African-Americans and Latinos have too much in common not to get along better.
Both communities face high unemployment rates, high dropout rates, systemic poverty, gang violence, a disproportionate number of prison inmates and continual discrimination.
Some issues that continue to create controversy between the two communities are immigration, job competition, bilingual education and political representation. These are tough issues that we need to address in a respectful and thoughtful manner.
Some African American and Latino leaders have tried to form alliances. But this has proven more difficult than you might think.
Take the big immigrant rights marches over the past decade, for example. The pro-immigrant Latino leadership did not do enough outreach to include a wide representation of African-American leaders and organizations. And few African American leaders and community members participated in this movement. Also, many Latino community members are beginning to resent President Barack Obama since he has not signed into law a comprehensive immigration reform that would benefit nearly 12 million immigrants in the United States.
However, we need to do more to accentuate the history of alliances between African Americans and Latinos. We should stress that Mexicans played an important role in the underground railroad during slavery. Creating a southern route, it is believed that Mexicans enabled an estimated 10,000 escaped slaves to arrive in freedom south of the border. And we should also recall that Cesar Chavez and Martin Luther King Jr. were kindred spirits who fought for the civil rights of all disenfranchised communities.
There are negatives, too, that we must examine and cannot afford to ignore. Earl Ofari Hutchinson wrote a book titled The Latino Challenge to Black America: Towards a Conversation Between African-Americans and Hispanics. Hutchinson points out that anti-immigrant rhetoric has, in fact, been part of the African American experience since the 1800s. He also notes how immigrants have been used as scapegoats.
And we all should be sensitive about the words we choose and the claims we make. During the massive pro-immigrant rights marches, some Latino leaders began to say that the immigrant rights movement was the new civil rights movement. This infuriated many African Americans who asked where all the Latinos were during the civil rights struggle and who pointed out that Latinos have benefited from that struggle. It is important to also cite Ernesto Galarza's book titled Barrio Boy where it states that "while the Civil Rights era was - and still is - perceived as an effort for equal opportunity for blacks, a fundamental role was also played by Mexican Americans, Puerto Ricans, and Filipinos" (Galarza, p. xxi).
The negative bickering must come to an end. Both communities have suffered tremendously, and neither side can deny that fact. We should come together to demand that gang violence be curtailed, dropout rates be reduced, jobs be created for both communities and hate crimes be wiped out.
African Americans and Latinos alike simply want to achieve the American dream: to have a decent education, to have a stable job with benefits, to have the ability to buy a house, a car, and to be able to provide food, shelter and clothing to their children.
We should help each other achieve this dream first by studying and respecting each other's history and culture and then by working together in common cause.
But we cannot continue to blame each other, much less prey on each other. And we should not compete for the title of the country's most victimized minority group. That is a losing game.
Randy Jurado Ertll is the author of "Hope in Times of Darkness: A Salvadoran American Experience." Please visit his web site at www.randyjuradoertll.com or contact via e-mail at email@example.com