LOS ANGELES (FinalCall.com) – Although the U.S. Senate killed reform legislation that would have granted legal status to millions of undocumented immigrants, the movement is forging ahead with citizenship drives and town hall meetings to promote awareness about the issue.
The Community Call to Action and Accountability (CCTAA), a grassroots coalition for peace and social justice, which formed following a Los Angeles Police Department officer’s fatal shooting of 13-year-old Devin Brown, hosted one such meeting on July 24 at Bethel A.M.E. Church.
A four-member panel, comprised of Lola Smallwood-Cueva (U.C.L.A. Labor Center), Minister Tony Muhammad (Nation of Islam Western Region Representative), community activists Morris “Big Money” Griffin and community resident Stephen Brooks presented their positions on immigration reform to the approximately 100 attendees, and then answered questions or listened to audience comments as well.
During the tense session, a majority of the gatherers expressed either by comments, “witness bearing” or hand clapping and shouts that they were emphatically against immigration reform, or what they called “amnesty for the illegals.”
More than once, Greg Akili, event moderator and CCTAA executive board member, had to calm the audience and demand respect for panel members and speakers who did not carry the majority’s position against immigration, particularly with regard to Latinos.
Mr. Akili said that the meeting was warranted for people to struggle with and around the issue, which is wrought with an expression of the “zero sum game mentality,” meaning, “my inclusion means your exclusion.”
“They were reflecting a kind of siege mentality; a taking over kind of thing, and the majority are in most of our neighborhoods where there’s this displacement going on and feeding on the siege. Then there’s this point of mimicking the bigotry that has been displayed by many Whites and echoing that language,–a language that you could take out ‘Latinos’ and put in ‘Blacks’ to reflect when we were beginning to move into these very districts,” he stated.
Overall, the gatherers expressed two concerns that Mr. Akili deemed valid and legitimate. The first concern was that there does not seem to be an effort on the part of Latino leadership to reach out to resolve the issues between the two groups; and second, many immigrant Latinos and others enter America with negative images of Blacks and begin treating them based off those images and negative attitudes.
Some anti-immigration reform sentiments included the belief that Latinos come to the U.S. to take over and push Blacks out, and that they purposely undercut Blacks for jobs by taking less pay and more work. Others proudly noted that the 14th Amendment granted citizenship to Blacks only and that the Civil Rights movement was just for them. However, Mr. Akili deemed the mindset remnants of narrow nationalism that many use when it is convenient.
“One of the best points was made by Min. Tony and that’s that he’s against ignorance. Black, Latino, White ignorance that allows people to be against somebody else based on the color of their skin or language. Ignorance that says, ‘I’m mad at you for taking my job,’ when in fact you didn’t have the job. We don’t get made at the employer, but at you,” Mr. Akili added.
Min. Muhammad said that the evening spoke to the real hurt of Black people, but the expressions were not based on sound doctrine, but served to lay blame on all Mexicans for that hurt.
“Our 400-year-old oppressor is up to the same old trick of ‘divide and conquer’ and unfortunately, his plan is working among some of our ignorant Brothers as well as Brown Brothers. The biggest weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed, and he has both of the oppressed people mad at each other,” Min. Muhammad stated.
Ms. Smallwood-Cueva said that she was shocked at the statements she heard.
“Two million people, undocumented, are here, and they are not leaving, so what are we going to do? Are we going to create a ‘Rwanda situation’ where we will fight them, divide and conquer, or unite and say we want a bigger piece of the pie?” she asked.
Nativo Lopez, President of the Mexican American Political Association, believed the event was informative, educational and a good launching pad for struggle toward unification. He was taunted by a few when he announced that the organization would open two offices within South Central for that reason, but continued that they will be used for education and bridge building between the two communities.
It will continue the discussion of how each group is perceived and out of that dialogue, create common programs around common issues such as jobs, economic development, quality education and health care.
As for the legislation and the movement, Mr. Lopez charges that Democrats are using the people’s hurriedness for citizenship to garner more Democratic voters, but the movement cannot allow them to be used.
“From the grassroots organizations, we will continue to press and leverage the Democratic Party this year and through 2008 for legalization programs, and point out that the Democrats have been really not much better than the Republications on this question. It’s our intention to haunt these top tier Democratic party candidates on this question; not give them a pass and not let them off the hook.”