Opinion: Latinos Don't Need "Progress", They Need Power

by Stephen A. Nuño /  / Updated 
People protest in front of NBC studios while they are calling for the network to rescind the invitation to Donald Trump to host Saturday Night Live show on November 4, 2015 in New York. Trump hosted SNL on November 7th, despite protesters calling on NBC Studios to drop Trump. KENA BETANCUR / AFP - Getty Images

The unprecedented resignation of the University of Missouri President and Chancellor this week made it clearer than ever that Latinos don’t need progress, they need power.

The University of Missouri is not two hours from Ferguson, where the Department of Justice found that the city cared more about making money off the black citizens of the city rather than focusing on public safety. The residents of Ferguson rose up after generations of repression, such as policies that systematically jailed residents for unpaid fines or the use of arrest warrants to threaten residents with outstanding payments.

Not far away, the Council of Conservative Citizens, which according to the Southern Poverty Law Center has evolved into a "crudely white supremacist group, is headquartered in St. Louis and has defended segregation policies since its inception. Within this context, students at the University had asked the President of the school to respond to several racially motivated events. But the students got nothing, it did not seem their concerns required immediate attention.

So the students protested, and the African-American students on the football team threatened to walk away from the season, potentially costing the school millions of dollars. The players demanded the resignation of the President. Where the President failed to respect the school's black students, he certainly respected the revenue stream the students had discovered depended on their participation. In the face of this direct action, the President resigned days later, along with the Chancellor.

The response from the right has been indignation, whiny complaints about students who would dare demand respect. And it is good that this one victory by students be looked at closely. Black college football players, largely working for free for universities making millions of dollars in profits, suddenly find themselves with potentially unprecedented institutional power in education.

Just a week before, Latinos sat by and watched helplessly as social advocacy organizations pleaded with Saturday Night Live to rescind their invitation to Donald Trump to be on their show. The response from SNL was “it’s nothing personal, it’s just business”. Trump went on as scheduled, and drew high ratings for the show. And just a few days later, Donald Trump showed up gleaming at the head of the GOP table arguing to revive the notorious Eisenhower era deportation program known as “Operation Wetback”.

Operation Wetback force-marched Mexican immigrants and their families from their homes, some of which were American citizens, in the 1950s. And this was not the first time the government was pressed by racists to systematically attack immigrant families. Throughout the 1930’s, the government implemented another policy of “Mexican Repatriation”, where almost two million residents were forced out of the country. Some researchers estimate that almost 60% of those forced out of the country were American citizens.

The State of California formally apologized to the Mexican-American community in 2005 in the “Apology Act for the 1930’s Mexican Repatriation Program”, citing a program of massive raids, clandestine removals, and the targeting of Americans of Mexican ancestry. These actions, the apology states were all illegal and unconstitutional.

This apology would never have happened if the legislature were not run by Democrats who depend on Latino voters for their seats in Sacramento. Since Governor Pete Wilson ran on an anti-immigrant platform back in the 1990’s with his promotion of Proposition 187 - which attempted to establish a screening system for state workers to enforce immigration laws - Latinos mobilized and have been hugely impactful on the political climate in California. The Republicans are now an afterthought in the administration of the state, and the state has a healthy budget, strong economic indicators, and the largest economy in the Union.

Today, behind a black President, a changing population with growing numbers of minorities and expanded health care and education policies under Obama the country has witnessed a backlash by the majority population struggling to maintain power. From an expansion of voter ID laws, redistricting fights, immigration tussles, and opposition to Obamacare and its programs Republicans are making the most of their temporary power in government to slow down the maturity in power wielded by minorities and women. Republican candidates need to think long and hard of whether they are going to pivot and start pitching practical policies that can appeal to Latino voters and their families.

As the Presidential election heats up, Latinos need to ask themselves who has the ability to provide them the most access to power. Who is more likely to promote Latinos into positions of leadership? Who is most likely to build their own circle of power in Washington with more Latinos at the table?

Will Marco Rubio make Latino representation a priority in his cabinet? Will Bernie Sanders? Hillary Clinton? Martin O’Malley? Jeb Bush? Will the Federal government, who has never apologized for its policy of “Mexican Repatriation”, ever admit they were wrong to do so under any of these administrations? Someone should ask them.

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