Blacks, Latinos Seek Common Ground on Divisive Issues

Times Staff Writer

Latino and African American activists announced plans Thursday for a national leadership conference in Los Angeles to ease tensions and build unity over such hot-button issues as immigration, jobs, education and gang violence.

The Rev. Al Sharpton and Christine Chavez, the granddaughter of United Farm Workers founder Cesar Chavez, will headline the June gathering, which was announced at a Leimert Park news conference by Najee Ali of Project Islamic Hope, Earl Ofari Hutchinson of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable and others.

“There’s a big lack of communication between the two communities,” Chavez, a candidate for the 45th Assembly District seat, said in a phone interview. “This conference is about reconnecting on common issues of education, healthcare and jobs.”


The conference is the latest effort to find common ground between Latinos and African Americans, who share many neighborhoods throughout South Los Angeles.

As Latino immigrants reshape those historically black areas of town, some African Americans allege that they are being shut out of their fair share of jobs, housing and educational services. Violence has erupted between the two communities in schools and jails.

Reflecting such discontent, homeless activist Ted Hayes, an African American, recently announced a campaign to stop illegal immigration by recruiting blacks to join the Minuteman Project in monitoring the U.S.-Mexico border.

Since then, however, several black leaders have denounced Hayes and announced alliances with Latinos.

Last week, for instance, black and Latino labor, religious and community leaders pledged to work together on issues of joint concern.

Some of the group’s African American members, including Nation of Islam Minister Tony Muhammad and the Rev. Lewis Logan II of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, marched on May Day through downtown Los Angeles.

At the same time, some Latino labor leaders have begun to address African Americans’ concerns about access to jobs -- the biggest flashpoint between the communities.

Maria Elena Durazo, interim executive secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, said that demands for recruiting and hiring more blacks will be pressed this year during contract negotiations in a dozen cities involving 60,000 workers with the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union.

Mike Garcia, president of Local 1877 of the Service Employees International Union, said his largely Latino union is actively organizing African American security guards to press for better wages and working conditions.

At the Leimert Park news conference, Hutchinson rejected arguments that immigrants take jobs from blacks.

He said blacks would still have problems finding jobs even without the presence of illegal immigrants because discrimination, failing schools and criminal records also work against them.

The national conference, scheduled for June 3 at USC, has been endorsed by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and several other elected officials in Los Angeles, Compton, Inglewood and Lynwood.

Los Angeles Councilwoman Jan Perry, who supports the conference, said reports of tensions between blacks and Latinos have been exaggerated. At a meeting with Los Angeles high school students Thursday, she said, blacks and Latinos reported that racial tensions were less of a problem than a lack of after-school activities and jobs.

Chavez said she hoped to recapture the close ties that her grandfather built with African Americans, whom she credited with supporting the union’s grape boycott and providing a model for nonviolent protests.

She said the two communities could unite and be a powerful force in the fight for a higher minimum wage, access to healthcare, better schools and safer streets.

“I think both of our communities realize we’re fighting over crumbs when we should be asking for a bigger piece of the pie,” she said.