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For many decades, Blacks and Latinos have struggled to get along with each other. This won’t happen until both groups understand each other’s struggles. One big roadblock that both groups have faced: segregation. Not only are Blacks and Latinos segregated from White society; they are segregated from each other.

Small wonder that we have trouble understanding each other! Because of economic inequalities, we both struggle daily to figure out how we’re going to find jobs and survive. So at the end of the day, we have low-to-no energy left over to figure out how we can reach out and align with each other.

Varied, Afro-Centric Origins

Latinos come to America from different countries. Cubans and Puerto Ricans are often mixed, with Latino and African blood. This complicates matters even more. Cubans, Puerto Ricans and Hispanics as far south as Brazil struggle with the two ethnic, color-based sides of their identities. And in some countries, Brazil in particular, those with darker complexions become additionally burdened by color and caste-based race and class issues within their societies and within themselves.

Racial Identity Conflicts

Many Mexican-Americans opted to identify themselves as “white” for immigration, census reports and job applications. There was no “check box” for Mexican-American. Let alone Latino. This fostered a viewpoint among Blacks to view Latinos negatively. Blacks perceived that Latinos had begun to self-identify as “white” to oftentimes gain favor with white employers and government officials.

But It Didn’t Start That Way

Before all of the segue to claim “white” took place, Blacks and Latinos had begun to work together, discussing how they were going to ally to climb the socioeconomic ladder. In fact - in its early years, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) first identified itself as an multiethnic organization. But then SNCC expelled all white members. As a result, this effectively forced most Mexican-Americans out as well—because they had already begun self-identifying as white.

Immigration Discourse and Lack of Black Input

Latinos of all origins (Cuba, Nicaragua, Central America, Mexico, Costa Rica, Argentina, and Colombia) have been struggling with America’s difficult, not to say, resistant immigration system for decades. And Latino groups have not sensed support by African Americans to join and coalesce in immigration issues. They view Black involvement as marginal, at best. With minimal identifiable displays of support.

Who are you? White? Brown? Other?

All of this has led to resentment among members of the Black community across the U.S. And it goes back, again, to when Mexican-Americans began to identify themselves as “white.” This action only served to reinforce the old, ugly “us versus them” belief. Blacks walked away from alliances, thinking - “Well, if they are going to say they are white, what’s the point? They really don’t want to work with us. They don’t see themselves as people of color.”

As a result, the relationships between Black and Brown peoples have been on shaky ground for a long while. Even to the point of gang violence, pitting Blacks vs Latinos in cities large and small.

More Similarities than Differences

It’s sad, really. We have so many more similarities between our groups than we do differences.

We share societal inequalities:

  • Low socioeconomic status
  • Higher percentages of police brutality
  • Much higher rates of incarceration than white people

We share skin-color and caste-based inequalities:

  • Low self-esteem, based on skin color
  • Discrimination
  • Resulting psychological issues
  • Conflicts in identification: white vs “colored”

Whether we live in Atlanta or Albuquerque, we both want the same:

  • Strong Families
  • Access to Education
  • Safety
  • Community
  • Economic & Entrepreneurship Opportunities

Serious Concerns Regarding Immigration & Residency

From the Latino side of the equation, current political discussions on immigration (anti-immigrant) policy marks Latinos as “other.” This has the quelling effect and perception among Latinos of elevating Black Americans into the “law-abiding” category.

Elvira Arellano and 2006 May Day Protest

As an example, Elvira Arellano, a Mexican undocumented worker living in Chicago, defiantly resisted a government order to report to immigration authorities for deportation back to Mexico. She said, “I’m strong. I’ve learned from Rosa Parks—I’m not going to the back of the bus. The law is wrong.”

While she did receive some support from clergy groups, she was eventually deported in 2007. Before she was, however, Reverend Albert Tyson said, “We have so much more in common than we do that separates us.”

In 2006, a Chicago Minuteman group involved 10 to 15 African-American men, taking them to a Chicago meat-processing plant, where the men gathered and shouted “illegal!” at the Latino employees. One of the Black men said, “These people haven’t served time for their crimes, and they’re getting amnesty. We’re being pushed aside. The (African-American) ex-offenders should have got amnesty before any illegal alien.”

Racism. Between People of Color.

There you have it. Racism between two groups. Some of this was encouraged by specific white groups. Other times, it was created by actions taken by members of each group. With all that said, what are we, as Black Americans and Latino Americans going to do about all this division? Shrug our collective shoulders and say, “Well, that’s the way it’s been for generations.” Or are we going to get to work?

Join Alliances to Unite and Progress.
Eight years ago, we took a step in the right direction by electing Barack Obama to the presidency of the United States. Remember, his political roots were in community organizing, bringing diverse groups and people together. So – YES We Can! Obama proved it.

We, as African-Americans and Latinos, have to recognize that, as people of color, we can collaborate in many important areas. For example, our religious leaders can and continue to join together to bring all of us together. We just need to continue doing so all the time, not just during times of crisis. Politically, it would benefit us if we began to look at our similarities rather than our differences. Finally, we need to bring our diverse communities together. This means taking our differences and grievances, acknowledging them and realizing they aren’t as big as our need to cooperate for the greater good.

The National Black Latino Council has a program that helps promote cross-cultural small business development. These programs are active throughout Latino communities and African-American communities in the U.S. If you have a small business, or you want to start your own business, this is an excellent opportunity for you. Plus, you’ll get the added advantage of being able to interact with other small-business owners who are of another race or culture. Doing so, you’ll be able to expand your knowledge and enrich your life.

“But will it work?” Why not? Mississippi has a lot to deal with, landing at the bottom of all the “good” lists. Yet, it leads the U.S. in the percentage of black voter turnout. Mississippi also has the largest number of African-American elected officials. Clearly, the residents there are doing something right. If they can do it, so can we.

Remember that Spanish slogan so popular during Barack Obama’s first presidential run?

Si se puede? Translation: “Yes We Can!” So let’s get moving! Unite and Get involved!

"I'm strong. I've learned from Rosa Parks - I'm not going to the back of the bus. The law is wrong." - Elvira Arellano. Deported from Chicago in 2007.

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Barbara Alvarez is a Latina woman of Mexican-American extraction. She is a freelance writer based in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Her company, Barbara Cedillo-Alvarez Writing Services, provides writing services for small businesses, educational institutions, non-profits and more.

Blacks and Latinos. 

Are We Really So Different?

We both struggle to assimilate into American society.

And With Each Other.  

By Barbara Alvarez

with Cheryl D. Munson

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