War Rallies a Study in Diversity
On the corner of Cesar Chavez Avenue and Indiana Street, about 75 Latinos, many of them veterans, lined the road, waving flags, shouting “God bless America! Home of the brave.” Across town, another rally unfolded at Leimert Park, where 300 African Americans invoked the names of civil rights leaders to explain their opposition to the war in Iraq.
After weeks of thousands-strong, traffic-blocking antiwar demonstrations in Hollywood, Westwood and San Francisco, the smaller neighborhood rallies Saturday offered a snapshot of the diverse opinions of two communities. Against the backdrop of familiar neighborhood landmarks, they expressed strong sentiments reflective of broader national opinions.
At least two recent polls show that African Americans are strongly against the war while a majority of Latinos support it. At Leimert Park, a profusion of dashikis and kente cloth garb added a distinct flavor to the rally. Johnny Tambuzi, 61, said his participation follows the tradition of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.
“It just seems to be a natural thing for us to do,” Tambuzi said. “We have a tradition of fighting for justice. We want to stop the war, because there’s a ... deficit that’s going to affect education, health care and housing. Those cuts are going to impact people who look like me.”
A Gallup Organization poll released last week showed that opposition to the war among blacks is widespread, at 68%.
“No war for oil!” and “Impeach Bush!” slogans punctuated the Leimert Park rally, featuring Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles).
Foreign policy concerns were at the forefront for others, like Noluthando Williams, 25, a member of UCLA’s Black Alumni Assn. Williams worried about the war’s possible effects in oil-rich African countries such as Nigeria and Angola.
“The U.S. has military bases in nine West African countries already,” Williams said. “Is Africa the next target?”
Njeri Fujo, 47, said he wanted to be a part of the black community’s participation in the antiwar protests. “We want to go on the record, because we don’t see Saddam Hussein as being a threat to us,” Fujo said.
But it has been the antiwar protests of the last weeks that moved Latinos such as Daniel Ortiz to organize their own event in the shadow of a Latino veteran’s war memorial. Some at the Eastside rally linked their support for the troops to their own personal flight from oppression or poverty when they immigrated to this country.
“We’ve been seeing too many of these protests that are demoralizing our troops,” Ortiz, 32, said. “We want to get the message back to them that we support our troops.”
He said he felt encouraged by all the cheers from passersby. The smells of tacos and tamales from nearby restaurants lingered in the air and Spanish music blared from cars as a crowd gathered near Morin Memorial Square. The memorial is dedicated to Raul Morin, who wrote about Mexican American Medal of Honor recipients in his 1963 book “Among the Valiant.”
“As I am seeing these brown faces drive by, they’re honking and pumping their hands in the air and supporting us,” Ortiz said. “Here in East L.A., where the majority of residents are immigrants from Mexico and Guatemala, I am pleased we are getting so much support.”
A poll released last week by Republican pollsters Fabrizio, McLaughlin & Associates showed that a majority of Latinos support the war. Some at the Eastside rally pinned their support for the troops on a past that is linked to their own personal flight from oppression.
Victor Garcia, 39, said he was touched by the story of Marine Lance Cpl. Jose Gutierrez, 22, who is thought to have been the second U.S. serviceman to die in Iraq this month. Gutierrez was a Central American immigrant who came to the U.S. by himself from Guatemala.
“It’s for people like Jose that we are out here,” Garcia said. “He came from Guatemala to seek freedom and opportunities that all Americans want. But unlike all Americans, he decided to serve and protect those freedoms.”
“It is a testament to all of those people who believe so strongly and are willing to defend American ideals, even if they were not born in the U.S.,” Garcia said.
Augustine Galaviz, 56, whose left knee was blown off when he fought in the Vietnam War, now has a 27-year-old daughter, Enedina, serving in the Navy.
Galaviz, a Mexican American who was born and raised in East Los Angeles, proudly wore his Army uniform shirt, decorated with various honors, including a Purple Heart. He waved a large black-and-white flag that read “You are not forgotten.”
Times staff writer Stephanie Chavez contributed to this report.