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Politics Mondays: Blacks And Latinos Becoming Closer by Ron Walters

Two events in recent weeks have brought Blacks and Hispanics closer together than ever before. One is the recent mayoral election in Los Angeles, California and the other is the racist remarks of Vincente Fox, the president of Mexico.

The election in LA on May 17 featured a victory by the Hispanic candidate, Antonio Villaraigosa, over Anglo James Hahn, in a repeat contest of four years ago which Hahn won. While in the previous election, Blacks voted for Hahn by 80 percent this time, they gave him only 52 percent, splitting their vote between the two.

The Black increase for Villaraigosa was the largest among all groups with Whites and Asians increasing their vote for the winner by 9 percent, but Blacks by 28 percent Hispanics, however, made up 25 percent of the total vote and contributed 84 percent to Villaraigosa. So, while the movement was in the direction of the Hispanic candidate by all voters, the predominant feature of the coalition was Black and Hispanic.

For some time, analysts have wondered when a Black and Hispanic coalition would materialize and some thought that it would do so in the 2002 election in Texas that featured to so-called 'dream team of a Black candidate for Senate, Ron Kirk and the Hispanic Tony Sanchez for Governor. However, it was not to be

California, however, is the next big stop on the road to coalition, not only because 2 of 5 Blacks voted for Villaraigosa because Hahn fired the popular Black LA Police Chief Bernard Parks, but also because black districts in LA are home to growing numbers of Latinos.

For example, Maxine Waters led the break-away from Hahn to Villaraigosa and her Congressional District is now 47.4 percent Hispanic. That is not unusual, since the Districts of other Black members of Congress, such as Juanita Millender McDonald is 44% Latino and that of Diane Watson is 35 percent Hispanic. What the coalition means is that rather than these Black members being forced out, given some favorable support by Hispanic politicians for redistricting, they may be able to hold out for a period longer. Eventually, however, these districts may become majority Hispanic and the route to retaining Black political power is not to foster animosity in the transition, but to practice the kind of statesmanship that builds a transition of solidarity around common issues.

The other event was one that found President Vincente Fox stating, in response to Bush's immigration policy,that Mexicans were going to the United States to take jobs 'that even Blacks wouldn't take.' Immediately Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr., then, Rev. Al Sharpton, flew to Mexico to demand an apology from Fox who has arrogantly refused to provide one.

The issue of Hispanic immigrants taking up certain jobs is sensitive, because in some industries such as construction or hotels and restaurants, it is so damaging to Blacks that one remembers the old sign, 'no blacks need apply.' Indeed, labor statistics show that in the five years between 1985 and 1990, the deepest drop in the type of Black employment was in the construction and mechanical workers (9 percent-6 percent), while between 1990 and 2000, the deepest drop was in Black service workers (23-20 percent.).

While it has been popular among progressives to point to the failure of Bush's immigration policy to stop the flow of undocumented workers to the U. S., criticism of his proposal announced in January of 2004 is worse, even by conservatives. Briefly, it allows for temporary workers to have a permit to stay in the country and work legally until the period of their employment ends. They are able to get a green card legally, but undocumented workers will not be granted amnesty, they must return. Their status can be renewed, but American workers must be offered such employment first.

Many have pointed out that such a policy merely legitimizes the flow of illegal immigration to the United States, in a manner that allows farmers and other corporations to benefit from cheap labor. Such a flow of immigration will continue to put substantial pressure on blacks who are the logical competitors with Hispanics for, especially low-end jobs. While Fox and Bush have both used this theme that only jobs that Americans won't take would be offered to immigrants, I have yet to hear them complete the sentence: jobs that Americans won't take..... for the lowest wages... that is.

The potential may be for blacks to increasingly blame Hispanics for such a policy rather than those who hold open the door, utilize the cheap labor and make untold profits in the process. That is why Blacks and Hispanic organizations, such as the Mexican Legal Defense Fund and others, have recently announced a coalition to fight for a fair immigration policy.

I agree with Bush on one thing: 'the best way to reduce the pressures that creates illegal immigration in the first place is to expand economic opportunity.' But you can't do that and vigorously out-source jobs at the same time.

Ron Walters is the Distinguished Leadership Scholar, director of the African American Leadership Institute in the Academy of Leadership and professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland-College Park. His latest book is “White Nationalism, Black Interests” (Wayne State University Press). This editorial appears in The Chicago Defender.

Ron Walters

Monday, July 11, 2005

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