Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Can the venerable black-Latino coalition survive the surge in Hispanic power?

Ellis Cose:

Leticia Vasquez calls hers a "typical immigrant story." Her parents, poor strivers from Mexico, raised five splendidly thriving children—one of whom, Leticia, 34, is now mayor of Lynwood, Calif., the small town where she grew up. It is a heartwarming tale that readily brings to mind a host of clichés about the American dream. But the story does not end with wine, roses and applause. Instead it segues into the troubled terrain of race, corruption and polarization.

Of late, Vasquez has been pilloried by fellow Mexican-Americans for being—in her estimation, at least—too sympathetic to black constituents. Her foes, whose attempt to recall her failed last week when their petitions were found to be lacking, claim race has nothing to do with their discontent. Armando Rea, a former mayor and prominent critic, says the problem is that Vasquez, a "pathological liar," is intent on levying taxes the community cannot afford. Fliers circulated by recall proponents also portray her as the puppet of a former mayor, Paul Richards, who is black and is currently in prison for siphoning off city funds. Vasquez, who says she barely knows Richards, sees the charges as nothing but a smoke screen for racism: "There is this mind-set that if you support someone outside of your ethnicity, you must not like who you are."

Welcome to the topsy-turvy world of ethnic politics in the 21st century, when blacks and Latinos, once presumed to be natural allies, increasingly find themselves competing for power and where promotion of racial harmony is as likely to evoke anger as admiration. Lynwood is a case study in the power of prejudice, the pitfalls of ethnic conflict and, perhaps, ultimately, the potential for interethnic cooperation. It may also foreshadow America's future—one that will increasingly see blacks and Latinos fighting, sometimes together and sometimes each other, to overcome a history of marginalization.

Latinos pushing census growth


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