Thursday, September 29, 2011

Veteran Latino Watcher says "Don't trust D.C. Organizations

Hispanic Link founder says many are owned by Walmart, Comcast and AT&T

By Hilda Garcia
Maynard Institute,
Richard Prince's Journal-isms

If you're looking for an honest assessment of Hispanic opinion, "don't rely on Washington Hispanic organizations. So many of them are owned by Walmart, Comcast and AT&T," according to Charlie Ericksen, who founded the Hispanic Link News Service 31 years ago and still serves as its managing editor.

Ericksen, 81, whose Washington-based creation has trained more than 1,000 Hispanic journalists, was part of a panel Wednesday assembled by LatinoWire, "a Business Wire service that provides comprehensive distribution of press releases and multimedia to leading Spanish-language news outlets . . . ."

He told the National Press Club audience in Washington to "go to community organizations if you want a legitimate answer." At one recent event, he said, one had to sit through greetings from five sponsors before hearing President Obama, he said.

Not surprisingly, representatives of some of those organizations, sitting in the audience, took exception.

Kathy Mimberg, senior media relations specialist at the National Council of La Raza, recalled later, "I said NCLR is a non-profit and non-partisan organization and that we do our work with funding from government, corporations and foundations. I objected to Charlie being negative about our corporate sponsors who spoke before President Obama's speech at our Annual Conference luncheon because I said that these were positive, general statements from organizations that want to interact and engage with the Latino community."

Scott Gunderson Rosa, communications director of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, told Journal-isms, "My point in speaking in response to Charlie was simply to clarify that we did not have four or five sponsors speak before the president at our gala on September 14 and that our mission to develop the next generation of Latino leaders is made possible by the financial support we receive from our corporate partners.

"His comments would not apply to CHCI as we do not take positions on policy issues nor do we comment on them. We are a non-partisan organization with all sides represented on our board, from corporations and unions, to non-profit and community leaders.

"Charlie is actually a great friend to CHCI and we have worked together for a long time."

Most of the 85 who attended came for the promise of learning how to reach the fast-growing Hispanic audience through the media they consume. Julio Aliago, news director of Telemundo's Washington affiliate, and Erica Gonzalez, executive editor of El Diario/La Prensa in New York, emphasized that their outlets were geared toward helping immigrants navigate life in the United States.

They urged that news releases be sent in English and Spanish and that no one person ever be portrayed as speaking for the entire Hispanic community. "Get at least two," Aliago said.

Hilda Garcia is vice president of multiplatform news and information for ImpreMedia, noted for ImpreMedia's multimedia packages on the Web, including its report on Latino involvement in the events of Sept. 11, 2001, and a state-by-state report on Latinos, based on 2010 census data.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Latino group defends "end of boycott" call

Shifting our approach in Arizona
By Janet Murguía, National Council of La Raza

Over a week ago, my organization, the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), along with the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights and the Asian American Justice Center, announced the suspension of our participation in the economic boycott of Arizona. As was the case when NCLR initially announced our plans to join in boycotting the state in May 2010, we consulted with a wide variety of our partners, including our network of nonprofit Affiliate organizations across the country-13 of which are based in Arizona-and our sister civil rights institutions. We did not come to the decision to boycott Arizona lightly, nor do we end our participation now without careful consideration.

In particular, we were moved to act after receiving requests from Arizona's elected officials, business leaders, union leaders, religious leaders, and local NCLR Affiliates.They believe that this was the right time for NCLR to suspend its boycott activities in order to promote a more constructive debate around the issue of immigration. There is a concerted and growing effort in the state to foster civil and constructive dialogue--voices who represent a broader swath of Arizona than the brand of extremism that has tarnished the state. In light of the injunction against the law, and these growing efforts committed to charting a new course, we agreed to suspend our participation in the boycott.

Our opposition to racial profiling laws like SB 1070 is unequivocal, and the work against them continues. The record has shown that they are destructive political wedges that undermine the social and economic fabric of the communities where they are pushed through. And because of that we understand why other organizations and allies may choose to continue to boycott the state, and we respect that decision completely. For our part, we reserve the right to reinstate the boycott should the law be implemented, and in the meantime will continue to work with and lend our support to local partners trying to get their state back on track.

