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"Together, forever, tonight": Latinos and social revolution in the United States.

POLITICS IN THE UNITED STATES IS DEVELOPING A HEIGHTENED DEGREE OF ACTIVITY due to vast shifts and transformations at the most basic levels of the economy. The present technological changes in society are turning everything we have previously known upside down. Electronics has replaced mechanics as the principal mode of social production. This has ushered in the final stages of capitalist market relations as we know them in this country, which found its apex in highly electrified industrial development. It is challenging the power of "things" over that of people.

Still, despite the great possibilities before us, the move to robotics, within the parameters of private property, has only resulted in deeper unemployment, homelessness, and cuts in social services.

The 1992 Los Angeles Uprising is the first major social response to these economic and policy shifts. I believe it eventually helped topple a presidency: people were tired of the "revolt of the privileged" embodied in the Reagan-Bush years (when great loss and transfer of wealth occurred, equal to the destructive power of hundreds of rebellions).

The city, however, continues to smolder beneath an eerie quiet, restless and awakened, yet tense with uncertainty; ready for anything, as they say. Today this is the sense one gets when visiting almost any American city. In promoting my latest book, I've gone to city after city for several months and found conditions similar to those of L.A. during the April 29, 1992, acquittals of four police officers in the Rodney King beating. The scent of frustration is everywhere.

Although the justice issue in L.A. and other cities is far from over, the lessons, particularly the political ones, have to be divined now. Some of these lessons jumped out from the brick walls and rubble in the aftermath of last year's uprising. New graffiti, which had a sentiment many believed would not be seen in our lifetime, included such statements as "Crips, Bloods, and Mexicans -- Together, Forever, Tonight."

Immediately, police were seen erasing or defacing these and other similar pronouncements. Immediately, reunification rallies with Bloods and Crips were attacked en masse. Immediately, some of the leaders of the peace (which, according to official statistics, eventually led to a dramatic fall in street violence in South Central) were arrested. (One example is that of Dewayne Holmes, a PJ Crip and a forger of the peace in Watts: he was given a seven-year prison sentence for allegedly stealing $10 worth of groceries!)

At the same time, immigration authorities swept through whole neighborhoods, hitting hard the largely Central American community of Pico-Union, deporting and harassing men, women, and children.

The authorities thus proved their real fear was the unity of the most vulnerable sections of the city, at whatever scale.

We know Latinos played a critical role in the events surrounding the King verdict. Besides their part in the uprising, Latinos have been major players in the most recent civil disturbances: Salvadorans in the Mount Pleasant section of Washington, D.C., Dominicans in New York City's Washington Height's neighborhood; Puerto Ricans in Miami; and Mexicans in skirmishes on both sides of the border.

There is history here. While most of the 1960s urban unrests were the result of injustice and poverty in the African American community, by the late 1960s and 1970s, Native American, Chicano, and Puerto Rican communities were actively embroiled. These included the battles of Wounded Knee, land-grant rights struggles in New Mexico, and the Chicano Moratorium of East L.A., as well as uprisings in both Denver and other Southwestern cities and in the Puerto Rican Humboldt Park area of Chicago.

Coordinated law-enforcement efforts, including infiltration by undercover officers, punctuated the repressiveness of the 1970s. This period saw the destruction of the Black Panthers, but also attacks on the Brown Berets, the American Indian Movement, and the Young Lords. Efforts to develop new, politically charged organizational expressions were immediately crushed, such as what happened to MOVE in Philadelphia and to the Puerto Rican liberation group, FALN, in Chicago.

In my travels and in my talks with new and veteran leaders in various communities of color, I've found too many parallels, indicating to me a systematic pattern of official intervention. There are also documents and books to prove government participation in destroying political activism in the most impoverished communities.

We cannot forget our history; it is what inexorably links us all.

Still, the most impoverished communities in the United States have become more diverse. In L.A., Latinos have by sheer numbers occupied a greater share of the poverty figures. They make up almost half of South Central's population and some 70% of Koreatown's (which has a lower per capita poverty rate than South Central). There are significant numbers of Latinos throughout the L.A. area--in Hollywood, the Westside, the Harbor, and the San Fernando and San Gabriel valleys.

