The removal of the General Robert E. Lee statue from Lee Park in Dallas is symbolic of the growing resistance of Blacks and Browns in North Texas to historical and current oppression. Several years ago, it was difficult to start a public dialogue about this statue’s glorification of a general who fought for southern states’ efforts to preserve slavery. The speed in which this edifice to racial domination was removed from the start of renewed talk reflects the greater community’s resistance to a culture of hatred. Is it too early to celebrate a tipping point for racial reconciliation?
The winds of resistance blew swift and strong with the election of President Donald Trump. He remarked soon after taking office about “bad hombres,” “build the wall,” and launched a public attack on Judge Gonzalo P. Curiel’s ability to render a fair hearing in a class action suit against him. He alluded that his “Mexican” status — Curiel was born in Indiana — would impair his discernment. Trump’s recent pardoning of the former Arizona Maricopa County Sherriff, Joe Arpaio, who racially profiled and abused Latinos, exposed again little concern for the Latino community’s interests or fear of political repercussions. His recent termination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and continued debate about Texas Senate Bill 4 has aroused anger and mobilized national and local resistance. However, Judge Orlando Garcia’s injunction of SB 4 and the president’s possible DACA “deal” with the Democrats offer some hope for legal and humane relief.
In the Latino community, a mobilization effort that started in the early 20th century continued to impact positive change for all residents. Many recall La Raza Unida Party, the United Farm Workers Union, Mexican American Legal Defense Fund (MALDEF) and other Latino civil rights groups that struggled to overcome racist policies and practices and assert la gente’s power. Despite the small number of Latino activists organizing, marching, petitioning, and confronting the white majority power systems, some positive changes occurred. Unfortunately, most Latinos avoided politics and focused their time and energies in work, school, and family.
Today, local groups like United Fort Worth, North Texas Dream Team, Mujeres Unidas de Arlington, Faith in Texas, LULAC 4743, Tejano Gold Radio and their allies have raised their voices in the streets, in city council meetings, in parks, and churches, that it’s time to accelerate resistance. The primary reason these groups may be more successful is that the Latino population is rapidly growing, soon to be the majority. More Latinos and Latinas have graduated from colleges and understand the political realities of power, votes, and money. Whites, both liberal and conservative, have been long accustomed to speaking more often, louder, and more authoritatively than ethnic minorities. Those elitist choir days are numbered as Latinos overcome their political stage fright.
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It’s incorrect to assume all Latinos are opposed to Trump’s actions against Latinos or resist SB 4. Like other American ethnic groups, Latinos hold diverse political views and immigration experiences. I recall other young Latinos’ vibrant fears in the 60s and 70s to discuss publicly the Chicano movement and their desire to avoid the labels “militant” or “radical.” Some Chicano youth fled or fell mute in the presence of “Raza” discussions. They sought the acceptance and curried the favor of their white friends, teachers, and supervisors. Some changed their names: Rosa to Rose; Jose to Joe; Maria to Marie; Fernando to Fred. Still, the nopal, or prickly pear, draped their faces, their accents gave them away.
My observations of the recent Fort Worth marches, rallies, and city council meetings reflect mostly young Latinos, whites, blacks, and immigrants. Middle-aged and older Latinos appear to be missing in action. Although I would like to think they support the youth’s resistance efforts with money or moral support, I assume most have never found any comfort in political involvement. Many have internalized the negative Latino stereotypes — dumb, violent, illiterate, macho, drunks, lazy — foisted by popular media, schools, and white supremacists. I wish they seize this opportunity at this critical time to muster the ganas or desire to overcome their past fears and exorcise hateful myths. Many more Latinos must engage in politics through voting, candidacy, contributions, political education beyond DACA and SB4.
I applaud Latino youth and their allies in their surge to resist racist policies. Their social media mobilization reflects their astuteness to leverage the power of technology not available to yesterday’s activists. Let's accept white and black support, resources, and experiences in social movements. However, never relinquish Latino control. The days of white saviors who speak first and last must end. If not — what has changed? Who has the power?
Let’s quit hoisting bogus, white saviors on pedestals. Stop playing the grateful sidekicks and start erecting statues of our past, current, and future Latino heroes. Heaven knows many unsung Chicano patriots and activists have lived and died fighting foreign wars or civil rights battles.
Echale un grito y un brindis de gracias or give a shout and a toast of thanks in Hispanic Heritage Month, Year, and Century. We are Americans all.
Richard J. Gonzales is a local activist, speaker, and author. He has lived, worked, researched, and written about Latino issues in North Texas for 48 years.