In 2008, the challenge facing Barack Obama as he wooed Latino voters, wasn’t the racial tensions that had long seemed to exist between Hispanics and African Americans but a more sophisticated and subtle issue: The fears that a black president could jeopardize the political and economic gains Latinos have made in the preceding generation as they had outnumbered African Americans in population and political strength.
“They were saying things like, ‘If Obama is elected, Latinos will start losing all the gains they’ve made in recent years,’” recalls Hollywood restaurateur Lucy Casado, a founder of the Mexican American Political Association in California.
The last four years have shown that not to be true. Nationally, Hispanics have made bigger strides politically than ever before, and Obama has appointed more Latinos to high positions in his administration than any previous president.
Hispanics, after all, had been credited with making the difference in some states for Obama against Republican John McCain.
Latino and African Americans racial tensions
But even in 2008, a growing number of Latinos and African Americans believed that the historic racial tensions separating the two groups was no longer what it once was, though it continued to be the focus of many outsiders.
“The media in general have been too anxious to portray that side as if it is always a case of troublesome conflict,” said Jaime Regalado, then the executive director or the Pat Brown Institute at California State University, Los Angeles. “The truth is that they are building a history of cooperation, living and working side by side.”
Underscoring that point was a study by three University of California at Irvine criminologists concluding that Los Angeles was no longer on the brink—if it ever had been— of a major interracial crime wave that they blamed on the news media’s increasing fixation on the specter of black-versus-brown violence.
In fact, according to scholars John R. Hipp, George E. Tita and Lindsay N. Boggess, street violence in America in recent years has been overwhelmingly intra-racial rather than interracial.
“Blacks are about 500 percent more likely to assault a fellow black than a Latino and about 650 percent more likely to murder a fellow black,” the study reports.
For their part, Latino offenders are also much more likely to assault or murder another Latino than an African American.
For years now, both Hispanic and black activists have been saying that the media obsession with ethnic-racial conflict has overshadowed significant but far less glamorous progress made in race relations in America’s most diverse city.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa built his historic election in 2005 on a multi-racial coalition, laying the foundation for numerous successful politicians in recent years.
Villaraigosa has even publicly dismissed those who believe that racial tensions define the relationship between blacks and Latinos “as if it’s endemic to our DNA to have conflict.”
“More than ever, our families live side by side, interwoven in neighborhoods as colorful as they are All-American,” says Villaraigosa said. “Our children play together in neighborhood parks, and in schools.”
“We shop at the same markets where Indian curries and tortillas sit on the shelf right next to barbecue sauce and English muffins.”