In fact, on April 16, 1993, the U.S. Census Bureau released a survey of the poorest city and unincorporated communities of 50,000 people or more. Nine of the 15 poorest on the list (among 555 total) are in Southern California, with eight of them in Los Angeles. A key element of these communities is that they are for the most part heavily Latino. The order is as follows: (1) Florence-Graham (in the heart of South Central L.A. and a 77% Latino community with a per-capita income of $5,407); (2) Brownsville, Texas (mainly Latino); (3) East L.A. (almost 100% Latino); (4) Laredo, Texas (mainly Latino); (5) Huntington Park (almost 100% Latino in Southeast L.A.); (6) Lynwood (mainly Latino and African American in Southeast L.A.); (7) Camden, New Jersey (predominantly Latino, with a large African American population); (8) Compton (mostly African American, with a large Latino population); (9) El Monte (mainly Latino, on L.A. county's east side); (10) South Gate (mainly Latino in Southeast L.A.); (11) Provo, Utah; (12) Youngstown, Ohio; (13) National City (mainly Latino in the San Diego area); (14) Baldwin Park (mainly Latino on L.A. county's east side); (15) Hialeah, Florida (many Latino migrants). (A side note: I have lived or worked in seven of these 15 communities.)

Also, among Latinos there is a great mix from various countries. Although the majority of impoverished immigrants come from Mexico, there has been massive immigration from Central America, particularly El Salvador. Some 500,000 Salvadorans now call L.A. their home (a full fifth of El Salvador's population emigrated to the United States during the 1980s). This is quite different from when I grew up in L.A., when Latinos were virtually all of Mexican descent.

Still, East Los Angeles remains almost 100% Mexicano/Chicano. It is the community with the largest number of foreign born in the country, more than 75% of the population, according to USA Today. They are people largely disenfranchised from the political process, often working in the most menial, degrading jobs (if they are employed at all, that is, since there are large numbers of homeless and jobless immigrants), and the most likely to catch hell when a scapegoat is needed for whatever ails the city.

Immigrants -- and how to get rid of them -- became a major issue during the recent Los Angeles mayoral race. One of the candidates, Deputy Mayor Tom Houston, targeted Salvadoran and Mexican immigrant gangs as the largest and most vicious. And a few politicians blamed immigrants for most of the so-called looting and destruction during the L.A. uprising.

Unfortunately, this strategy helped pull in some leaders in the Chicano and African American community. One Chicano politician, for example, even stated that because immigrants don't vote, he doesn't represent them.

In early April 1993, USA Today had a short article on L.A.'s "Hispanics" and their alleged lack of concern about the issues surrounding the King verdicts. One "leader" was quoted as saying that Latinos were primarily "opportunistic" during the uprising and did not care about King or police abuse. This is just another wedge being driven between the Latino and black communities.

The fact is, law enforcement, including federal immigration agents, has long abused the Latino community. Many of those killed by L.A. sheriffs and police were unarmed Spanish-surnamed people, a close second in number to African American victims. Indeed, a precursor to the 1992 uprising occurred in August 1991, when a three-hour melee in the Ramona Gardens Housing Projects in East L.A. followed the shooting death of 19--year-old "Smoky" Jimenez by sheriff's deputies. Latinos know very well what Rodney King went through; they are not that "out of it."

I believe the powers that be are aware of this. In fact, while it appeared L.A.P.D. officers were pulling out of the "riot" scene in South Central, sheriff's deputies were out full force, cordoning off streets in East L.A. One of the first places National Guard troops were sent was the Hollenbeck station in Boyle Heights (while it seemed unlikely that people in East L.A. were going to burn down their smaller, community-based, ma-and-pa stores, they could have been quite active nonetheless in linking up with and spreading the rebellion).

It was evident that the economic deprivation of both Latinos and African Americans, as well as a large section of whites, pushed the uprising beyond the King issue. The most exploitative stores and malls were hit by fires. People were just as often seen taking pampers, shoes, and groceries as TVs and other appliances.

