It was a long trip. Most people thought we were crazy for driving instead of flying, but something about long voyages allows one to reflect on life transitions more fully than a quick flight across international borders. My family and I decided to drive the 2,100-mile trek from Cuernavaca, Mexico to Monroe, North Carolina. Along the way we made many stops to see friends and do some sightseeing. We stopped to see Guanajuato with its beautiful Spanish architecture and the “callejón del beso.” We stopped to visit a friend on the border near Brownsville and another in Dallas, Texas. Another major geographical landmark on the journey along I-20 was the Mississippi river, so we stopped at an IHOP restaurant just across the bridge in Vicksburg. Outside the restaurant was a newspaper vending machine and the front-page headlines caught my eye: “39 Million Make Hispanics Largest U.S. Minority.” So, I inserted two quarters and bought the paper to read the full article, which began with the following lines:
The U.S. Census Bureau’s announcement Wednesday confirmed what many have treated as fact for some time. Even so, it’s a symbolic milestone for a nation whose history has been dominated by black-white racial dynamics.
The article stated that the Hispanic population had grown to 38.8 million and therefore surpassed African Americans as the largest ethnic-minority group in the United States. This news was particularly relevant because of our current life-transition and immediate circumstance. My wife and I had been living and working in Latin America for the previous 15 years until my wife received an invitation to serve the Latinx community in North Carolina. One of the Anglo pastors in Monroe, NC had noticed the growth of the Latinx community, and knew that the church needed to reach out to the growing Latinx community but did not know how or where to begin. The pastor had been on several short-term mission trips to Latin America, so he had an interest serving the Latinx community but seeing the need in his home town presented a new opportunity. So, the pastor sent us an email to consider moving to North Carolina to start a Spanish-speaking church.
Living outside the U.S. for so many years, one misses seeing the gradual cultural and demographic shifts. I left the United States in 1988 when Hispanics were a small minority and racial dynamics were very much based on a White-Black binary. So reading this newspaper article in the USA Today was eye opening and marked a more nuanced and complex racial reality in the United States.
Growth of Latinxs in the South
We arrived in North Carolina in the summer of 2003 to find an extremely marginalized Latinx community in a very segregated, rural, southern area of Union County, North Carolina—southeast of Charlotte. This county borders South Carolina and has a very painful racial history that includes the Civil War, the Jim Crow era of segregation, and the ubiquity of the Confederate flag. During the decade of the 1990s, North Carolina had the highest percentage increase of the Latinx population of all 50 states, yet this community was underprivileged in many ways.
Most Latinx people in North Carolina during the rapid population growth in the early 2000s were undocumented young men who came seeking construction work—provoked by an economic boom fueled by the financial centers of Bank of America and Wachovia in Charlotte. This, coupled with the steady work in the traditional southern industries of agriculture and poultry, created a magnet incentivizing the growth of the Latinx population. It did not take long for the word to reach rural regions of central Mexico, especially the states of Michoacán and Jalisco, that there was work in Monroe, NC. The economy needed more labor to grow, but federal immigration laws lagged behind the economic rule of supply and demand. This massive unauthorized immigration flow was the result of powerful transnational economic forces largely due to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). First, young men immigrated for work and eventually many of the wives and girlfriends, as well as children, joined the men, although some men started new families in their new home. Over time, there was as much growth in the Latinx population by births as there was from immigration. The sudden increase of the Latinx community made many people in rural North Carolina uncomfortable and created tensions with local law enforcement. Of course, there were some real social problems, such as alcohol, drugs, and prostitution, but there were also misinformation, cultural differences, and just plain racism.
On one occasion in the city of Monroe, NC, Earl Brown, the owner of a local furniture store located a block from our Hispanic mission church put up a sign that read, “Honk if you hate Spanish,” “Honk if you loath (sic) Mexico & its flag,” and “Honk if you’re tired of hearing Spanish.” When a local journalist asked Mr. Brown why he put up the signs he responded: “Every time a house has been empty, it’s gone Latino. The dynamics of this area has changed so much.” Incidents such as these made the Latinx community feel vulnerable to hate crimes.
