Blacks and Hispanics: Allies or Rivals?

7/30/2005
By Lisa Richardson
LA Times Staff Writer

The Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson, head of the organization, had arranged the meeting to take the temperature of the public — particularly blacks and Latinos — on relations between the two groups.

At least for this audience, gathered at the brotherhood group’s headquarters near Pico and La Cienega boulevards Thursday night in Los Angeles, the temperature was hot.

For two hours, members of the audience of blacks, whites and Latinos spoke with a vehemence usually reserved for the dinner table — or late-night talk radio shows. They publicly aired views that are often muttered in L.A. but not spoken out loud.

Councilman Bernard C. Parks, who sat on the meeting’s panel, voiced the view of many in the city’s political elite: “We should not pit groups against each other. Why do we have to look at it as blacks lose, Hispanics win? No one wins in this city without a coalition.”

But the audience of about 80, almost evenly divided among the three groups, had already formed a coalition — of anger. People would heckle Parks for the rest of the evening.

Terry Anderson, a radio host who has long opposed illegal immigration, was one of several panel members who blamed illegal immigrants for, in their opinion, stealing jobs from blacks and crowding schools and neighborhoods to unbearable limits.

“We have been invaded; there’s no other word for it,” Anderson said.

The audience clapped and cheered.

Debbie Hernandez, a white member of the audience, said: “Blacks are losing their middle-class status because of illegal aliens. I am willing to go to the streets with my brothers and sisters over this.”

Sherrie Johnson, a resident of Torrance, told Parks, “You aren’t taking a stand for the right side of the argument.

“I believe the purpose of going through the steps to become a citizen is because it protects the country,” she said.

Education and employment emerged as the two most incendiary issues.

Blacks are no longer able to compete for entry-level jobs and construction work, Anderson said, because they are undercut by illegal immigrants willing to work for under-the-table wages.

Members of the audience repeatedly asked one panel member, Richard Alonzo, a district superintendent in the Los Angeles Unified School District, to reveal the number of students in L.A. schools who are illegal immigrants or to find out. He said the district doesn’t collect that information.

One questioner asked him for budget numbers, insisting they would prove that educating Latinos was more expensive than teaching other students. It’s a premise that Alonzo said was wrong.

The numbers matter, Peterson said, because black students attend schools overcrowded by those who have no right to be there. Peterson, who moderated the discussion, is well known in the conservative media, appearing on Fox television talk shows as well as his own syndicated radio program.

“A lot of black boys and girls are dropping out, and it’s because their classes are overwhelmed with illegal Hispanics,” Peterson said.

“Black children are mad about that; black parents are mad about that.”

Parks countered that the fact that schools once regarded as all black are now predominantly Latino does not have to be viewed as a problem. Those schools once were all white, he said.

He was scoffed at again.

“Black children have pride in being Americans, but Mexicans have pride in being Mexicans,” said Frank George, a U.S. citizen who is a native of Mexico. “The problem is that our black children are being assaulted by other children who think they’re in Mexico.”

Unflappable throughout the steady stream of scoffs and jeers, Parks told the crowd its anger was misdirected:

“You can stay angry, but they are not going to go away,” he said. “Whether you want to hear it or not, no one is going to build a fence around the state of California and clear out everyone you think is here illegally.”

Vilified too was Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa — not for his heritage, speakers said, but because of his membership in MEChA, a Chicano rights organization, when he was a student at UCLA.

Parks defended his former campaign rival, as did Erinn Carter, a graduate student and panel member representing Hope Community Church. “Is Villaraigosa an issue for African Americans?” Carter said. “Absolutely not. We are in a position to create a coalition now: communities and families and people working together.”

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