Bill Gallegos, Contributing editor
All across the U.S., Chicanos and Latinos are gearing up for the great battle to dump Ronald Reagan in 1984. There is a powerful seething anger burning in Chicano and Latino barrios, which have been devastated by the policies of the Reagan Administration.
The empty bellies, overcrowded schools, homeless families and long lines of unemployed which characterize the barrios are a stark reminder that Ronald Reagan’s economic “recovery” is meant only for the rich.
Poverty, unemployment and repression
In 1979, before Reagan’s economic program was “in place,” one out of every ten Latinos was already listed as unemployed, at an official rate of 8.3%. By mid-1983, that figure had jumped to 15%, not including the tens of thousands who had used up their eligibility or had given up looking for work, and were therefore not “officially” out of work. Estimates of actual Latino unemployment range from 25-30%, and go as high as 50% in some areas of the Southwest.
Reagan’s “recovery” has seen nearly 30% of the entire Latino population, or 4.3 million people, fall below the poverty line, compared to 2.9 million before the economy “got better.” Today, more than 29% of all Latinos live in substandard housing, although the word “substandard” does not quite tell the whole story. In parts of south Texas and northern New Mexico, many homes have no indoor plumbing and no electricity or running water. It’s no wonder that diseases like tuberculosis are still common in those parts of the country.
But to further advance his “recovery,” Mr. Reagan and his corporate cronies are planning deeper cuts in funds for federally subsidized housing projects, which will mean thousands more Latinos living in cars, or out in the streets.
Some 15 million people in the United States have Spanish as their first language (a language which predates English on this continent by about 300 years). Yet Reagan and company have tried to wipe out bilingual education programs, which allowed Spanish-speaking children some chance of staying in school beyond the eighth grade. Only mass protest forced Congress to at least hold the line on funding for bilingual programs, at their present reduced level. The danger of further cuts still exists.
Reagan and the ruling class have worked systematically to eliminate all but the wealthiest Latinos from higher education. They have slashed Higher Education Act funds by more than $120 million. Currently, 83% of all Latinos at community
colleges and 95% in four-year schools need financial aid. These cuts, combined with tuition and fee increases, will push a large number out of school, to join their parents on the jobless lines or in the sweatshops, which pour out profits (“recovery”) for the wealthy. It will also mean fewer doctors, lawyers, teachers and scientists for Latino communities.
Reagan’s “recovery” has literally meant death for Latino children. Right now, the rate of fetal and newborn death is two to three times higher for Chicanos than whites in different parts of the Southwest. This is not unrelated to Reagan’s cuts in the Women’s, Infants and Children Feeding Program, and in Maternal Child Health Programs. While profit margins soar to 40% for U.S. business, our babies are dying.
Reagan’s “recovery” has helped the war machine. He has increased military spending to $1.6 trillion dollars over the next few years! Lockheed and Boeing are definitely “recovered,” while our youth await the call to bleed and die in Central America, and our barrios await nuclear incineration.
Unite to defeat Reagan
The only “recovery” Chicanos and Latinos need is to throw out Ronald Reagan in 1984, and to send a message to every capitalist in the country: we have had enough, and now the fight for our liberation is going to move.
Latinos have no choice but to join with all the progressive forces which want to defeat not only Reagan but Reaganism, that is, the policies of the ruling class. In just three years, Reagan has undermined every major social and political gain made by Latinos in the previous 20 years. If we don’t stop him now, the winds of reaction will become a hurricane, which could sweep us all to war and fascism.
In the coming year, broad unity must be built in the Chicano and Latino national movements to help “clean house at the White House.” Already, large sections of organizations, such as the League of United Latin American Citizens, the United Farm Workers Union, MEChA, the Mexican American Political Association, and even large sections of the American GI Forum are working to dump Reagan.
One new expression of this unity is the recently formed Latino Agenda Coalition ’84, in California. California, with five million Latinos, can be a critical electoral state in a close national election. The Latino Agenda Coalition is out to develop a progressive political platform which will target the policies of the present Administration, and develop a political strategy which can help get rid of Reagan, give the Democrats a clear message about what Latinos really want, and lay the groundwork to continue the struggle for those demands beyond 1984.