Still, there are so many ways to cut and fracture our communities. The goal is divisiveness precisely because a commonality of issues, particularly economic ones, persists.

Because of the role of color in U.S. history, its role in slavery and later in the industrialization of the country, we have accepted and worked around the framework of "Two Americas: One White, One Black." The Kerner Commission on the civil disorder of the 1960s placed this concept into the lexicon of the times. It is difficult to let the idea go. Everything is then seen through the prism of color and race.

Yet again the greatest impulse for change in most American cities cuts across color and language barriers. Los Angeles once held the largest concentrations of industry outside Chicago. Most of this industry left, however, and in the process left the areas that fed into them, such as South Central, with very little economic life (this community lost 100,000 jobs over 10 years). This displacement also affected communities such as East L.A. and Southeast L.A., once the main white working-class area. This process occurred across America. If ever there was a common basis for class organization and politics, it is in this fact.

Color also remains a dominant issue in the country. Communities of color, the heart of which are African American, have larger proportions of everything rotten society has coughed up: greater unemployment, the worst housing, the most rundown schools, police abuse, disproportionate imprisonment and infant-mortality rates -- I could go on and on. It also happens that the most affluent people in this country -- a group that is increasingly becoming smaller in number even as they garner more control of the wealth -- are white and mostly male.

Yet "race" should not deceive the dynamics of class alignments. People are oppressed in order to be exploited. Also, the largest sector of the impoverished continues to be "white." Though much of this poverty is in rural areas, it also consists of those whose livelihoods were dependent on the steel mills, textile mills, and auto plants that have closed down.

Recently I met with young whites in east Ohio, part of the coal country, which lost many jobs when the mines closed. The youth there suffer close to 70% unemployment. They often have to sell dope to survive. I saw in their faces the same desperation I found in South Central or other inner-city communities. While culturally these youth in east Ohio are plugged into Heavy Metal and such, they are no different from inner-city youth. Perhaps one can say that for the most part they could care less about blacks or Latinos. One of them told another friend who also visited there: "We want to do what they did in South Central L.A."

More recent layoffs have taken a toll on middle-managers and highly trained technicians. One fact among the homeless in L.A., second in number to New York City, is that some 20% of them have college degrees. This is adding a new element of skilled workers and intellectuals to those already displaced and hungry.

The social class without much of anything in America is so diverse, of many nationalities, and with a range of abilities and languages, that it appears more difficult to come together, even as their economic predicament makes them "equal" under the skin. Yet come together they must. After the uprisings last year in Los Angeles, Seattle, New York, San Francisco, and Las Vegas, coming together is the next level of activity for this class of the locked-out and displaced.

The first step is organizing, locally and nationally, the various spontaneous responses to the social crisis. This makes the role of Latinos, the fastest growing population group in the country, especially important. They are becoming the most potent and powerful cultural and political force in this country. In addition, they have the most immediate links to the hemispheric-wide struggle against the same multinational corporations and industries we have to deal with here. We can learn much from the organizations of community in the favelas, barrios, and pueblos of Mexico, Central America, Brazil, and the Caribbean. Latinos in the United States are a natural bridge to clarify class interests and aims across all borders in the Americas.

The Latino community has long proved it is prepared to fight. Following the example of African American rappers, Latino rappers such as the Funky Aztecs, Kid Frost, A Lighter Shade of Brown, and Aztlan Underground are providing a revolutionary soundtrack to the developing struggle in the streets. There is no doubt that the organizational aspect of the pressing issues facing us must integrate this vibrant community's leadership and experience.

Today we're seeing a striving to rebuild the country on new foundations. As African American rapper Ice--T says in "Gotta Lotta Love," his most recent single about gang peace, "we can do this."

Together, forever, tonight.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Crime and Social Justice Associates
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Title Annotation:Rethinking Race
Author:Rodriguez, Luis J.
Publication:Social Justice
Date:Mar 22, 1993
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