[Marxism] What should revolutionaries do in the Latino immigrant movement?

Joaquín Bustelo jbustelo at bellsouth.net
Wed Apr 12 20:33:10 MDT 2006

Prem K Govindaswamy: "With no disrespect or hostility intended, in
Minneapolis and St. Paul, whenever the Marches are announced, they are
billed as 'Immigrant Rights March', not 'Latino Immigrant Rights March, Fuck
You to East African and Hmong Immigrants.'"

I'm sorry if careless wording has led to perhaps a false counterposition.
I'm not so much advocating that the movement be a Latino nationalist
movement, but noting that this is a FACT, that is its main, preponderant
character, and that people have to accept this *reality.*

There are all sorts of good social, political and cultural reasons why this
is the fact, but if we make our starting point that the movement OUGHT NOT
to be THIS way, but some OTHER way, we will stumble blindly from mistake to
error to blunder and wind up falling flat on our face. 

That said, I have never known Latino national movements (not just this
generically Latino one, but Chicano, Puerto Rican, Cuban or Nicaraguan) to
be narrow and exclusionary in their nationalism. Quite the contrary. 

I tried in some of the wording of the previous posts to leave OPEN the
possibility of this becoming in some areas more of a "People of Color" or
"Third World People" movement rather than just a specifically or almost
exclusively Latino one. That's what I was trying to suggest by using wording
about "immigrant and Latino" as being the character of the movement. But
taken as a whole, nationwide, this is a Latino immigrant movement, it has a
VERY clear and sharply defined *nationalist* character.

Which doesn't mean that is ALL it is or can be in some local areas, where it
might be better called a Latino AND immigrant movement. I think that is
quite likely the case in southern Florida, for example, and undoubtedly
there is an element of that also on the West Coast.

And certainly, here in Atlanta, the immigrants rights movement which has
been active for around a decade, with ups and downs, has repeatedly and
fruitfully reached out to our Black brothers and sisters and to our class
brothers and sisters in the labor movement and to other immigrant
populations. And its been a two-way street, we've cooperated with and
supported issues that are important to the labor movement, the Black
movement and to women, as they have supported us. 

But specifically in relation to other immigrant groups, their problems and
issues don't take the same form that ours do in the Latino community. Our
community is overwhelmingly undocumented, the big majority of Latinos in
this state, we believe, lack legal immigration status. That is not true of
the Koreans or Pakistanis or people from India. They have in many cases
their own groups and their own concerns and issues that are very specific to
those communities and their socio-economic characteristics. We will support
them, insofar as out modest means allow, but it is very clear we can't speak
for them or pretend that we speak for "all" immigrant groups -- even though
sometimes in our leaflets and so on we seem to give that impression because
our community is the big majority of immigrants in this state.

The key idea is this: just as we wouldn't pretend to go to a labor council
meeting and try to dictate policy to Charley Fleming, president of the
council, and who we were honored to have as one of our sponsors and speakers
at Monday's demonstration, we expect, and quite frankly insist on, the same
respect towards us as the leading Latino immigrant organization. And there
is some history to this.

*  *  *

We had around the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride three years ago a very
acute situation where some of the brothers and sisters from the labor
movement especially wanted to make voter registration and an electoral focus
a central prominent feature of the march for dignity that the immigrant
rights group took the lead in organizing, and the Latino leadership felt
very strongly that would be a very bad mistake, because the overwhelming
majority of the community members who don't have the right to vote would
feel excluded and because the right wingers would manipulate it to make it
seem that we were registering people who weren't citizens. 

And after an honest and sharp discussion, the organizing coalition as a
whole deferred to the judgment of the leaders of the immigrant rights
movement on the matter. It may seem like a small issue now, but it was a
test, including for the revolutionary socialists from a couple of different
groups who were playing a very big role, especially as a bridge *between* a
very small vanguard of Latino activists who nevertheless had large influence
and following in the community, and the long-standing labor and civil rights
movement "establishment" in the city. 