Ultimately though, by pursuing this new course, we hope we can play a role in bringing SB 1070 supporters and opponents together to find the common ground needed to advance sustainable solutions to fix our broken immigration system. We look forward to working together with all Arizonans - and Americans - of good will to seek real, lasting solutions that are consistent with our nation's most fundamental values and principles.

Janet Murguía is President and CEO of the National Council of La Raza

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Overcoming a false sense of security: Latinos and immigration enforcement

The possibility of "selective" enforcement is in the back of many Latinos' minds
By Jim Estrada, Special to NILP

Publisher's Note: This essay was excerpted from Jim Estrada's soon-to-be-published book, The ABCs & Ñ of America's Cultural Evolution. 

Jim Estrada
Why are U.S. Latinos skeptical about "enforcement" solutions regarding comprehensive immigration reform being placed in the hands of non-federal law enforcement personnel?  Simply stated, Latinos are dubious about how such enforcement will be implemented.  Of the more than 50 million Latinos in the United States, nearly 40 million are native-born or naturalized citizens of the USA!  That translates into the potential of 40 million "legal" U.S. citizens being suspected of being "illegal" immigrants solely on the basis of appearance.
Proponents of "enforcement first" immigration reform say, "If you haven't done anything wrong, you have nothing to fear!" Let me remind the "law and order" types that since the end of the Mexican American War in 1848, the U.S. Latino community has experienced abuse and brutality at the hands of law enforcement officers and have been denied due process by the criminal justice system. Granted, Latinos have had their of share of criminals, but there has been a marked difference in how law enforcement officials have historically meted out their versions of "protect and serve" when it comes to Latinos.

The possibility of "selective" enforcement - in the form of current anti-immigration laws - is in the back of many Latinos' minds. Those attitudes are based on personal experiences with prejudice and discrimination at the hands of U.S. police and legal and criminal justice systems. Many activists and members of the Latino community say they (or someone they know) have encountered violations of their civil rights with unwarranted search and seizure, brutality, disrespect and profiling practices due to being Latino.

For many years, relations between Latinos and law enforcement agencies suffered because of the distrust that existed between the two groups: white European Americans and Latinos. Much of the apprehension on the part of Latinos stems from accounts beginning with the Mexican-American War, when border states' police and sheriffs were used as tools for moneyed interests to enforce property evictions and perform acts of terrorism to have Mexican American property owners abandon their homes and properties, allowing for them to be acquired by unscrupulous individuals.

The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which ended the Mexican American War in 1848, ceded large portions of what is now the Southwest to the U.S. in return for $15 million and relief from debt. The treaty was supposed to protect the existing civil rights and land claims of Mexican citizens and provide full U.S. American citizenship to those who stayed in the newly ceded territories. However, the U.S. Senate's ratification of the treaty deleted those guaranteed land rights and citizenship; opening the door for U.S. lawmen and businessmen to run rampant over Mexican Americans and their holdings.

The Texas Rangers

One of those law enforcement groups was the Texas Rangers. Accounts of atrocities committed by Texas Rangers (a.k.a. los rinches) against Tejanos and Méjicanos have been handed down by "word of mouth" for generations in a variety of forms: cuentos (folk stories), corridos (musical ballads of famed heroes and injustices), articles in Spanish-language newspapers - and most recently in film documentaries.

In the early 1900s, alleged Mexican revolutionaries plotted an uprising against white landowners in Texas that was never fully carried out. There were however raids that resulted in property theft and the deaths of some white settlers. The Texas Rangers were called in, but protection quickly turned into retaliation; the Rangers were responsible for the 1918 massacre of the entire male population (15 Mexican men and boys ranging from 16 to 72 years of age) of Porvenir, Texas in western Presidio County.

In January 1919, an investigation by the Texas Legislature found from 300 to 5,000 people, mostly of Mexican ancestry, had been killed by Rangers from 1910 to 1919, and members of the Rangers had been involved in many acts of brutality and injustice.

One such atrocity led to the 1975 production of a documentary film, "Border Bandits." It focused on Roland Warnock, then a 19-year-old working at the McAllen Ranch in South Texas. In 1915, he witnessed a team of Texas Rangers shoot and kill 67-year-old Jesus Bazán and his son-in-law, Antonio Longoria. Warnock's recollection and ensuing investigation into the facts surrounding the murders were the subjects of the film.

