September 26, 2006
Latinos recently spoke out for immigrant rights, as well as against the Iraq War and other vital issues, at a historic conference.
In early September in Los Angeles, Latino and Latina political leaders from across the nation met at a four-day conference to discuss social, economic and political issues. It was the first gathering of its kind since 1977.
Known as the National Latino Congreso, the conference was born following the protest marches last spring against the House bill that would criminalize undocumented immigrants.
The gathering brought together more than 1,000 leaders from progressive grassroots organizations, civil rights and immigrant rights groups, as well as religious, labor and political organizations.
Those attending included high-profile leaders like Dolores Huerta -- who, with Cesar Chavez, co-founded the United Farm Workers Union -- and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
Also attending were lesser-known leaders, like Angela Sanbrano, one of the key organizers of the immigrant rights movement and president of the National Alliance of Latin American and Caribbean Communities.
The organizers of the Congreso offered three fundamental reasons for convening it: (1) To debate tactics and strategies essential to maximize Latino electoral success in the forthcoming election, (2) to build unity among U.S.-born Latino and immigrant leadership necessary to strengthen the immigrant rights movement and (3) to prepare Latinos for local, state, and national political leadership in the 21st century.
But the Congreso did not shy away from other issues. It passed resolutions endorsing equality for gays and lesbians, including same-sex marriage, advocating universal health care regardless of immigration status, denouncing racial profiling of blacks and Latinos, supporting environmental justice and opposing the war in Iraq.
Rosalio Muñoz, the coordinator for Latinos for Peace and one of the leaders of the 1970 Chicano Moratorium Against the War in Vietnam, introduced the Iraq War resolution. It called for the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. It also asked the Latino Congreso to exert pressure on Latino elected representatives in the U.S. Congress to speak out against the war and support legislation aimed at bringing the troops home.
Until now, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus has not taken a stand against the war. This despite a recent Pew Research Center poll that indicated 51 percent of U.S. Latinos opposed the war, and only 37 percent favored troops staying on. By comparison, Americans as a whole are only 41 percent in favor of immediate withdrawal and 54 percent in favor of staying.
The Latino Congreso now has the responsibility to exert pressure on the Congressional Hispanic Caucus to take a strong stance against the war. If it does not, then the Congreso will simply end up being just another conference that passes resolutions but does not follow up with action.
It must take the lead of activist elders like Dolores Huerta, Soledad "Chole" Alatorre and the younger immigrant rights leaders, like Angela Sanbrano, Maricela Garcia and Emma Lozano, who spoke at the Congreso and demanded accountability from our elected officials.
Carlos Muñoz Jr. is professor emeritus at the University of California, and an activist in the peace and immigrant rights movements. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.