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LAURA WASHINGTON: Tensions simmer between African-Americans and Latinos

Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), shown here speaking at a City Council meeting in April, was one who recently questioned the mayor's proposal to spend $1.1 million to provide city-issued IDs for undocumented immigrants. “I just think this is a horrible idea, a waste of taxpayers’ money,” he said. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Chicago’s first black mayor died 30 years ago. In many ways, the historic black/Latino coalition Harold Washington built died with him.

African-Americans and Latinos have rarely bonded since the Washington era. These days, it seems some are working hard to pound a massive, rusty nail in the coffin of the Washington coalition.

I hear the resentment in the voices of black talk radio. The trash talk jumps off the screen of my Facebook feeds. The pushback hovers over the official proceedings in the Chicago City Council.

Some African-Americans are resisting assistance for their brothers and sisters of color.


Chicago Mayor Harold Washington (right), shown with then-Oakland Mayor Lionel Wilson in 1983, united African-Americans and Latinos. | Sun-Times file

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and other top elected officials have been courting the city’s burgeoning Latino residents (“assiduously,” as Harold Washington would say).

They promise a bounty of protection and resources through sanctuary for undocumented immigrants, aid to their “Dreamer” children, and refuge to Puerto Rican families displaced by Hurricane Maria.

Some African-Americans are saying our communities are in peril. What about sanctuary for us? Where are our dreams? “We” are citizens. “Them” not so much.

Tuesday, at a steamy Chicago City Council hearing, African-American aldermen hotly questioned Emanuel’s proposal to spend $1.1 million to provide city-issued IDs for undocumented immigrants.

“I just think this is a horrible idea, a waste of taxpayers’ money,” 9th Ward Ald. Anthony Beale said at the hearing.

“I don’t know why we’re trying to create something that’s not an issue for the entire city of Chicago, and to throw a couple of million dollars at it? A waste of money, a waste of resources and a waste of effort.”

Ald. David Moore of the 17th Ward chimed in. “No one was knocking down my door saying this was an issue.”

Such hostility is not universal, but it’s real. It has deep roots. For decades, politicians deploy tactics to divide and conquer, offering appointments, contracts and jobs that pit one group against the other.

Some people promote the myth that undocumented immigrants are taking jobs from African-Americans.

Others fear the numbers. The proportion of Chicago’s Latino residents has surpassed African-Americans for the first time, according to U.S. Census estimates released last month.

In 2016, Latinos represented 29.7 percent of the city’s population, African-Americans 29.3 percent.

Too many believe all the goodies are baked into one cake, and that we must scramble for the crumbs.

Sylvia Puente, executive director Latino Policy Forum

Sylvia Puente, executive director, Latino Policy Forum | Stefano Esposito/Sun-Times

Sylvia Puente, executive director of the Latino Policy Forum, finds it all “unsettling.”

“We don’t need dominant society to divide and conquer, when we do divide and conquer among ourselves,” she said at her downtown office the other day. The Forum, a policy and advocacy non-profit, has toiled for years to bridge the black/Latino divide.

“If (Beale) is outraged about the $1.1 million, where’s the outrage on the $50 million in TIF (Tax Increment Financing) money that got diverted to Navy Pier, as opposed to being invested in the South Side?” Puente asked. “We’re a far cry from what equity looks like for either of our communities, right?”

The groups should work together to demand more government transparency and the equitable allocation of resources. And fight the “negative trends that we both have in our communities,” for instance, like street violence and failing schools, she noted.

Together, blacks and Latinos represent 67 percent of the city’s population. Chicago is a minority majority city.

Let’s start acting like one.

Email: lauraswashington@aol.com

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