Latinos and African Americans must unite against racism

If we’d let our ties bind us, we’d be much stronger against a predominantly white political and corporate power structure that thrives on our marginalization.

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Mexican American, African American, racism, Little Village, Back of the Yards, Pilsen, George Floyd protest

A march for unity down 26th Street in Little Village on Wednesday.

Elvia Malagón/Sun-Times

All too often in Chicago, Latinos and African Americans fight for scraps.

We have to accept slumlords as landlords. We don’t know where to turn when our wages are stolen. When they join the workforce, African Americans fight against the stereotype of being lazy. Mexicans and other Latin Americans get exploited for cheap labor.

It can make people angry. Sometimes, they misplace blame for their lot in life. I’ve sometimes heard Latinos join the chorus of whites who speak of Africans Americans as a threat to their safety or economic mobility.

They should see that Latinos and African Americans have a lot in common, especially in working class neighborhoods. Many of our families started out in Chicago with no money and no place to live. Many have encountered racism that dehumanizes.

If we’d let our ties bind us, we’d be so much stronger against a predominantly white political and corporate power structure that thrives on our marginalization.

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This week, in parts of the Pilsen, Little Village and Back of the Yards neighborhoods as well as suburban Cicero, we’ve seen some Latinos lash out at African Americans. It’s driven by fear and racism, to which we must not succumb.

When peaceful protests over the horrific death of George Floyd began to turn violent in Chicago, some people in those communities took steps to protect businesses. In addition to boarding up, they stood guard. It makes sense to want to protect what you’ve built.

But some are turning into vigilantes, who are only admirable in the movies. In real life, they are dangerous.

Some of these vigilantes see any African American as a threat. They’re trying to run African Americans out of neighborhoods. But those neighborhoods belong to African Americans, too, whether they live, drive through or shop there.

Ald. Ray Lopez told Chicago Sun-Times reporters of a violent act in the 15th Ward. He said a young gang member — a minor — shot an African American man near 45th Street and Hermitage Avenue on Tuesday morning after asking the man, “What are you doing in this neighborhood?”

Lopez is looking for hate crime charges, and I can see why.

African Americans who live in Cicero say they are being harassed by Latino gang members. One woman said a group of Latin Kings approached her car. “I rolled down my window and they told me I would only be OK if I go in the house and stayed inside.”

Cops, elected officials and community leaders must move quickly to quash the vigilantism. It cannot become acceptable for gangs to patrol streets.

If people turn to gangs over law enforcement for safety, the gangs will get a pass from neighbors when they shoot people or deal deadly drugs. More young kids will look up to gang members. I’ve seen that play out in Mexico with drug cartels with disastrous consequences. Innocent bystanders end up terrorized or dead. Young people looking for an easy buck sign up, and it costs them their lives.

There are young community leaders, business owners and residents out there who want to unite the African American and Latino communities. That’s the only way to go. It would bring political and economic strength.

Stephanie Cerda-Ocampo told the Chicago Sun-Times’ Elvia Malagón she joined a march for unity Wednesday in Little Village to emphasize a “need to stick together and fight against the real issue like white supremacy.”

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Lea este artículo en español en La Voz Chicago, un servicio presentado por AARP Chicago.

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In some Southern states, Latinos, African Americans and white progressives have figured out that if they come together, they could oust Donald Trump and senators who support his pro-white agenda.

Minority groups in Chicago need to see their potential, too. The late Mayor Harold Washington understood it well in the 1980s. Latino progressives turned out for Chicago’s first African American mayor, and he helped launch the political careers of U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia and former U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez.

We haven’t seen much of this terrific collaboration since in Chicago.

It is not too late. Just way overdue.

Marlen Garcia is a member of the Sun-Times Editorial Board.

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com.

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