On another occasion my wife and I were returning from the movies when we received an urgent call to go to the church. The church youth group that consisted of Latinx teens was scheduled to have an activity, but they arrived early before the church was unlocked and waited in their cars. A neighbor saw two cars in the church parking lot with Latinx youth and called the police. We arrived to find the young people handcuffed and lying in the grass while the police were searching their cars. We explained to the officers that the youth were here for a church activity. They listened but continued an unauthorized search of the vehicles. When they did not find any illegal drugs, they let the youth go free. Fortunately, the police did not have the authorization to check the youth’s immigration statuses because they would have found out that they were undocumented. Certainly, this was unsettling and made the youth feel vulnerable to law enforcement and distrusting of the neighbors who had reported them.
The “Latino” Ferguson
Although not in North Carolina, there was an incident in Pasco, Washington when Antonio Zambrano-Montes was gunned down by police on February 10, 2015 for allegedly throwing rocks at passing cars. The police fired 17 shots at Zambrano killing him point blank. The police officers involved were not charged; in fact, they were not even interviewed until three months after the incident. Some people have called this incident the “Latino Ferguson,” however, there has been very little national attention and no protests despite being captured on video and having two million YouTube views. The video is very graphic, yet the number of viewings has not translated into the same level of protests, mobilization, or publicity in the news that we have seen with the shootings of unarmed African Americans.
The death of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin, the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by Ferguson, Missouri police office Darren Wilson, and other incidents of excessive police force have sparked a national #BlackLivesMatter movement. On June 17, 2015, Dylann Roof entered a prayer meeting in Charleston, SC and shot nine African Americans at Emmanuel AME Church during a prayer service. This was the most sacrilegious of hate crimes perpetrated against African Americans. With each successive incident of racially motivated violence, hate-crimes, and police brutality, the #BlackLivesMatter movement has grown in political power and numbers. At the same time, Latinx people have been killed by the police at nearly the same rate as African Americans, and yet when a Latinx individual is killed, there is less resistance. This leads to a motivational question behind this article: why is it that in spite of its numeric growth, the Latinx community does not wield the same organizing power and influence as the African American community? This article will explore some of the factors that may limit the ability to organize and protest such injustices and explore what the Latinx community can learn from the history of the African American community.
Divisions between the African American and Latinx Community
From the perspective of an outside observer, it seems that the Latinx community is not as united as the African American community. Tragically, over the past several years there have been several shootings of unarmed Black men at the hands of law enforcement. Seemingly within hours, the African American community organizes a protest—many times through the convocation network of #BlackLivesMatter. There is a comparable number of fatal police shootings of unarmed Latino men, but we rarely hear of them in the news because there is not the same level of resistance and protests from the Latinx community as there is from the African American community. According to a study by Washington University in St. Louis, the percentage of unarmed Blacks and Latinx persons killed by police is 20 and 18.8 percent, respectively. In spite of a similar percentage of unarmed Blacks and Hispanics who are killed by police, there is greater resistance from African Americans when such an excessive show of force is perpetrated against a member of the Black community. The deaths of African Americans Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Philando Castile, and Sandra Bland, among others, have prompted national protests and resistance; however, the wrongful deaths due to police brutality of members of the Latinx community barely make the news. The Latinx community is not nearly as well organized, and there is not much collaboration with the African American community over common injustices.
Of course, the governance tactic of divide and conquer has been around since the Spanish collaborated with the Tlaxcaltecan and Texcocans peoples to defeat the Aztecs in 1521. Social scientist Hubert Blalock named the theory of minority-group relations, in which different groups compete for scarce economic resources in the late 1960s. In American racial politics, it is common for politicians to pit one group against another by framing the other group as competition or as those who are “taking one’s jobs.”