Roland's grandson Kirby Warnock who remembered hearing the story when he was a child directed the documentary film. "The thought of the Texas Rangers shooting an unarmed man in the back was unbelievable - but also unthinkable," Warnock narrates his reaction to his grandfather's story. Later in the film, he comments how "most Texans" refused to believe the vaunted Texas Rangers were capable of such atrocities. The film was a counterpoint to the heroic and "larger than life" accounts of the Texas Rangers proudly promoted in white Eurocentric films, print and electronic media and Texas folklore.

While the film undermines the mythology of this "elite cadre" of lawmen by exposing their use of state-sanctioned terrorism, it uncovered the racial hierarchy of "white over brown" especially as it related to "illegal" land acquisition, forceful repression and racial discrimination. Initially, Warnock's investigation focused on the deaths of Bazán and Longoria as if the murders were an isolated incident. Their killing didn't even warrant death certificates; they were viewed as just two more dead Mexicans out of an estimated 5,000 who lost their lives during this time period - men, women, children who committed no other crime than to be "brown" in an increasingly white Texas.

According to William D. Carrigan, associate professor of history at Rowan University in New Jersey, "The Rangers responded (to these uprisings) with brutality, with assassinations, murders, lynchings and massacres." Among the numerous historical texts written about the violent period (c. 1915-1920) is Carrigan's book, "The Making of a Lynching Culture: Violence and Vigilantism in Central Texas."

"Thousands of Mexicans fled the region, were killed without tral, taken out of jail and executed," wrote Carrigan. "It was a terrible, bloody period of violence even defenders of Texas Rangers (write about)."

Similar stories continue into the 1960s and 1970s when Texas Rangers were called in to break up labor strikes organized by Latino civil rights activists. Such stories continue to be "salt in the wound" for some Latinos who still bristle at the mention of los rinches. Latino sentiment towards the Texas Rangers is another of the many challenges of accurately recording history in a multi-ethnic democracy.

The question remains, "When will history include the Latino side of the story?"

Déjà vu

Turn the calendar pages forward to the early 1940s in Southern California for another example of why Latinos are wary of white Eurocentric law enforcement and justice. This episode revolved around the "Zoot Suit" riots, which was set in an environment of ethnic and racial paranoia that defined Los Angeles and Southern California in the early 1940s.

The Zoot Suit riots refers to a series of events where white U.S. servicemen were unleashed to attack, strip and beat young Mexican American males "at will" in Latino neighborhoods throughout Los Angeles - with the complicity of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) and local media. The flash point leading to this vigilante-type "free for all" was an altercation between Latino youths from neighboring communities, which left one of the participants bleeding and unconscious on the street - and who later died.

The LAPD arrested 24 members of the so-called "38th Street Gang" - as the group of youths had been labeled by local white media reporters - and charged all of them with murder. The media reported on the death of a lone Mexican American as proof of a "Mexican Crime Wave."

A special grand jury was appointed by the city of Los Angeles to investigate the alleged crime wave. The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department also decided to investigate and formed its own "Foreign Relations" bureau to investigate crimes committed in the county. Although the Los Angeles Sheriffs Department's staff accurately identified the discrimination occurring against the Latino community, they drew startling, racially charged conclusions.

Excerpts from the Sheriffs' report cited: "Mexican Americans are essentially Indians and therefore Orientals or Asians. Throughout history Orientals have shown less regard for human life than have the Europeans. Further, Mexican Americans had inherited their 'naturally violent' tendencies from the 'bloodthirsty Aztecs' of Mexico who were said to have practiced human sacrifice centuries ago."

In 1942, the media vilified "Zoot Suiters" to the point of portraying them as members of murderous and dangerous gangs. This demonizing pattern was well recognized by most Latinos of that era and became a theme of Hollywood movies and established stereotypes associated with Latinos that exist to this day.

