If I told you I have not been adversely impacted by the events across the country over the past week (sans the COVID 19 pandemic which is distressful in itself), I would be lying to you. Whether it’s the repeated images of a man losing his life by having his neck crushed behind a police vehicle, or our cities set ablaze as a result of accumulated hurt, frustration, and anger, it’s all been too much to bear. I’ve retreated to my garden, my piano, and Food Network junk programming with below moderate success in easing my pain. Perhaps this therapist needs to re-evaluate his coping skills. One major source of my anguish that has been too close for comfort to bear has been some of the comments coming some folks in the Latino community regarding their indifference towards the events surrounding the death of George Floyd and the unfolding aftermath. Many brown folks are communicating a message that collectively states……” I’m not black, so why should I give a damn?” In the simplest way I could I would convey this as my message in rebuttal….” You are a Person of Color (POC) who’s group continues to deal with the adverse effects of racism and discrimination in 2020 America….you should give a damn.”
Racism, prejudice, and prejudice have been problematic for our black brothers and sisters for over five hundred years, when their ancestors were brought to our shores against their will to serve as slaves in building the nation we know today. The fight for equal rights after death and mayhem against black populations in the US came to a fever pitch during the Civil Rights Movement of the 50s and 60s as leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Rosa Parks took a stand to fight for the rights of their people. Sadly, after what has transpired in our nation, even years before current events, I wonder if their efforts came to be in vain as police brutality and systemic racism seem to plague the fabric of American society. As our black brothers and sisters have experienced rampant discrimination and prejudice, so have brown people endured similar hardships dating back to the decades before the Mexican American War. After the war in which the states of California, Arizona, Nevada, and most of the southwest were ceded to the United States, many Mexican landowners were displaced from their homes and ranchos, often via aggressive means force, by the new American landowners who were driven by the Manifest Destiny written decades prior. Should I even mention what happened to our Native American brethren at the same time? In somewhat more “recent” history, “Operation Wetback” in 1954 is a prime example of state sponsored act of racism towards Latinos, when US immigration authorities with the blessing of Eisenhower administration rounded up Mexican immigrants (many of them documented US citizens) and deported them en masse due to concerns about their overpopulation in parts of the country. These racially motivated actions however were disguised as concerns over the legal immigration status of migrant Mexican workers whom were years prior invited by the same government to rebuild the American agricultural infrastructure that took a major hit during World War II. It was this, coupled discrimination at both micro and macro levels against brown peoples that lead to the start of the Chicano (El Movmiento) and United Farm Workers movements of the 1960s. Both movements were inspired and heavily influenced by the Civil Rights Movement that was simultaneously in full swing. Two groups of people were working at the same time to take a stand for the betterment of their people. In 1966 during Dr. King sent Cesar Chavez a telegraph praising him for his work in equal rights for farm workers that stated…
“Our separate struggles are really one – a struggle for freedom, for dignity and for humanity. You and your fellow workers have demonstrated your commitment to righting grievous wrongs forced upon exploited people. We are together with you in spirit and in determination that our dreams for a better tomorrow will be realized.”
It was a racially motivated tragedy that occurred decades prior that further emphasizes how the racial struggles of black and brown people have and will forever be intertwined. …
From June 3 – 8, 1943 a serious of savage beatings at the hands of American military personnel towards Mexican American youth (young men and women) took place in Los Angeles. The Zoot Suit Riots as they later became known, were the result of a scuffle between a group of young pachuco “zoot suiters” and a group of sailors, who were trying to grab the attention of a group of Mexican-American young women whom the sailors were under the assumption of being prostitutes as those in Tijuana. In the days after the scuffle, several buses of service personnel escorted by the Los Angeles Police Department arrived in the city and began to attack and beat Mexican American and other youth of color as retaliation for the incident between the pachucos and sailors. Youth were dragged out of movie theaters, homes, and beaten for wearing regalia deemed “unpatriotic” at the time. Shortly after failing to intervene to protect the Mexican American youth, the police stepped in and arrested the beating victims for acts of “hooliganism” and inciting violence. In addition to Mexican American youth being assaulted, several black and Filipino youths were also beaten by the military personnel, with one young black man having his eye gouged by his assailants. It was clear the victims brown, black, and yellow held a common denominator of persons of color in the path of a racially motivated mob of attackers, nothing more.
I can go on and on and revisit other instances and examples of racism and discrimination towards black and brown that occurred simultaneously, but let’s rather fast forward to the year 2020 and the current COVID-19 pandemic. According to a study on the CDC website (2020) …” Among COVID-19 deaths for which race and ethnicity data were available, identified death rates among Black/African American persons (92.3 deaths per 100,000 population) and Hispanic/Latino persons (74.3) that were substantially higher than that of white (45.2) or Asian (34.5) persons.” Many including myself, suspect the failure of the American healthcare system to access care for black and brown peoples as the main culprit of such disproportionate numbers…. a problem that has been decades in the making.