Claudia Sandoval researches and writes about the lack of collaboration between the African American and Latinx communities in political activism. In her article “Citizenship and the Barriers to Black and Latino Coalitions in Chicago,” Sandoval writes about the different interpretations of Elvira Arellano’s challenge to a deportation order while receiving sanctuary—along with her U.S. born son—at Adalberto United Methodist Church in Chicago. In addressing the media Arellano made a comment that particularly angered her African American critics: “I’m strong, I’ve learned from Rosa Parks—I’m not going to the back of the bus. The law is wrong.” In response a Chicago Sun-Times columnist wrote: “Arellano is pimping the system. She is using Rosa Parks’ name to buy herself more time [in the United States], and that disgusts me.” Timothy Thomas, Jr. also wrote a letter to the Sun-Times stating, “The difference in the actions and backgrounds of the two women are glaring. Parks was a U.S. citizen.” He went on to drive a wedge between the two activists: “On the other hand, Arellano’s entire history with our country has been under the shroud of illegality: illegal documents and now refusal to follow a court order to surrender herself and leave the country.”
There is also some research indicating that African Americans fear that the Latinx population will leapfrog African Americans in the racial stratification in the U.S. socio-economic reality. African Americans historically have experienced the arrival of new immigrants that initially have been marginalized, yet eventually assimilate and surpass African Americans in social class. Edward Telles expressed the concern that while currently marginalized, Latinos will eventually self-identify as white and move up the socio-economic class scale.
Internal Divisions within the Latinx Community
In addition to divisions between African Americans and the Latinx community, there are also internal divisions within the Latinx community. Here are four possible and plausible explanations for the lack of unity or the less visible resistance from the Latinx community. One possible factor that has made organizing the Latinx community difficult is cultural difference based on country of origin. A person from Cuba does not have the same cultural background as a person from Mexico or El Salvador. There is even the challenge of nomenclature and categorization. There is a total of 21 countries that speak Spanish including Spain. All of them have different cultures and speak the language slightly differently with a different vocabulary. There are also very large cultural and linguistic differences within various regions of Latin American countries. For example, there are differences in the accent between Chihuahua and Chiapas, Mexico. In fact, there are seventy-two recognized indigenous languages and cultures in Mexico alone. This does not even begin to analyze the diversity of cultures and linguistic differences across various Latin American and the Caribbean. As a result, a person in Honduras, for example, does not consider herself initially to be “Latina,” but rather considers herself first and foremost to be Honduran.
Moreover, there is no natural connection between a person, for example, from Honduras and one from El Salvador. In fact, quite to the contrary: these two countries have had historic rivalries and disputes. They even fought a war in 1968 that began after a soccer game! The same can be true of rivalries between countries such as Colombia and Venezuela, Nicaragua and Costa Rica, and Brazil and Bolivia that have had tensions and conflicts in recent years. The fact that there is an increase in the Latinx population in the U.S.A, does not necessarily mean that people from Honduras, El Salvador, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Colombia, Bolivia, or Brazil have a common history or affinity and experience to forge a collective identity. There are historical differences and tensions that have socialized persons from Latin American countries to be competitors and rivals.
Another one of the factors that limits the political power of Latinxs is the recent and rapid growth in regions of the country not traditionally associated with Latinx presence. While certain states such as Texas, California, and Florida have had historical Latinx presence going back to the colonial era, the growth in the rural south is relatively new. Macro-economic factors such as industrialization, the decline of the family farm, and the ascent of agribusiness have created a magnet for immigrant workers. These relatively new migration patterns have not existed long enough to forge cohesive regional collective identities or political organizations among Latinxs.
A third explanation for the lack of political clout among the Latinx population is that many do not consider the U.S.A. as their home. Many immigrants are here to earn money and to acquire enough wealth to build a home or start a business in their home country, and therefore do not intend to stay long-term. Many workers do not want to risk getting involved with political movements as they could get laid off and sidetrack their goal of accumulating capital for their long-term dream of returning to their country of origin. A Pew Research Center report revealed that “Higher levels of engagement with the home country are associated with weaker attachment to the U.S.” The report found that 51% of all Latinx immigrants send remittances to their home country and 41% talk by telephone with a relative or friend there at least once a week. These numbers are higher for recent immigrants and decline over time, as to be expected. Similarly, only 51% of Latinx immigrants say they plan to stay in the U.S. for good, yet this number increases to 85% after people have been here for more than 30 years. According to this report, new immigrants are more likely to have plans to return to their home country, and thus feel less engaged with U.S. politics.
