state, Hispanics (primarily Mexican immigrants and Mexican Americans) were sewing their political oats while the second largest minority group, African Americans, historically had the ear of the Democratic party.
I befriended a black minister while I was in Bakersfield and while discussing the Civil Rights movement and listening to recordings of Martin Luther King, Jr's speeches he went off on a tangent about the burgeoning Mexican American population. Complaining how he worked in a grocery when he was younger, but now those jobs were primarily staffed with immigrants. And he bemoaned that jobs blacks used to get call for bilingual people to work there. He saw the Hispanic boom as a scourge. They were the competition for union and lower wage jobs and in his eyes were encroaching on the benefits he and other blacks fought for in the 1960s.
So he was pissed.
I met a lot of black people like that in California. Some of them were more anti-immigrant than the white Republicans I met.
This is pretty classic. Traditionally blacks and the immigrant group of the month have fought over jobs. First it was free blacks and the Irish. Then blacks and the Italians. Then the Germans, Asians and now the Latinos. This fight keeps wages low, because immigrants are often coming from poorer areas and the lower American wage is a step up from what they were making in their home country. This benefits big business, the US economy and the government. It doesn't help black people any, as the burgeoning new minority usually gets accepted into the white majority over time.
I've long argued that it's unlikely that there will be a "Hispanic" take over as Pat Buchanan and other people fear. Eventually the lighter Hispanics will be considered white and the darker ones will be in the low wage pit with the poorer blacks.
American has a racial divide and a class divide. No one likes to talk about it. But the Irish, Italians and even the Okies who moved to California during the Dust Bowl were not considered "white" when they first came to this country. But somehow, as time passed and they assimilated into the mainstream, those "not white" labels went away and the once hated Okies now run most of the San Joaquin Valley. That is the reality. No matter what anyone says the Hispanics will eventually assimilate into American society. A majority of them already have. History has set the precedent.
But in the meantime, Snob reader Von Butler sent me a Wall Street Journal story about Latino-Black relations in Texas. The story focused on how Mexican-Americans in Texas were coming around to Obama (apparently not enough for yesterdays vote), but the story was interesting otherwise.
"The idea that Latinos and African-Americans are divided is an old way of thinking," says Carol Alvarado, a Clinton supporter running for a seat in the Texas House of Representatives from Houston. "We have come together on bond referendums, on immigration. On things that matter to African-Americans and things that matter to our people."
Still, most analysts say that support for Sen. Obama is growing among Hispanics, and that would mark a sea change for two groups that have had their share of friction. Blacks and Latinos have competed for political spoils in cities, much as former waves of newcomers did. But the racial divide between black and brown has always been complicated by other variables, including competition for low-wage jobs, affirmative action and high rates of crime.
Lately that has begun to change, in Texas and elsewhere. In many big cities, virtually all the population growth in traditionally African-American voting districts now comes from newly arrived immigrants, mainly from Latin America. And that isn't leading only to tension.
Blacks and Latinos are forming political coalitions to achieve mutual goals. Last year, blacks and Latinos in Texas bonded to defeat a Republican proposal for strict voter identification. In Texas, Latinos make up almost 36% of the population, blacks about 12%; nationally, Latinos are 15% and blacks are 12%.
The article revealed how blacks and Mexican-Americans had joined together to create a coalition against the white Republican majority in Texas. This makes me hopeful, but the article didn't address the notion that it's easy for two put-upon minority groups to join up against a common foe, but how would they vote when they're picking among their own, fellow Democrats?
Also interesting in the piece, it directly refers to my description of California racial politics where the black and brown still duke it out on a semi-regular from political to street gang warfare.
Compared with California, where bitterness between blacks and browns has seethed since the 1990s riots in Los Angeles, interminority relations in Texas are fairly benign. Texans looking at California race relations are turned off by the angry anti-Mexican rhetoric of talk radio, both black and white, and horrified by tales of gang violence. Newspaper stories of Mexicans dueling with blacks in East Los Angeles and of Latino gangs keeping African-Americans off certain commercial boulevards sound here like accounts from a foreign land.
Roberto Alonzo, the 51-year-old son of Mexican-American farm workers, represents Oak Cliff in the Texas House of Representatives and has built a career serving African-American and Latino constituents. He's lobbied for pay raises for parole-board employees who supervise ex-convicts, a measure popular with both constituencies. He's fought for scholarships to train bilingual educators to work in schools with mostly Latino students. That cash trickles down to Latino families looking for help sending their children to college. Mr. Alonzo's efforts also aid Texas's historically black colleges, which now rely heavily on Latino applicants, with 6,000 Latinos enrolled in those colleges in 2005.
