Unity, an ideal frequently discussed by frustrated political party constituents, was presented as a practical goal by Gerson Martinez, a representative of the Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Commission. He called for the creation of a joint “African and Latino-American Political Party” at a lecture on March 7 in the New Library Auditorium.
While Democratic and Republican candidates delivered promise-laden speeches to thousands of eager supporters in urban centers across the country, Martinez’s discussion, sponsored by Lambda Sigma Upsilon and titled “Power in Numbers,” questioned the validity of these promises.
“My high school is worse off now than when I went there. My mom’s healthcare situation has not changed,” he said.
Both the black and Latino communities forged strong cultural bonds as a reaction to the attempts of the larger American community’s past attempts at suppression, Martinez said. Martinez suggested that these differences need not be perceived as cultural competition, but as a shared history of oppression to be combated by a unified Afro-Latino party. “There is a mental slavery. I know that my name is Martinez and that my résumé is at the bottom,” he said.
This mental slavery that afflicted both communities has been facilitated in large part by the public education available in urban settings, according to Martinez. While political candidates promise an increase in funds to urban schools, Martinez said the lack of discussion in schools about specific figures in the black and Latino communities has led students to contemplate their own racial anonymity in U.S. and world history.
In order to erase the gangster image that has been adopted as a surrogate history for many urban minority youths, Martinez suggested that a proposed Afro-Latino party focus on teaching urban children pride.
Education alone cannot solve the various problems within the urban community, according to Martinez. “Your education is just self-serving,” Martinez said. “If you don’t help somebody that looks like you, you’re not doing spit.”
Change, Martinez said, must start with the return of both black and Latino residents to the urban community. “We know where certain spots are, it’s no secret. But we don’t talk about that. We don’t have those discussions.” Through a shared discussion of the inequities suffered by both urban blacks and Latinos, a unified socio-political vision could be constructed, in Martinez’s view.
Martinez frequently prompted the audience with questions of how a unified, biracial political party could work. While Martinez said differing opinions on immigration reform as well as the perception that black and Latinos are in competition for jobs may prevent the two groups from forming a unified party, the ensuing dialogue suggested a more optimistic outlook.
Dissatisfied with the solutions offered by the current political parties, Martinez suggested reforming the urban community from within, emphasizing a personal response to the problems of inequity.
“Get out your message,” Martinez said. “The right message, at the right time.”