Black/Latino Relations in L.A.

* Karen Grigsby Bates hits the nail right on the head in her perspective on race relations, “Don’t Muzzle the Messenger” (Commentary, July 18).

How could the California Community Foundation’s Jack Shakely have gotten such a radical idea that there are tensions between blacks and Latinos? Maybe from a meeting with board members of Multiracial Americans of Southern California (MASC) that we had with him two years ago. MASC studies mixed-race and bilingual families as a microcosm of race relations in Southern California. Shakely listened to us discuss black/Latino tensions in relation to a program we put together to teach biracial black/Latino teen-agers the art of mediation, as so many of them are already acting as go-betweens in the racially charged atmosphere on high school campuses. We had also discussed an adult mediation program because we found people in multiracial families often develop the language and cultural skills needed to make them ideal mediators.

MASC finds the increasing conflicts between black and Latinos in this city particularly disturbing as six of Los Angeles’ 11 founding families, “Los Pobladores,” were black/Latino and black/American Indian/Latino families. African-Americans in Southern California have a unique opportunity to learn about our roots: our Latino roots. Jack Shakely is right. We in the African-American and Latino communities need to create forums for bilingual interracial dialogue now!



Board member, MASC

* Bates’ column, while acknowledging the polarization between ethnic and racial groups, fails to recognize the depth of the problem. Bates argues that the funding of projects and conferences by L.A.'s philanthropic community will begin to treat this social ill. Unfortunately, it is our willingness to attend these deep social fissures by participating in topical conferences that allows the problems to worsen. We’re far beyond the conference-remedy stage. What is needed is for our government to champion the cause of nurturing diversity by adopting the infrastructure necessary to support it.

In a city segregated by class and color, we must provide social services that allow us to break down these barriers, e.g., hiring police officers trained to speak in the multilingual community they serve; training mediators within Los Angeles’ neighborhoods to resolve inter-ethnic conflict, etc.

Diversity is a fragile thing, as demonstrated by the riots of 1965 and 1992. Unless we provide the tools to keep it working, it will fall into disrepair, just like our roads and bridges do when they aren’t properly maintained. Conferences on ethnic conflict mean nothing without the wherewithal and support of the government to resolve them.



(Former member of the L.A. Human

Relations Commission, 1990-1993)

Los Angeles