XISPAS

Activism/Activismo, History/Historia, Los Angeles

May 11, 2007

The Basis of Black & Brown Unity in the US

From the weblog of Luis J. Rodriguez:

All good things must come to an end. Today, I ended my week of guest hosting on the Front Page talk show with Dominique Di Prima on KJLH-102.3 FM. It was a wonderful experience. According to Dominique, I was the first Latino guest host on the show. I commend her and KJLH for having me and allowing me this opportunity to speak on some crucial issues confronting both the African American and Mexican/Latino community.

Yesterday, I was able to address key concerns about Black & Brown unity—including the value of working together when the interests of our communities converge. It’s not about unity for unity’s sake. We have common issues of poverty, bad schools, bad police relations, gangs, domestic abuse, disproportionate health problems, and disproportionate rates in prisons. We cannot move fully forward in these areas unless we forge important strategic aims and actions mutually beneficial to both communities.

It must be a principled and purposeful unity, not a makeshift or superficial one.

I’ve had a lifetime of working in this area. Including from living in South Central LA as a child, then working on police abuse actions with people like Michael Zinzun, may he rest in peace, to the coalition for Harold Washington for Mayor in Chicago (I lived there from 1985 until 2000), and the work I’ve currently done for many years with gang intervention/prevention and street peace, particularly in Chicago and LA.

Even now, as we move to bring developmental and policy changes in the poor working class community of Pacoima in the Northeast San Fernando Valley, which has a large Mexican/Latino population and a significant African American population, I’m involved in a Community Benefits Agreement process with the old Price Pfister Brass Foundry site that is slated to become a new mall/park/community gathering place. I’m also working through Tia Chucha’s Bookstore and Cultural Center to bring in more diverse aesthetics to our current workshop, events, and cultural expressions with African Americans as well as other communities.

Today, we had Marqueese Dawson Hawkins of the Community Coalition in studio to speak on the Coalition’s work in South Los Angeles concerning the lack of clean and adequate grocery stores (many that came in after the 1992 Civil Unrest have now left), school exit exams, and more. The Coalition has had an organic Black and Brown organizing process since its inception.

Historically Mexicans and Central Americans (who are mostly of indigenous descent) and African Americans have a long history of slavery, peonage, colonialism, and capitalist exploitation. We have more in common as far as working for the advancement of economic, social, and cultural well being than differences. I understand that there is a lot of ignorance, prejudice, and fear in both communities about each other. I have condemned the racially-based attacks against Blacks by Latinos in Los Angeles and elsewhere, and whenever this happens to Latinos from Blacks. There is already enough hate in this world—I personally don’t want to contribute any more or do anything to perpetuate it.

In addition, Mexicans have African ties from when the Spanish first brought African slaves to Mexico in the 1500s. The Native population of Mexico was greatly and quickly decimated by wars, hunger, tortures, and disease. The Valley of Mexico—the most populous area in the hemisphere before the Spanish arrived—had an estimated 25 million inhabitants when Cortez and his conquistadors first set foot there in 1519. In 50 years, only 2.5 million survived. In fact, most of the continent lost from 80 to 95 percent of their populations shortly after the Europeans came. The Spanish numbers reached a height of 150,000 during the colonial period; African slaves were believed to number around 300,000. In addition, some 100,000 Malaysians (from the Spanish colonies of the Philippines and other Asian areas) were also brought in.

In fact, Mexico had the first recorded African slave uprising in the Americas in 1546. Later rebellious slaves established the first free African pueblo in the Western Hemisphere in 1609. It was called Yanga, located in the present-day state of Vera Cruz, Mexico.

A leader of the Mexican war of independence from Spain in 1820 was Vicente Ramon Guerrero—an African-Mexican. He also became Mexico’s second president (Benito Juarez, of Zapoteca Indian, became the first full-blooded native president in the 1860s). And then Mexico eventually lost Texas and later half of its national territory in the US invasion of 1848 after Mexico refused to return runaway slaves to US slave masters after Mexico had abolished slavery in the 1820s.

Still, with all this history, the remaining native population of Mexico is the main root and source of the Mexican character and makeup. Today there are 240 native languages in Mexico. Many of the newer so-called immigrants are coming from highly Native areas of central and southern Mexico, including tribal members of Mayans, Huicholes, Raramuri, Yaquis, Mixtecos, Zapotecas, and more. There are an estimated 2 million full-blooded Mayans in the US, almost as many as the whole Native American population (believed to number 3 million, with a majority of mixed blood). Many of these tribal peoples don’t even speak Spanish, let alone English.

Now things have turned on their heads. Now the brown-red indigenous peoples of these lands, with connections here that go back tens of thousands of years, have become the “foreigners,” “immigrants” and “illegals”—mostly by people of European descent who have only been in the US areas a little more than 300 years. This is how man-made and superficial borders, created by conquerors, colonialists and capitalists, have now determined who we are, our relationships, and who we unite with and who we fight with.

To find out more about this history, the racial/cultural make up of Mexico, and the African American/Mexican/Native connections, please look up the following publications:

Occupied America by Rudy Acuna
Anything but Mexican by Rudy Acuna
The Fifth Sun by James Russell
The American Holocaust by David Stannard
1491 by Charles Mann
Cycles of Conquest by Edward Spicer
Indian Givers by Jack Weatherford

This is a beginning list. There are so many great books and articles that spell out our common historical, cultural and strategic ties. On the World Wide Web, there are now many sites and informational links. It’s important for all of us to be armed with knowledge, books, history, and stories as we move forward to better all of our communities.

I also recommend, to those who are interested, to visit the website of Xispas Magazine; I am a co-founder and now editor of this online Chicano magazine. You can check it out at www.xispas.com.

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