Led by media portrayals, a public outcry for justice and vengeance against the Zoot Suit-wearing youths motivated the LAPD to conduct a round-up of "suspicious looking" individuals on the nights of August 10 and 11, 1942 - with the help of "unofficially deputized" white servicemen. In all, over 600 individuals were arrested on suspicion of assault and armed robbery - 175 people were held on those charges. Of those arrested during the round-up riot, every one was Latino. The Los Angeles incident triggered similar attacks against Latinos in Beaumont, TX; Chicago, IL; San Diego, San Jose and Oakland, CA; Detroit, MI; Evansville, IN; Philadelphia, PA; and New York, NY.

In October 1944, the Second District Court of Appeals reversed the murder convictions, but the seeds of distrust of law enforcement within the Latino community had been validated - once again.

Déjà vu, all over again?

Some law enforcement proponents will defend the Texas Rangers' atrocities and Los Angeles Zoot Suit riots as isolated events. On August 29, 1970, more than 20 thousand Latinos gathered in East Los Angeles to protest the war in Vietnam as well as the disproportionately high casualty rate of Latino soldiers. Among all U.S. soldiers from the Southwest, nearly 20 percent of the war casualties were Latinos - nearly twice their proportion of the U.S. population at that time.

Demonstrators also protested the denial of equal employment, housing and other civil rights to Latinos here in the U.S. A peaceful rally at Laguna Park in East Los Angeles was disrupted when 1,500 LAPD officers and sheriff's deputies attempted to disperse the marchers by shooting tear-gas canisters into the crowd. Three Latinos were killed and another 400 were arrested.

Among those who lost their lives was Los Angeles Times reporter-columnist Rúben Salazar - killed by an armor piercing tear-gas projectile fired into the Silver Dollar Café where he and others had sought shelter. Salazar had brought considerable attention to abuse of Latinos by the LAPD, which had become a target of his investigative reports. He also had repeatedly written about the higher than average Mexican-American casualty rates in the Vietnam War. As a result of his reporting and commentaries, Salazar was under investigation by the LAPD and Federal Bureau of Investigation. Due to his media popularity and recognition as a role model, his death had far-reaching consequences and led many community activists to continue their focus on police brutality and unequal justice.

Historically, Latino communities had experienced a greater share of police mistreatment and harsher penalties in the criminal justice system. Demonstrations related to law enforcement abuse and profiling were becoming commonplace in a growing number of Latino communities located in the Southwest, Northeast and Midwest.

But wait, there's more

On May 1, 2007, the LAPD again used unwarranted physical force against the Latino community. This time, law enforcement officers attempted to disperse a crowd at an immigration-rights rally. There police wielded batons and fired 240 "less-than-lethal" rounds at demonstrators and news reporters. The police actions left at least 10 people with minor injuries - including seven news reporters - and raised questions about overly aggressive tactics to disperse a largely peaceful crowd that had obtained a legal permit to stay until 9:00 p.m. The LAPD police chief labeled some of the officers' actions "inappropriate."

For these and numerous other instances, many U.S. Latinos had grown wary of law enforcement and the criminal justice systems. They wondered: "Had we not sufficiently attempted to demonstrate our civic pride, our work ethic and our patriotism? Had we not for generations given our young men's lives voluntarily to protect the ideals of a country that too often denied access to those same ideals to us and our families?"

These are only a few of many examples of the inequities visited upon Latinos by police and other law enforcement officials. The advent of community and storefront police presence - along with the diversification of sworn police personnel - has improved police-community relations in recent years; but a growing number of Latinos believe it is their involvement as taxpayers and voters that is changing attitudes and behaviors on the part of law enforcement. By gaining influence within many municipalities and local governmental units that hire police personnel, Latinos are helping to retire the notion that the traditional law enforcement mission is about protecting white people and their property from a growing "non-white" population.

The anti-immigrant legislation being enacted by states throughout the nation are reminders that Latinos are still viewed as threats by some of their white peers. As a result, we could easily be subjected to the whims of individual law enforcement personnel who cannot distinguish between an undocumented immigrant and a citizen of the United States.

Jim Estrada is a former TV journalist (KOGO-TV10), marketing (Anheuser-Busch), advertising (McDonald's), and community/public relations executive (Estrada Communications Group, Austin, TX). Estrada is the author of The ABCs & Ñ of America's Cultural Evolution. (forthcoming in late 2012). His essays can be viewed online at: and he can be reached at