A fourth reason that Latinxs are less likely to engage in politics in the U.S.A. is immigrant status. Of the 55 million people of Latinx origin in the U.S. as of 2014, 19.4 million were immigrants. As of January 2012, it was estimated that the number of unauthorized immigrants present in the U.S. was 11.4 million, of whom approximately 7.8 million were from Mexico and Central America, and 690,000 from South America. Obviously undocumented immigrants cannot vote in the U.S. and they assume greater risk of drawing attention to their immigration status when participating in any political actions or rallies. This is also true to a certain extent of legal immigrants, such as permanent residents, who are not yet U.S.A. citizens. So, when the Latinx community confronts police brutality, there is a fear of deportation, which leads to greater reluctance to engage.
History of Resistance among Latinxs
The Latinx community has not always been divided and unengaged politically. In the 1950s, Cesar Chavez began organizing farm workers in Arizona, and in 1962, he co-founded a union with Dolores Huerta using the non-violent methods for social change of Gandhi to struggle for better wages and working conditions. In 1966 Chavez’ union joined with a California group to later become the United Farm Workers, which led a nation-wide boycott of grapes in the 1960s and early ‘70s. The boycott was successful forcing the state of California to pass the first collective bargaining agreement in the U.S. outside of Hawaii. A national poll estimated that 17% of Americans stopped buying grapes as a result of the boycott, which exerted economic pressure on the growers to negotiate with the farm workers. Cesar Chavez died in 1993 at the age of 66, and some speculate that his premature death was the result of a 36-day hunger strike a few years prior.
Similarly, the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) began in the 1960s when Baldemar Velásquez convinced a group of farm workers in Ohio that they could have more power united than divided. FLOC organized a successful strike for higher wages for 2,000 farm workers in 1978, a march to the Campbell Soup headquarters in Camden, NJ in 1986 resulting in a better contract for tomato and pickle growers in Michigan and Ohio, and a successful 5-year boycott that brought Mt. Olive Pickles of North Carolina to the negotiating table in 2003. In a related effort, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers led a successful campaign against Taco Bell to increase the wages for tomato growers in Florida. While the overwhelming majority of these farm workers are Latinxs, not all Latinxs are farm workers. These efforts to organize the Latinx population for better wages and working conditions in one economic sector and region of the U.S. does not necessary transfer over to power to organize against racism and police brutality in other regions of the country. Moreover, many organizing efforts concentrate on employees of one company or one industry, for example hotel maids or fast-food workers, and the mobilizing power is often limited to one particular sector.
Growth of Latinx Immigrants in the U.S.A.
During the 1990s and early 2000s, there was a dramatic increase in undocumented Latinx immigrants in the United States—largely as a response to the economic changes resulting from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). While there was growing dissatisfaction with the federal immigration policy, it wasn’t until the report that the 9/11 terrorist attacks were carried out by legal immigrants belonging to an Al Qaeda cell that certain sectors of the U.S.A. population began expressing anti-immigrant sentiments. In fact, the week of September 11, 2001, President Vicente Fox of Mexico was scheduled to travel to Washington to meet with President George Bush to discuss immigration reform. The attacks obviously diverted Bush’s attention and created an anti-immigrant backlash.
In response, the Latinx community began its own push for immigration reform. On May 1, 2006 there was a national-wide “Day without an immigrant” strike, where Latinxs held protest rallies in major cities, such as Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, Washington, and Miami. The purpose of the strike was to highlight the economic contributions that immigrants make to the U.S. economy. The idea came from the 2004 movie “A Day without a Mexican,” directed by Sergio Arau, that depicted thousands of Mexican workers mysteriously disappeared one day, basically shutting down the country. While this nation-wide day of protest began with a lot of energy, it has not translated to consistent political pressure on the federal government to pass immigration reform, nor to prevent police brutality against the Latinx community.