Most Latinos know that their struggle for political power is not simply an electoral struggle. The campesinos (farm workers) had to strike, go to jail and even die to win the right simply to have a trade union. Elections had very little to do with their victory. But this year, more than any other, the elections are important. Now is the time for all Chicano and Latino activists to get out among the people, and get as many registered to vote as is possible.
This will have a big impact, not only on the anti-Reagan movement, but on the longer term struggle to win equal political representation and progressive legislation. Of course, we should have no illusions that simply electing a Democrat will mean our liberation. We have too much bitter experience to fall into that trap.
Many of us know that ultimately we can only have political power if we get rid of capitalism, which robs the labor, wealth and resources of Chicanos and Latinos, and which keeps us oppressed so it can keep on robbing. If we want political power —- real political power — we’re going to have to join up with the rest of the working and oppressed people and TAKE POWER.
But that day is a long way off, and for now we must build up our movement in conditions when the capitalists are seemingly riding high, and racism, chauvinism and reaction are the dominant ideology.
Within this context, the 1984 elections and the defeat of Ronald Reagan are critically important, not simply to the present, but also to the future of our movement. We don’t need a crystal ball to know what a re-elected Ronald Reagan has in store for Chicanos and Latinos, and especially those of a more “progressive” persuasion. (A Kennedy Democrat will probably be tagged a “communist.”)
Self-determination for the Chicano Nation
As important as the 1984 elections are, we must not forget the long-term nature of the Chicano struggle. It is the struggle for the liberation of an oppressed nation, in the heart of the wealthiest and best armed superpower on earth (tied with the U.S.S.R. in that regard).
The 12 million or so Chicanos and Mexicanos in the U.S. mainly live in the Southwest, in an area inhabited by our Mestizo and Indian ancestors for thousands of years. This territory was annexed by the U.S. in 1848, and today produces billions in profits out of its thriving “low cost” labor and other sources of wealth.
At various times in our history, the demand for self-determination has been raised. Simply put, this means the right of the Chicano Nation in the Southwest to constitute itself as an independent, sovereign state. It’s no wonder that the capitalists have always gone to great lengths to attack the movement for self-determination. Can we imagine what the U.S. would be like without the Chicano Nation? They have regularly killed, jailed or tried to discredit those who said Chicanos had a right to self-determination.
In our time, this demand is not heard so strongly. This is not really surprising, since the political climate is so far to the right that the collective national identity of Chicanos is weaker than it was ten years ago. (Witness the growing usage of the whitewashed term “Hispanic.”) But the objective conditions which periodically give rise to the demand for self-determination still exist, and are being recreated with greater scope and intensity every day by the Reagan government.
The demands for Chicano mayors and city councilmen (Los Angeles, a city with almost three million Latinos, has never even had a Latino on the city council), for community control, and so on, are all a part of the desire, the aspiration, the demand, for self-determination.
But our desire will die on the vine without the crucial element of unity. Not a single national liberation struggle has ever been successful without the unity of almost all the diverse sectors of that movement. (It is sometimes hard to think of a national liberation struggle in an advanced capitalist country like the U.S. Most people tend to think that they are all in the third world.) Conversely, most liberation struggles which have failed have done so because they did not have sufficient unity.
Road to unity
How to build effective unity? This has long been a vexing problem for the Chicano Movement. There have been various attempts to build a broad-based unity, the most recently successful for a short while being the national conference of La Raza Unida Party in 1972. But for the most part the necessary unity, even for a successful partial struggle (such as to save bilingual education), has been lacking.
What makes the present possibilities for unity better is, unfortunately, the serious problems caused by the Reagan Administration. It has spared no one, whether you are worker, student, professor, housewife or businessman.
These are some of the factors which can help to build unity at the present time:
• Don’t ignore the workers. Sometimes the middle class and professional
elements of the movement tend to see the working class as simply foot soldiers for the struggle, or as not “politically sophisticated” enough to really play a leading role. This is nonsense. As the campesinos, the Vogue Coach workers, the Farah workers and many others have shown, they have a critically important role to play.
The great majority of Chicanos are workers, part of the largest class in the country (the multinational working class). They have shown great consistency, courage and militancy in the fight for liberation.