"We have a history of working together," says Mr. Alonzo, speaking from the portico of a law office where a get-out-the-vote barbecue was held last month. The mostly Latino crowd featured a few African-American families, some sporting union logos. Campaign buttons and stickers revealed an even split between Obama and Clinton supporters.
This makes me hopeful that in other areas of the country coalitions can be formed between blacks and Latinos despite the low wage job fight created by the American capitalist power structure. To not take it out on each other (which is what that power structure wants you to do) and work together to change the system and get better jobs and better wages for everyone. With black activists and politicians in tune with the American political power structure and Mexican-Americans numbers and will power the black and brown could be a force to be reckoned with - blacks at 12 percent of the US population and Hispanic Americans at 15 percent.
That's 27 percent of pure muscle if we could all agree on something. The problem is, we don't. Many Cuban Americans vote Republican out of their hard line on Cuba. Other groups are more unpredictable. Blacks often appear to be monolithic in their voting patterns. And its only that way because of shared suffering and oppression for more than 150 years. Misery loves company and for a long time that was all black folks had.
But can an anti-immigrant Right that often is disparaging to blacks create a bond. To paraphrase Captain and Tennnile, will bigots keep us together?
Over the years, affirmative action stirred competition between blacks and browns as they often competed for the same slots. Alfredo Blanco, 56, is a machinist with the Teamsters union in Houston, and an adamant Clinton supporter. His union leadership supports Sen. Obama, but he doesn't. When it comes to government jobs, he complains, "Blacks get into places we're not allowed to get in."
But for many Latinos and blacks, political anger against Republicans trumps any lingering racial resentment, especially in the wake of redistricting in the state.
"We witnessed the re-segregation of Texas. It was raw and it was brutal," recalls Ron Kirk, the former mayor of Dallas and 2002 Democratic candidate for Senate. Mr. Kirk, an African-American, ran with Hispanic banker Tony Sanchez of Laredo, the party's candidate for governor. Both Democrats lost in 2002, a year when Republicans made gains across the country in the run-up to the Iraq war. However, both candidates showed they could draw sweeping majorities from each other's core constituencies. Almost 820,000 Latinos cast votes in Texas that year, with nearly 80% supporting Ron Kirk. On the black side, nearly 90% of African-American voters cast their ballots for Mr. Sanchez.
Since then Texas Democrats have begun a comeback. The Supreme Court ruled one of the congressional districts redesigned under the DeLay maneuver, the 23rd represented by Republican Henry Bonilla, was illegally altered to dilute Latino voter strength in San Antonio and along the border. After some nips and tucks to balance its precincts, the 23rd went Democratic in 2006. Democrats that year also took back some of the legislative seats lost in the 2002 Republican landslide.
Since 2002, a Republican majority in the Texas House of Representatives -- 88 of 150 seats -- has dropped to 79 seats, putting a Democratic majority within reach this year if the party can win five more seats this year.
Many Latinos and blacks say Sen. Obama's ability to mobilize young voters and African-American voters will increase November turnout across the state, giving the party a real shot at taking back the Texas House.
"Obama is the one bringing in the new Democrats," says Mr. Alonzo, who calculates as many as three Republican seats in the Texas House may be vulnerable to a Democratic challenger in November, just in suburban Dallas.
We shall see.
(Thanks Vonn for the link!)
PS. I seriously have issues with the terms Hispanic or Latino.
I try to use them sparingly. They're made up terms created by white Americans that Spanish speaking Americans had no say in. Personally, I would prefer if we referred to them by either their country of origin or as South Americans and Central Americas. Mexicans should be called Mexicans if US citizens are uncomfortable with referring to them as North Americans as, I hate to burst bigots bubbles, Mexico is part of North American making their people Americans. Just like the Central Americans are Americans and the South Americans are Americans. So are the Canadians. I'm rather militant about this and I know Mexican Americans and other Latin Americans are conflicted about which term to use while hating them both at the same time.
It's like "colored" and "Negro."
Central and South America and Mexico along with the Caribbean are filled with such diverse people and cultures it seems ridiculous to put them all in the same basket. The Brazilians speak Portuguese, for goodness sake. Are they "Hispanic?" We don't do this to Europeans. We didn't make up a term, like Eurasians. (And Europe should not count as a continent, it's fricking part of Asia. It's not like South American and Africa who are barely touching their neighboring continents.)
When we talk about people from Europe we always refer to them by their home country. I don't know why this is so impossible to do with Mexicans, Cubans, Puerto Ricans, Dominicans and other Spanish speaking Americans can't be referred to by their home countries.
They are not a monolith.