More recently, a younger generation of undocumented Latinx immigrants has been losing the fear of speaking out and has been participating more in the political process. This group of young Latinxs were brought to the U.S. as young children by their parents and are now known as “dreamers,” which is based on the acronym from an immigration reform bill introduced to Congress in 2001 and stands for Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors. Eventually the House of Representatives approved the Dream Act in 2010, but it was defeated in the Senate. After this bill failed to become law, President Obama signed an executive order in 2012 creating a two-year protected status called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) for young undocumented immigrants who fulfill certain requirements. Similarly Obama signed a second executive order for parents of U.S.A. citizen children entitled Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA), but this order was defeated in court by detractors who successfully argued to the Supreme Court that the executive order oversteps presidential authority.
One of the reasons that the Dream Act did not pass in the Senate was that the Latinx community, in spite of its numerical growth, still does not represent a large voting constituency. Nationwide Latinxs represent 17.4% of the total population, but were only 10% of the U.S. electorate in the 2012 national elections. The Pew Research Center reports that this percentage of eligible Latinx voters increased to 12% for the 2016 elections, but still does not represent a significant political block in most states. Moreover, the national differences among the Latinx population often express themselves in the elections and different constituencies often cancel out each other’s votes. For example, in the 2016 elections the pro-Republican Cuban constituency ignored candidate Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and helped him win the state of Florida. However Pew estimates that there are 800,000 U.S. born Latinxs living in various states across the country who turn 18 every month. This demographic sector could have a major impact on future elections if they register and vote—although early indications is that this sector of young Latinx U.S.A. citizens are just as likely to vote as their non-Latinx peers. In 2012 only 37.8% of Latinx millennials (between the ages of 18 and 35) voted in the general elections. A key challenge for the future of Latinx influence in the U.S. political situation will be to get young people to register and turn out to vote. This brings our focus back to my thesis statement. Namely, even though Latinxs are the largest ethnic minority in the U.S., this numerical growth has not translated to a proportionate political power.
What Latinxs Can Learn from African Americans
I submit that the Latinx population in the U.S. can learn a great deal from the history and struggle of African Americans. Without diminishing the accomplishments of the aforementioned movements and organizing efforts of the UFW, FLOC, and the Dreamers, they were specific movements advocating for certain sectors of the population that have not created the deep tradition and collective narrative of African American movements. Throughout their 400-year history in North America, African Americans have faced tremendous challenges, such as slavery, segregation, Jim Crow laws, mass incarceration, and police brutality, among others. Through the struggles against these injustices, the African American community has found creative resistance efforts, such as the Underground Railroad, abolitionism, the civil rights movement, and #BlackLivesMatters. Each successive struggle builds on the prior, creating a legacy of resistance and persistence. There is a long tradition of heroes, heroines, and Black intellectuals, including Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, WEB Dubois, Rosa Parks, and Martin Luther King, Jr., to name a few, who have created a prophetic tradition of resistance.
Martin Luther King was very effective at drawing upon this tradition of resistance and weaving in a theological narrative, even into secular marches, to give political power and determination to the Civil Rights movement. In his book Martin Luther King and the Rhetoric of Freedom: The Exodus Narrative in America’s Struggle for Civil Rights, Gary Selby argues that Dr. King drew upon the story of the Exodus to create a compelling narrative during the Civil Rights movement:
The Exodus Story, continually recounted in the movement’s oratory and its music, gave protesters a powerful motivation for continuing the marches. But it also imbued the act itself with symbolic meaning as the representation of blacks’ progress toward the “freedom land.”
Selby analyzes Dr. Kings’ sermons and speeches to discover that the image of the Exodus was central to the strength, unity, and perseverance of the movement. By incorporating the Exodus into the struggle, Dr. King was also invoking the tradition of how this story had been told and re-told by the African American community for 150 years. According to Selby, the narrative of the Exodus story helped African Americans feel that God and justice was on their side, and that in spite of obstacles and detours, ultimate victory was inevitable.