And we socialists supported the right of the leaders of the immigrant
movement to make the call, risking on the part of some of us relationships
that had been built over many, many years of conscious, systematic, and I
believe exemplary communist political work (and I should make clear here I
am referring not to people in my own group, Solidarity, which is at most
four years old in town, but to comrades associated with the Freedom Road
Socialist Organization, who in a comradely way helped this new "rival"
upstart group, Solidarity, find its way in a complex political situation. I
hope we in Soli, if we are ever faced with an analogous situation, with a
grouping that suddenly emerges and is three or four times the size of our
own, will live up to the example those comrades set in subordinating narrow
organizational interests and rivalries to the interests of the movement as a

So even in what was the framework of a joint project, and one initiated by
labor and Black civil rights groups, where the Latino leaders did not have
the formal right to call the shots, the Latino character of the movement was
respected on that key issue. 

*  *  *

I am all for this movement that has arisen reaching out to all sectors, all
parties. In fact, that's been our long-standing policy in the Coordinating
Council of Latino Community Leaders. Serving with me on the Board of the
Coordinating Council of Latino Community Leaders there are even Republicans
-- of course, people who are Latinos first and Republicans second, and they
are certainly not Sensenbrenner Republicans. But, yes, they voted for Bush
and all that. People from all communities are always welcome at our
meetings, and we always have interpretation for English speakers, since our
meetings are mostly in Spanish. And it is rare for one of our monthly
meetings to NOT have at least one presentation from someone outside the
community. Even though we have never had a discussion of it, I think our
practice shows that we are opposed to narrow nationalism, despite the fact
that we are clearly what I would call a "Latino nationalist" organization.

But --and this should be understood-- there are LIMITS to the outreach. We
can't substitute ourselves in the Latino group, the Coordinadora for the
leadership that Blacks have to provide for their community, or union
officials for the labor movement, or students in that sector. The Brazilians
and Haitians have their own distinct organizations and we relate to those,
and want very much for the Coordinadora to include ALL oppressed peoples of
the Americas in Atlanta, but we don't try to substitute for or go around the
existing groups. We realize we are for now centered on the Spanish-speaking
immigrant population, that's our base, that's who we have a right to speak
for, even as we aspire to become more.

In terms of the Hmong, East Africans and others in Minneapolis, it is very
dangerous to speak without a real familiarity, but I will say at least this
much. Press reports indicate representatives of those communities were among
the speakers at the immigrant rights rally, and quite legitimately so, but
if I were in a Latino group there, I very much doubt I would see it as our
role to organize among the Hmong and the Ethiopians under current
circumstances. I suspect I'd see that as an attempt to go around or
substitute for the leadership that must come from those communities.

As for Malcolm X, I'd suggest that perhaps a more directly applicable part
of his thought is not in his trying to come to a broader philosophical
outlook that went beyond Black nationalism without negating it, which is
what that part of the YS interview is about, but the talk he gave on the
Organization of Afro-American Unity, and where he tells revolutionary-minded
white folks that you can support us but you can't join us, because for there
to be Black-white unity there has to be Black unity first. 

And I would suggest that in addition to Malcolm, you look at Lenin's report
to the Second Comintern Congress on the theses on the national and colonial
question, and his insistence that the central thing for revolutionaries is
the distinction between oppressor and oppressed nations. 

Because Latino nationalism isn't directed AT ALL against the Hmong or
Ethiopians or Afro-Americans. The rallies aren't "and Fuck You to East
African and Hmong Immigrants," but they are very definitely "and Fuck You to
Anglo supremacists and nativists and racists."

THIS nationalism has been evoked by and is directed against "American"
(Anglo/white) nationalism. 

I say again, people should listen and learn from the Bolivian indigenous
movement and comrade Evo. Because I think he has formulated better and more
explicitly than anyone a very fundamental truth. One of the differences
between the nationalism of the oppressor and the nationalism of the
oppressed is that the nationalism of the oppressed "No es excluyente, es
incluyente" it does not EXCLUDE, it INCLUDES. 

The nationalism of the oppressor by its very nature is precisely the
opposite, that's the whole point to it, to define all sorts of people as
inferior and unworthy the better to subjugate them. In the way it is used in
the United States, Malcolm taught, "white means boss." And for that to
happen, for the white man to be boss, everyone else has to be subordinate.
That's the nationalism that our nationalism, one of the nationalisms of the
oppressed, is directed against, and certainly not our brothers and sisters
from Africa or Asia.


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