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José Fernando López

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Latinos and Blacks Missing in Occupy Wall Street

Posted: 10/06/11 09:09 AM ET

Days before the arrest of 700 people in the Brooklyn Bridge in New York, I read in the El Pais newspaper, from Spain, an article about the Occupy Wall Street movement. Until the arrest, except for acknowledging certain fleeting appearances on record, such as the one from Michael Moore or Susan Sarandon, newspapers in this country had not given much importance to the protests taking place in the heart of Manhattan. El Pais, however, has followed the issue with interest from the beginning (mid-September), for its resemblance to the movement of the Indignados (Indignants) that shook Spain a few months ago.

In the El Pais article, my attention was caught by a quote from Gonzalo Venegas, a musician from the Bronx, who was going for the first time to the Zuccotti Park, the center of the protest given the police barrier of Wall Street. "Here," said Venegas, "Latinos and blacks are missing." Maybe, I said to myself while reading such a blunt assertion, it's because the movement has nothing to do with them. But looking more closely at the reasons for the protest, it became clear that it did.

The United States is experiencing the worst economic crisis of the last eighty years, due largely in part to the greed of banks and the lack of regulation of the financial system. And that crisis has not only swept away millions of jobs, but threatens to reduce social benefits -- in addition to those that lost their homes after the bursting of the housing bubble.

The responsibility for the financial system has been pointed out by tens of experts. But none have highlighted that responsibility as the government itself, which after handing out millions of dollars belonging to the taxpayers to the banks -- to avoid a debacle -- decided to sue 17 of them for having "cheated," according to them, state agencies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac by selling toxic mortgages to them.

According to an article in The Wall Street Journal, the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which was the official agency that brought the lawsuit, "said the mortgage-backed securities were sold to Fannie and Freddie based on documents that 'contained misstatements and omissions of material facts concerning the quality of the underlying mortgage loans, the creditworthiness of the Borrowers, and the practices used to originate such loan'."

It is no secret that the toxic mortgages -- and the practices followed to originate the loans -- are a great part of the origin of the crisis, and it is against these practices, among others, that the organizers of Occupy Wall Street protest. Well, according to a recent study by the Pew Research Center, Hispanics and blacks are among the groups most affected by the mortgage crisis.

According to the study, "in percentage terms, the bursting of the housing market bubble in 2006 and the recession that followed from late 2007 to mid-2009 took a far greater toll on the wealth of minorities than on whites. From 2005 to 2009, inflation-adjusted median wealth fell by 66% among Hispanic households and 53% among black households, compared with just 16% among white households". And "about a third of black (35%) and Hispanic (31%) households had zero or negative net worth in 2009, compared with 15% of white households".

I'm not sure that a protest movement like Occupy Wall Street is the best way to prevent this sort of thing from happening again. But after analyzing the causes for the protest and the impact the crisis has had on minorities, I understood Venegas' phrase better. For Hispanics living in the United States, and for those seeking to capture their vote in the upcoming elections, there are few issues that should be as important than the issue of migration.

 

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