Here Is What Bothers Latinos In The Struggle For Political Power With African Americans In LA

Chamba SanchezBy Chamba SanchezOctober 17, 2022
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It has been a chaotic week in Los Angeles. City Council President Nury Martinez’s vile remarks have been an immense distraction that has obscured all the crises of biblical proportions that this city is facing. That political meteorite shook up the entire L.A. political firmament.

Latino and African American political leaders have had macro and micro tensions for a long time. This city is doomed if African Americans and Latinos don’t find a way of finding common ground in asking questions of justice for their communities. Both groups must summon their courage and be brave enough to engage in an honest conversation about what bothers them.

At the macro level, there is discontent among Latino leaders that nearly 50% of all residents are Latinos in this city, yet they only hold four council seats. In comparison, African Americans have three council seats when they are roughly 8% of the population. Latino leaders say in private that the demographics in city council districts 8, 9, and 10 have become browner. Yet, they can’t run serious Latino candidates there because they will be called “racist” for trying to disenfranchise black people.

After the audio recording was leaked, Council President Martinez was accused by black leaders of wanting to diminish the power of the black community while drawing the district border lines for all fifteen districts. Where were these people when Council President Wesson dismantled a district of the only black woman in the city council, Jean Perry, Latinos ask? Wesson, as Council President, blessed the final border district lines for the 15 districts. Wesson gave community assets from Perry’s district to corrupted Councilman Jose Huizar. Nobody complained, and nobody was called “racist,” Latinos contend. It might not be suitable for the city, but this is an established process used by those running city hall.   It is about preserving the current politicians in power who agree and want to protect the status quo. Herb Wesson did the very exact thing when he was running the city.

Another problem for Latinos with black leaders was when the entire council voted to suspend Mark Ridley Thomas. The African American city council members, Marquee-Harris and Curren Price, voted “no,” while both voted “yes” to suspend embattled Councilman Jose Huizar. Latino council members were visibly agitated seeing black council members protecting a corrupted person just because he was black. And then, Curren Price and Marqueece Harris-Dawson took the council floor and made silly arguments about why Thomas should not have been suspended. De Leon, Cedillo, and Martinez couldn’t believe their ears of what these Black Council persons were saying to defend Thomas.

In addition, Latinos politicians also see how Supervisor Holly J. Mitchell has become a kingmaker and how she selects the next assembly person, the next state senator, and the next member of Congress in South Central. They are all African Americans, even when districts’ demographics have changed. Supervisor Mitchell will only support a Latino candidate if such an individual is outside her area. Her protege, Sydney Kamlager, went from being on the board of trustees of L.A. Community Colleges to the state assembly to the state senate. And, now, Sydney Kamlager is nearly going to Congress roughly in less than five years. Where is the outrage? Latinos ask. No Latino agenda is moving forward even when these districts have become browner, Latino leaders privately argue.

Latinos also feel woefully ignored in the conversations of diversity. Discussions solely focus on opportunities for African Americans, even when Latinos are making noises for opportunities for everyone.

And then there are tensions at the micro level that have never been fully addressed.

African Americans and Latinos are lumped together in many communities in Los Angeles. They can’t seem to see a common agenda with Latinos. Both groups clash over jobs and resources in their communities. African Americans resent seeing Latinos invading their communities and that they are unable to communicate with them. Indeed, they see these immigrants moving into communities known as Black communities and changing them for the worse. It has been the replacement of Marvin Gay for Vicente Fernandez. Recently arrived immigrants tend not to understand the African Americans’ struggle and dislike them. They hardly ever have been exposed to black people, and the ones they had were unpleasant. Hence these immigrants unfairly generalize the entire group based on those experiences.

There is so much misunderstanding between the two groups. Case in point, In a mayoral debate, Representative Bass was asked about Latinos and homelessness, and she replied that the first thing she would do was to address the questions of citizenship. So Latinos homeless wouldn’t be afraid to apply for services. Then, another debate revealed that a powerful Latino club in L.A. had endorsed Rick Caruso. She immediately asked Caruso how much he had paid for such an endorsement. Both responses by Representative Bass were troubling and disappointing.

I was taken aback by Representative Bass’ responses. She should have known that not all Latinos need legalization. And on the endorsement for Caruso, that off-the-cuff comment could be construed as racist. Not all of us are dumb, unethical, and sell out for money.

This poor city has been under tremendous stress since Eric Garcetti took over. We have had sitting council members indicted and then pleading guilty to corruption charges. There have also been attorneys at the L.A. City Attorney’s Office involved in scandals and might go to jail. Then, the person in charge of the DWP is in prison for bribery. And, of course, we have Mayor Garcetti’s opportunity in India evaporating because his top aide was a sexual predator who used his power to attack people sexually. And we have some people alleging that Garcetti looked the other way.

This city’s stability is not sustainable when these two groups are all in open warfare. African Americans see political power essentially as a zero-sum competition with Latinos. Yes, that is true if one sees it with ethnocentric political lenses used in the past. But it is not true if one realizes that coalitions need to be formed to advance progressive policies that benefit both groups.

These are sad and sobering times in L.A. We should all still make an effort to elevate ourselves and see that these times are also offering opportunities for examining the foundation and effectiveness of our democratic institutions. We should do whatever we can to preserve the multicultural mecca of this city where all groups get along and work together. We are in this together, and the future of this city connects us. We should be able to see that what binds us together is much stronger than what might divide us.

There would have never been Mayor Villaraigosa without the support of African Americans. And there would have never been Speaker Bass without the support of Latinos in the Assembly.

P.S. My observations above are analytical in nature and are not intended to be anything more.

Thank you for reading.

Chamba Sanchez
Lecturer of Politics at LACCD

Photo Credit: Pictures used purchased from Stockphoto.

Sources consulted.

Dakota, Smith, et al. “L.A. City Council votes to suspend Mark Ridley-Thomas amid federal charges.” Los Angeles Times 20 Oct. 2021
Waldie, D. J. “The Wrath of Wesson: Friday’s Redistricting Fiasco.” KCET-So Cal Focus 19 March 2012.



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