With the recent week’s developments on a feedback loop in many or our minds, many within the Latino community have expressed concerns about how our brown brothers and sisters have shown such strong indifference to recent and other events that highlight the ongoing social and economic plight of the black community. This indifference is rooted in prejudice towards blacks and even darker skinned Latinos that is long overdue in being rooted out from our society. Words and phrases like “El Moreno / La Morena,” “El Negrito (think of playing Loteria) / La Negrita” and caricatures such as Memín Pinguín also reinforce such prejudice, despite them being conveyed as terms of endearment despite their harmful undertones. As I mentioned in a social media post days ago, I also can recall numerous times in which I was ridiculed and called names due to my darker skin tone. When confronted about the potential harm of these terms and types of caricatures, many Latinos are dismissive of them and reinforce a message that subtly normalizes them.
Another problem rests with many Latinos full integration into mainstream society and their indifference to the problems of their poorer brethren and other so called “minority groups.” (I can’t express how much I detest that label, BTW!) Many Latinos have left the poverty they grew up in and have become successful members of society often in roles of leadership and business. Sadly, many of them have emigrated from the poorer communities’ upbringings with a “never looking back attitude” that has also shaped their socio-political beliefs. Internalized racism at multiple levels in their lives also has led many of these individuals to carry a set of beliefs that telegraph messages such as “Your problem isn’t mine!,” “You put yourself in this situation, so deal with it,” and “If I can become successful, there’s no excuse for you.” For the most part, this “pick yourself up by the bootstraps mentality” is engrained as a direct consequence of the aforementioned internalized racism as many of these Latinos/Latinas who were the children of poor immigrant parents, were conveyed these messages by the socio-economic apparatuses in power at the time of their parent’s arrival to El Norte. This direct trauma can shape a “if you can’t beat them, join them” mentality that many Latinos use to shame their poorer brethren and other POC with messages transmitted often behind a red hat that, that provide some form of catharsis in relieving the pain of their continued internalized strife.
One message I am hearing from many in the Latino community regarding our relationship with blacks (especially during these times) has been, “Black people do shit to ‘Mexicans,’ why should we care about them?” They often point to recent examples of a group of young black men attacking a street vendor in Los Angeles and posting it on social media as proof of this point. That may be true gente, but we’d be lying if we said many in our community haven’t also attacked people in the black community for no reason. Don’t say it hasn’t happened! This black vs brown, brown vs black violence, or whatever the hell you want to call it is the symptom of somethings needed between both communities that have been long overdue….dialogue and understanding. Dialogue just as frustrated siblings communicating their frustrations with one another about one another…in that we can openly and honestly communicate our concerns to come to solutions that will benefit both communities. And just as frustrated siblings often do, they still honor and respect their relationship despite their differences. Also an understanding that as mentioned in my examples above, that black and brown have dealt with the very similar struggles for decades, and in only working together (strength in numbers people!) can we rapidly undo the socio-economic injustices that have plagued our communities for far too long. I was touched in recent days when colleagues on social media were posting pictures of black and brown unity. One was a picture taken at an undated immigration rally in which two black women were holding signs reading “No Human Being Is Illegal.” Another picture was a Kahloesque drawing of a black and Latina woman holding hands joined by the caption “Tu lucha es mi lucha (your struggle is my struggle).” I can honestly say I was moved by both photos.
So gente, you have a choice. You can remain silent and/or still feel like the struggles of our black brethren are not yours, or at least begin to see how the issues of the black community are heavily intertwined with the issues of our own community and perhaps begin to view things differently. Hey…your inaction may lead to some form of action somewhere down the road, even if it’s educating your own familia about the importance of understanding and respecting our African American counterparts at the very least. But if you choose the former, then as we often say “that’s on you.” I just don’t know how you’d be able to continue to listen to hip hop or R&B music, rock Air Jordan’s, Kobe’s, etc, or enjoy other facets of African American culture that came to be after years of perseverance in the face of the adversity that many African Americans faced. Just remember your last name, darker hair and or eyes, and yes even your brown skin (no matter how much you try to see it as nothing more than light) are direct reminders that you are subject to the terms and conditions of your place as being a person of color in 2020 America. It may take an uncomfortable experience such as brunch with your family at a posh country club to finally allow you to realize this.
To my black brothers and sisters, these words aren’t mine but the message nevertheless is…….
“I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” Matthew 28:20….”