This shouldn’t be surprising — they are at the bottom of the capitalist ladder, with little room for illusions in their steaming sweatshops, sun-baked fields and gloomy garment factories. And as for political sophistication, who has shown more ability to master different forms of struggle than the farm workers, and who has achieved more for the Chicano people?
If our movement is to succeed, it must be able to mobilize the workers and allow room for their full participation and leadership.
• There must be an abiding respect for the legitimate interests of all sectors of the Chicano Movement. We must get beyond infantile name calling (“vendido,” “cagado,” etc.), which usually serves to divide us.
Anyone who suffers at the hands of capitalism, and its chief honcho Reagan, is part of the united front. We must respect the interests of the workers to lessen and eventually end their exploitation; the interests of the students who want a college education; the business man who wants a government contract or loan; the professional who wants recognition and a chance to practice his or her profession; the mother who wants a breakfast program for her kids; and the artist who wants a chance to create without having to submit to the dictates of decadent punkism or commercialism.
We should support each other in our struggles, looking for the common ground, while finding appropriate ways to resolve our differences. Of course, differences won’t simply disappear, and we can only really have unity if there is struggle to bring it about. But we must learn to wage this struggle in a politically mature fashion— getting over the “personalismo,” sectarianism, elitism or whatever it is that holds us back.
• We need ideological struggle in our movement. Lack of it is one of our real weaknesses. We need it to clarify different ideas, strategy, tactics and other important questions. Part of our problem has been the lack of debate about which direction the movement should take, and so there has not been a clear line and program which the whole movement (or a large section of it) could embrace. We need to utilize the progressive press, such as UNITY, to air different views; we must have more forums, workshops and other programs where at least the more progressive-minded sectors of the movement can discuss such questions as the Nation, socialism, united front, political parties, Cuba and so on. Ultimately, a movement will not go too far without a clear sense of ideological and political direction.
• We should oppose anti-communism. This has been a real thorn in the side of the Chicano Movement. In the 1960’s, many reformist elements attacked everyone who was militant as a communist. Later, groups like the Revolutionary Communist Party, the Communist Party USA and the Communist Workers Party kicked up more anti-communism by their sectarianism, splitting tactics and chauvinism. But too often, anti-communism is simply anti-communism, although usually hidden under the screen of “I don’t oppose communism, just communists.” This has only had the impact of dividing our movement, causing suspicion, and often of forcing non-communist progressive elements to withdraw, so they won’t be stigmatized by the “red” label.
Communism has a long and positive history in the Chicano Movement. It is here to stay, and it should be judged like anything else — by the correctness or incorrectness of its proposals and perspectives, and its practice. Getting rid of anti-communism will help all the progressive forces in the Chicano Movement to thrive, and would be a blow against Reaganism.
These are some ideas for helping to build unity in our movement in 1984, the year of Orwell. We are truly at a crossroads. We can take the path of progress if we can join our forces, link up with other working and progressive people, help to defeat Reagan and Reaganism, and build up our strength for the eventual (and inevitable) liberation of the Chicano Nation.
They say that this is “the decade of the Latino.” I truly believe that it is, in a way that Time magazine and Coors will never understand.
We are the country’s fastest growing nationality. Our growing numbers and concentration in important urban centers, where there are also high concentrations of African Americans, represents a large potential advantage. A Chicano-Latino/African-American alliance can have a tremendous impact on American politics, on both a local and national level. The capitalists are undoubtedly aware of this, from the Black-Latino alliance in the Harold Washington campaign in Chicago. We must be watchful against their efforts to divide Latinos and Blacks. While we must, of course, pay attention to unity within our movement, we should not oppose this to building unity with Black people and other nationalities.
The Jesse Jackson campaign is a good case in point. While its essential thrust is for African Americans’ democratic rights, it is also a powerful force for democracy generally. It is to be hoped that more and more Latinos will support the Jackson campaign, the most progressive and militant focus of the anti-Reagan movement in the electoral arena. Unity with other oppressed peoples is a fine tradition in the Chicano and Latino movement. Let’s continue that tradition in 1984 and give ourselves a fighting chance to defeat Reaganism and to really begin to make this a Latino decade.