On Dia de la Raza, Saturday, October 12, 1998, hundreds of thousands of Latinos will gather in the nation's capital. Ever since the march was announced last year by Coordinadora '96, people around the country have asked, Do Latinos really need a march? and if they do, Can it be pulled off? On April 1, those questions were answered via a televised riot-stick attack against defenseless Mexican citizens in Los Angeles County, which generated dozens of protests nationwide.
Essentially, the purpose of the march is to proclaim to the world that we will no longer allow our communities to be ignored, trampled upon, or treated as subhuman.
Admittedly, most people were sickened by the vicious display of brutality, yet every Mexican/Latino felt the sting of every one of the blows. In these xenophobic times, Latinos have become aliens; this despite the fact that most of us can trace at least a part of our ancestry to before the arrival of the Pilgrims. The mistreatment of Representative Luis Gutierrez of Illinois (who is Puerto Rican) at the nation's Capitol drove home this point. He was not believed when he showed his Congressional identification and was told by a Capitol Security aide to go back to his own country.
Across the country, from San Diego, to Chicago, to New York, and especially along the U.S.-Mexico border, Latinos know firsthand the wrath of law enforcement abuse. Since the Rodney King beating in 1991, dozens of Latinos have been unjustifiably killed and hundreds brutalized by law enforcement, and of course, no officers have been convicted.
But it's not just the beatings or the continual law enforcement abuse that have created the consensus that despite our differences and the many logistical obstacles, Latinos must march on the nation's capital. For the past few years, Latinos have also been taking a severe beating from politicians, such as failed presidential hopefuls California Governor Pete Wilson and Pat Buchanan, who have made Latinos the nation's favorite scapegoats.
It's not even about laws, but rather about sentiments --Latinos are not welcome anymore, and many are starting to ask if we've ever been welcome.
The hidden agenda of the Contract With America has revealed that in the battle over the deficit, major savings will come from denying rights and benefits to legal immigrants. Most of the subsequent legislative proposals even go beyond nationalizing California's Proposition 187; some call for restricting aid to noncitizens. Others call for denying undocumented children education and repealing birthright citizenship.
That's why Latinos are also planning to stage a massive rally this summer in San Diego at the site of the Repbulican convention. To be sure, the anti-immigrant sentiment has not been restricted to Republican circles. The use of federal troops and erection of three walls along the border, along with proposals for a national identification system, have the Democratic seal of approval as well. At the same time, parallel movements to impose English Only and to eliminate bilingual education, ethnic studies, and Affirmative Action are heating up.
Because of these incessant attacks--which are similar to the attacks against all people of color and women--many people believe the Latino March will succeed. Coinciding with the march on Washington, there are plans for a national student conference at Georgetown University and week-long activities that will address the specific concerns of Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Central Americans, women, and youth. Also under discussion is a major art and music festival.
Hundreds of respected community and human rights activists have been working to organize the march, but as far as the media is concerned, Latinos have no leaders. That's why in the aftermath of the L.A. County beatings, the national media interviewed everyone except Latinos. And that's the other major reason to stage a march: Despite the presence of 30 million Latinos in the United States, government and media still operate in a black and white world. It's time we took our rightful place in society.
Let us also remember that also on October 12 in Teotihuacan, Mexico--the spiritual capital of the Americas-- thousands of indigenous peoples will also gather in prayer to highlight the grievances of indigenous people everywhere. On that day, wherever we find ourselves, let us join in protest and prayer. And let us also recommit ourselves to continue to fight for the honor and dignity of all of our communities.