Within the Latinx community in the United States, there is no parallel story that creates collective identity. If Latinxs were to attempt to copy this example from African Americans, the narrative would break down because many Latinx immigrants identify more with their country of origin than with the U.S.A. The Exodus story could suggest to Latinxs that their home countries represent bondage when they have deep ties there and many long to return to be reunited with their families. The flip side of the story is that the U.S. represents the Promised Land; however, many Latinxs are the victims of racism, unjust immigration and labor laws in the U.S.A., and often take the blame for job shortages in the current economic and political climate. Rather than the Promised Land, some Latinxs may perceive the U.S. to be the “belly of the beast” and long to return to their countries of origin where they feel welcome and are not the victims of discrimination. In other words, the Exodus story can be interpreted differently by members of the Latinx community who come from a variety of countries and life experiences. The solution is not that Latinxs copy the African American story, rather than they learn to create their own narrative that is empowering and uplifting. This narrative could actually come from a broader understanding of the connections between Latinx and African American experience in the United States.
In the late 1990s, Anthony Pinn and Benjamin Valentin recognized the similarities between the experiences and the need for greater dialogue between African American and Latinx theologians and religion scholars. They see how the onslaught of European colonialism allowed for the creation of African American and Latinx realities: “The experiences and identities of these two groups are linked by a unique web of historical relations that began to develop even before the invention of the United States of America.” They further argue that the African American and Latinx cultures and identities are the result of the “fusion” of Iberian, Amer-Indian, African, and Euro/American cultures. As these groups resisted Euro-American domination, their identities were further linked by similar struggles. Many Africans were captured, brought to the Americas, and sold into slavery, while indigenous peoples in the Americas were enslaved and colonized by Europeans on land traditionally held by their ancestors. More recently under the socio-economic and political realities of the United States, Pinn and Valentin argue that both groups have been similarity affected:
Both African Americans and Hispanic/Latino/a populations living in the United States have had to contend with the reality of disproportionate poverty and unemployment levels; of limited or poor education, income, housing, and health opportunities; of the hurtful experiences of racist attitudes and negative stereotypes; and of the pervasive limitation of life choices and of hope itself. Thus, both of these groups share a parallel history of struggle in the United States.
In spite of similar experiences, Pinn and Valentin acknowledge the lack of understanding that scholars have about the other group’s reality. They express a desire for dialogue between African American and Latinx intellectuals in general, and theologians and religious scholars in particular, before they can work together: “How can we cooperate and collaborate with each other when we hardly know each other?” In response to this concern, Pinn and Valentin created a forum for dialogue between African American and Latinx scholars that resulted in two edited volumes. The first book focused more on theology, whereas the sequel discussed popular culture and religious expression more broadly defined. The project brought religion scholars representing both African American and Hispanic/Latino/a traditions into dialogue. The books had contributions from such as scholars as Traci West, Mayra Rivera, Justo González, Dwight Hopkins, Harold Recinos and Ada Maria Isasi-Díaz, among others.
In their first edited volume, The Ties that Bind, Pinn and Valentin each wrote chapters reflecting on the origins and major themes of the religious identity and theology of Blacks and Hispanic/Latinos/as respectively. They identified both similarities and differences in their experiences. They discovered that both ethnic groups do theology together (teología en conjunto), reflect on common experiences (i.e. history of slavery and discrimination), reflect on “popular” religion (lo cotidiano), have a cultural hybridity (mestizaje), and are oriented toward the “ultimate concern.” They found similarities in their theological method to reflect on praxis, so that theology was a “second act.” It was noted that both African American and Latinx religious experience have a historical link to African-based Santería. Areas of concern and further growth were the observations that both theologies are heavily Christian-centric, male-dominated, and homophobic. The authors noted that Womanist theology emerged within Black theology and Mujerista theology within Hispanic/Latino/a in response to sexism and based on the experiences of women of color. Pinn and Valentin concluded their remarks calling for further dialogue and understanding between both ethnic groups.
