Latinos vs. Latinos

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Aside from resistance, the root of which was recently displayed on a banner and hung from a crane within sight of the White House by Greenpeace activists, today’s watchword, especially with progressives, and specifically among those of color, is solidarity. The two are related of course, since no resistance has ever proven successful without a broad base of support across a hodgepodge of groups. After nominally teaming up with Carranza’s Constitutionalist Army to overthrow the usurper Huerta during the Mexican Revolution, Zapata held his nose and joined forces with the teetotaling Villa to resist the centralist designs of the now usurping Carrancistas. During the Cuban Revolution, the anti-communist Directorio Revolucionario Estudiantil coordinated with the soon-to-be socialist 26th of July Movement, which itself was divided between the urban disruptors led by Frank País and the guerrillas led by Fidel and based in the Sierra Maestra. A common history and future is what brought such resistors together in solidarity despite their immediate goals having been as opposite as a person’s two hands.

Building solidarity was a major issue during the Civil Rights Movement. With so many groups — the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee led by John Lewis and Stokey Carmichael, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference led by Dr. King, the Congress of Racial Equality led by James Farmer, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People led by Roy Wilkins, and so on — spread across different regions of the country, the thrust of social activism during the sixties mainly came from disparate groups engaging in their own acts of resistance for a variety of reasons, and each with its own motives and agenda, melding into an alloyed opposition. Later more militant leftists groups such as the Weather Underground, the Puerto Rican Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional and the Black Liberation Army would bring together calls for racial equality, an end to the war in Vietnam, the end of colonialism in general, and social and economic rights for all people everywhere and fuse them into a united platform of resistance. In Chicago the Blank Panthers, the Young Lords and the Young Patriots Organization formed a “Rainbow Coalition” of left-wing blacks, Puerto Ricans and white Appalachians fighting against the racial and economic inequalities maintained by the first Mayor Daley and the city’s “Democratic machine.”

As the most recognized member of the Nation of Islam, Malcolm X had been critical of “the white man’s puppet Negro ‘leaders'” for being too accommodating in their demand for equal rights. But after his professed savior, Elijah Muhammad, began turning against him in late 1963 and officially “silenced” him for a few months, Malcolm decided to make a pilgrimage to Mecca and tour Africa, where the “color-blindness” of Muslim society and “the graciousness I see displayed all around me by people of all colors” disabused the former racist of his separationist views. He returned to Harlem eager to build solidarity not only among blacks in the United States, Muslim or not, but among blacks everywhere. “Why Black Nationalism?” he’s quoted by Alex Haley in his Autobiography, “Well, in the competitive American society, how can there ever be any white-black solidarity before there is first some black solidarity?”

Half a century later, solidarity between whites and non-whites, and even among people of color themselves, remains elusive. Besides the recent Black Lives Matter movement and the stand-off at Standing Rock, which enjoyed the support of allies of all shades, the last presidential election, in which a majority of whites — including white women — voted for a bloated bloviating bigot, shows that white-black solidarity is as distant a reality as it was in Malcolm’s day. Being multiracial and multiethnic affords me an intimate knowledge of the reasons behind the separation: As a black man, I’m confronted with racism from whites and non-black Latinos on an depressingly regular basis; as a Latino, I’m far too aware of the fault lines within the so-called Latino “community” to have any real hope of seeing pan-Latinism come into the fore within the next few years, which is equally sad and infuriating.

“Nationalism,” writes Orwell, “is power-hunger tempered by self-deception”:

By ‘nationalism’ I mean first of all the habit of assuming that human beings can be classified like insects and that whole blocks of millions or tens of millions of people can be confidently labelled ‘good’ or ‘bad’. But secondly — and this is much more important — I mean the habit of identifying oneself with a single nation or other unit, placing it beyond good and evil and recognising no other duty than that of advancing its interests. Nationalism is not to be confused with patriotism [his emphasis, not mine].

