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Why African Americans and Latinos Must Get Along

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.

So why do so many African Americans resent Latin American immigrants, and why do so many Latinos fear African Americans?

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 couple of years. The pro-immigrant Latino leadership have not done 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, except for the recent participation of the Reverend Al Sharpton who marched in Arizona against SB 1070. There is always room for improvement of communication and development of trust.

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, 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 actually wrote correspondence to each other.

There are negatives, too, that we must examine. And we all should be sensitive about the words we choose and the claims we make.

During this year's pro immigrant rights marches, some Latino leaders continue to say that the immigrant rights movement is the new civil rights movement. This infuriates many African Americans who asked where were all the Latinos during the Civil Rights struggle? and who also point out that Latinos have benefited from the 1950's and 1960's Civil Rights struggle.

This 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 in Northwest Pasadena, dropout rates must reduced within Pasadena Unified School District, jobs must 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. Yes, we need our young students to read about their own history, culture, and to learn from other ethnic group's struggles.

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 executive director of El Centro de Accion Social in Pasadena and author of "Hope in Times of Darkness: A Salvadoran American Experience."]


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