News: The Peoples Party

Lafricano links minority cultures and agendas

The relationship between African Americans and Latinos has often been riddled with problems in other cities across the United States. The country's two largest minorities have been involved in violent clashes in riots in 1989 in Miami, in 1991 in Washington, D.C., and most notably in 1992 in Los Angeles.

The Lafricano festival June 27 in Eden Park's Seasongood Pavilion was an attempt to bring members of these two groups together. While there were some catches along the way, organizers hope it was a first step in forging better relationships.

Organizers of the event included more African-American organizations than Latino, who were mainly represented by Su Casa Hispanic Ministries. Su Casa has been key in assisting and organizing the immigrant Latino community. Though Cincinnati had many Latino families in the area before the recent influx, the presence of organizations such as Su Casa have helped Latinos find their voice.

Sherry Baron of Cincinnati Progressive Action, who has fought for the rights of African Americans and immigrant workers in the past, conceived the festival.

"We want to work with the Latino and African-American community on social justice issues, and one of the best ways to bring the two together is through music and dance," she said.

Active in organizing Lafricano were Michael Flynn, director of Su Casa, Juleana Frierson of the Black United Front; New Prospect Baptist Church, the City of Hope Project, the Baptist Ministers' Conference, the Coalition for Immigrant Rights and the Cincinnati Human Relations Commission.

Participants such as Reeni Fetters of Oakley noted the dominance of Su Casa's involvement.

"I don't see any other Latino groups involved and there are other Latino groups in the community," she said. "Why aren't they here?"

Certainly, more groups and volunteers needed to get involved, but organizers say that's common for a new grassroots effort. The most obvious problem was a lack of vendors. Su Casa's Guatemalan Committee provided tamales on and off throughout the day, but some vendors pulled out at the last minute.

"We were hoping to have Latino vendors as well as African-American, but we started a little late," said Chris Battle of New Prospect. "The Latino vendor served about 300 in the first hour, and despite complications we're really happy with the turnout."

All of the day's entertainers, including Zumba, Danza Contigo Peru and Las Chicas Latinas, volunteered their services. One of the highlights was the spoken word performance by the Artistic Order of 144K, specifically Daniela Castro. Castro had worked with Su Casa in the past, but it is this Boliviana's creativity and raw Latina power that emanated from what she called her "Spanglish" performance.

Like many at Lafricano, Castro believes the two groups have many similar issues that can transcend language barriers.

"If we don't realize what our similarities are, our differences become greater," she said. "We have a lot of the same problems, such as racial profiling and police terrorism and the disparity of health coverage."

A brief speech by Badriyyah Salaam of the Hip-Hop National Political Party addressed these commonalities, citing "cuts in arts and music programs in our schools," issues that also concern Anglo-Americans. Robert Pace of the Avondale Community Council agreed.

"Even though we are diverse as night and day, our struggles are very similar," he said.

Though not specifically stated, it is understood that both groups have had a history of suffering oppression and that Latinos are not responsible for discrimination against African Americans because Latinos have never wielded the power.

Some topics were not explicitly addressed and were only generally alluded to in the need to "come together." Paramount among these were immigration, for the Latinos, and proposed changes to the Washington Park area in Over-the-Rhine, for blacks. At least these subjects were raised by fliers. Little discussion was given to racism in each group against the other, which grows when many compete for the same jobs and community resources.

One local group that is recognizing this important economic factor is Justice for Janitors, which is part of the Service Employees International Union, a division of the AFL-CIO. Justice for Janitors was not a sponsor of Lafricano, but had heard about the festival and decided to visit to meet new people.

Over the past month this union has been organizing to create better jobs and decent benefits for those who work in maintenance and janitorial positions throughout the city. "Management pits poor working people, blacks and Latinos and whites, against each other," said Matt Ryan, a member of Justice for Janitors. "(Workers) are divided, fighting over scraps."

The intention for Lafricano was "to promote understanding and deepen ties between Cincinnati's two important communities of color." The vagueness and naivete of such a statement is hard to underestimate. For one thing, effective coalitions require specific goals. But also important is the recognition that Latinos aren't just "brown"; they are white, black and indigenous.

Though unity and commonality were emphasized, the fact remains that blacks and Latinos seek different things. The very nature of the term "minority" is sometimes a shortcut to thinking, ignoring differences and flattening all "people of color" into an easily manageable group.

Because Lafricano did not specify goals, it is difficult to say if the event was a success. As many at the festival noted, this was just an attempt to get to know each other.

Now that we have met, the next question is what we want to do. ©

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