Nationalistic pride, and the system’s use of it, is mostly to blame for the schisms among Latinos. Mexicans, for instance, are a proud, hardworking people with a rich history and vibrant culture; I say that as someone without a drop of Mexican blood in me. The rest of Latin America, from Baja to Buenos Aires and Santiago to San Juan, is filled with people equally proud and hardworking, with histories just as rich and cultures just as vibrant. Yet far too few Latinos and Latin Americans actually believe that. (I’m compelled to distinguish between Latinos and Latin Americans due to the fact that many in Latin America openly object to being referred to as “Latino,” which they view as a North American creation.) Nearly every nation south of the Río Bravo has its creation myth and shared faith in the fact that, had it not been for an earthquake or a hurricane or the U.S. Marines, their country today would be globally recognized as the richest, most powerful, most advanced and just plain best nation in all of Latin America, if not the Western Hemisphere and the world.

The fractures only multiply from there. Within Latin America itself exist mutually recognized regions which have their own outlooks: Mexico, Central America, northern South America, Brazil, Patagonia, the Greater Antilles and the Afro-Caribbean. In the United States, the political histories of the three largest nationalities — Mexican, Puerto Rican and Cuban — and the relationships between their countries of origin and the U.S. government, have dumped the Latinos in those groups in different parts of the country and left them with varying concerns. Puerto Ricans, for instance, want a solution to the political and economic crisess on the island; Mexicans, being the largest immigrant group in the country, want better treatment of immigrants, naturally; and Cubans want… well, it depends on whom you ask or, rather, the age of the person whom you ask. Besides those unique demands, all three groups want what all marginalized people want: equal rights as human beings and equal opportunities as citizens.

My hope is that one day Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Cubans and all other Latinos — and I include Brazilians, Haitians, and anyone from anywhere south of Texas in that category — will realize their seemingly divergent concerns are all the crimes of one single culprit — global capitalism. Wherever you look in Latin America, you find that what makes Mexico poor and war-torn, Puerto Rico a sinking colony, and Cuba a crumbling commune, can all be traced to the rapacious machinations of Wall Street. The sooner Latinos everywhere reach this crucial realization, the sooner they can finally scrape their silly solipsistic biases and come together in opposition of a common enemy and common threats.

Those with power and the resources to seize more have always represented a small minority, and since ancient times their lack of numbers have forced them to adopt the old maxim, divide et impera. It’s how Caesar was able to conquer Gaul; how the white settlers were able to defeat the American Indian tribes; how one master, with the help of a few drivers, was able to control hundreds of slaves; and how one boss, with the aid of a few managers, is able to keep his “human resources” in check. In the United States, the working class is similarly divided, both along racial and ethnic lines and also regional and sub-class ones. You hear people differentiating between “upper-lower-class” and “lower-middle-class,” blue collar and white collar, skilled and unskilled, the college-educated and the high school dropouts, Midwestern and Southwestern. (In the end, you’re either part of the working class or you’re not.) Graft these labels onto the already splintered Latino population, and the would-be “community” is further shattered. Which is a shame, because what’s desperately in these times is the kind of solidarity that could unite the entire working-class rainbow. But there’s no hope of any solidarity among the fleeced and policed — between blacks and Latinos and the indigenous and LGBTs and poor whites — when even Latinos alone, instead of being bound together by what they have in common, are blinded by what separates them.


Featured image: -Nicola-/Flickr

Hector is the founder and editor of MANO as well as the host of the LATINISH podcast. A Chicagoan living in Las Vegas, he's also the senior editor of Latino Rebels, part of Futuro Media, as well as a former managing editor of Gozamos, an art-activism site based in his home town. He was a columnist at RedEye, a Tribune-owned daily geared toward millennials. His work has been mentioned by The New Yorker, Good Morning America, TIME, the Washington Post, and other outlets, and his writing was featured in 'Ricanstruction, 'a comic book anthology whose proceeds went toward recovery efforts in Puerto Rico. He studied history at the University of Illinois-Chicago where his concentration was on ethnic relations in the United States.

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