NAACP president says that blacks and Hispanics have never been friends
Rumors of racial hatred swirled around the small farm town of Tifton, Ga., last fall after four blacks were arrested in the deadly robberies of six Mexican immigrants. In a single night at different trailer parks, the men were shot and beaten to death with a baseball bat as they slept.
Community leaders - the white police chief, the Hispanic priest of the Roman Catholic church, the local president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People - quickly stepped in to maintain peace. They called these crimes of opportunity, saying theft not racism was behind them. Still, they conceded the community was far from integrated.
"We've just never been friends and buddies," said Isabella Brooks, the president of the NAACP in Colquitt County, near Tifton. She said she has no white neighbors and doesn't socialize with the Hispanics up the street because of the language barrier.
The nation's two largest minority groups are sorting out whether their relations will be driven by competition and mistrust or a common bond, a joint effort to close persistent gaps between whites and minorities. In no region is the tension more clear than in the South.
"The Hispanic presence changes the dynamic of the South, which has always been viewed as white and black," said William Ferris of the Center for the Study of the American South at the University of North Carolina.
Advocacy groups from the NAACP to the National Council of La Raza argue that Hispanics, especially immigrants struggling for legislative reform, find the perfect ally and model in blacks and their history of fighting for equal rights.
Hispanics have passed blacks as the largest U.S. minority group at 14.5 percent of the population compared with blacks at 12.1 percent, according to the Census Bureau. (It counts Hispanics as people of any race whose ethnic background is in Spanish-speaking countries.)
While blacks are still more numerous in the Southeast, except for Florida, a rush of immigrants from Spanish-speaking countries is changing racial interaction across the region. Several Southern states now lead the nation in the growth of Hispanic residents and illegal immigrants.
In places like Houston and Los Angeles, where blacks and Hispanics have long lived side-by-side, the two groups most often fight for jobs, notably low-income jobs that were often held by unskilled black workers.
An April 2006 Pew Research Center poll showed that more blacks than whites said they or a family member had lost a job or never got it because an employer hired an immigrant worker.
"When you get down to the nitty-gritty worker, the antagonism still exists, while politicians talk about common areas and agendas," said Nicolas Vaca, author of "The Presumed Alliance: The Unspoken Conflict Between Latinos and Blacks and What It Means for America."
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