It is revealing that the name for the current #BlackLivesMatter movement was not coined by an African American, rather by a Latina. Following the July 13, 2013 acquittal of George Zimmerman of the murder of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin, workers’ rights activist Alicia Garcia tweeted: “Black people. I love you. I love us. Our lives matter.” It was her friend Patrice Cullors who added the hashtag. This is revealing because the #BlackLivesMatter movement is very integrated—even more than the Civil Rights movement toward its later years. This solidarity among young people across racial lines may be the way to overcome racial barriers and to transfer the history and experience of African American resistance to other people of color who suffer from the same oppressive systems.
In her article “This ‘New’ Feminism Has Been Here All Along,” Dani McClain argues for an “intersectionality” within resistance movements. McClain cites the experience of Haitian American feminist activist Joanne Smith, who sees the intersection between being a black woman and a second-generation immigrant. Smith calls this intersectional feminism. Similarly, the #BlackLivesMatter movement is crossing over traditional racial categories and engaging the participation of other oppressed groups such as the LGBTQAI+ community.
It turns out that McClain was right about intersectionality being here all along. Perhaps the term “intersectionality” is new, but the concept is old. During the Civil Rights movement, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was founded at Shaw University in April of 1960 with a vision of the knowledge that economic power could be used as a weapon against racial discrimination. The SNCC discovered this during the sit-ins at Woolworth in Greensboro, NC, and their movement continued to fight for greater racial equality through sit-ins, marches, and voter registration. As they worked among African Americans, the community organizers observed how racism and poverty were intertwined. Martin Luther King, Jr. famously wrote in Letter from the Birmingham Jail that “Injustice anywhere was a threat to justice anywhere.” This idea links the treatment of Black sharecroppers in the Deep South to that of Mexican American farmworkers in California. Mike Miller, a White SNCC field secretary from San Francisco, noticed that African American and Mexican American laborers faced similar racial discrimination and economic challenges. In 1965 the SNCC reached out to the National Farmworkers Association and the two groups continued to support each other’s causes and strategies, such as non-violence, voter registration, and rent strikes. This is an example of intersectionality at its best.
In conclusion, a lot has transpired in race relations since our return to the United States from living abroad in 2003. It seemed like fate that I happened to see the headlines of that USA Today article after just crossing the U.S. border to begin living in rural North Carolina in close contact with the realities of the Latinx community. Although I became aware of the numerical growth of the Latinx community in the U.S.A., this demographic growth has not translated into political power and mobilization of the Latinx community. In spite of attempts to organize labor movements in certain sectors of the economy where Latinx workers are prevalent and a movement of Dreamers, there has been no sweeping immigration reform that so many Latinx immigrants desired. The thousands of deportations that separate families have continued. There is police brutality against people of color—inclusive of Latinx persons—in our cities. President Trump was elected despite making disparaging remarks against Mexicans and undocumented people on the campaign trail. Yes, the Latinx population is the largest racial ethnic group numerically in the U.S.A., but it can benefit from learning the history of African American resistance, as well as building relationships and alliances with the African American community. And, there is hope.
What is emerging is not nation-wide Latinx identity or movement, but rather another expression of resistance. There is a broad intersectional coalition where experiences and strategies are shared between ethnic groups and other oppressed peoples. There are many young people who have grown up together with friends of different ethnicities and have created a solidarity that crosses over ethnic differences. At the moment of penning this article, it is difficult to say how the movement will turn out, yet it is fair to say that the Latinx sector will continue to grow numerically, and hopefully become “woke.” While I am not in a position to judge as an outsider, I can encourage people to look at injustices systematically and ask the question: who benefits when the African American and Latinx communities are separated? Also, as an outsider and an observer of U.S.A. history, I can state the obvious fact that U.S. citizens have the right to vote, and hopefully the Latinx community can be in relationship, learn from African Americans’ history of resistance, and build alliances with the African American community.