Latinos and the Struggle for Peace

By Edgar Barraza.

Presentation given at Korea, Vietnam, and Afro-America: Our Shared Struggle for Peace & Democracy on March 12, 2022 in Philadelphia.


The vision laid out in Korea, Vietnam, and Afro-America: Our Shared Struggle for Peace & Democracy has allowed me to understand my heritage, Mexico and Latin America, and the place our people have in the fight for peace. Martin Luther King Jr. defined peace not as the absence of tension, but the presence of justice. Thus he identified the greatest threats to peace as war, economic exploitation, and racism. Many people from Latin America feel their countries have failed them because of widespread corruption and laziness; a moral failing and inferiority of their own people. However, these triple evils are at the root of Latin Americans’ problems and are the primary reason why they immigrate to the United States.

Part 1: The Three Evils in Latin America

Economic Exploitation:

Latinos across the globe have their lives upended by the absence of peace. Western economic domination overly determines the life of people. Post Spanish colonialism, the continent became divided with many small countries whose economies are primarily based on exporting a single raw commodity; this is where the common idea of a “Banana republic” comes from. This kind of economy in Latin America is still widespread today. For example, Chile is positioned to mainly export copper. Even in large countries the west owns their critical resources, often a result of privatization after receiving predatory loans with exorbitant interest rates. For example, my cousin works for a Canadian mining company in Oaxaca, Mexico. They also prevent countries from producing for internal consumption. This minimizes the jobs that exist, and the goods and services people can have, all while making the country dependent on the west. For example, Mexico is the birthplace of corn and has a people whose diets are based around it, yet they need to import American corn to meet their needs instead of growing it all themselves. Jobs primarily exist for producing for western consumption. This explains the proliferation of maquiladoras, foreign owned factories in a country that receive lucrative tax exemptions and minimally paid and protected workers to pump out products for export. These countries may have “Political independence”, but a small clique of traitor natives and western companies run the economy and thus dictate the direction of the country, limiting the lives of people. Latin America faces nothing less than economic warfare.

War:

The people also face violence. In 2019, Bolivia faced a military coup d’etat at the hands of American missionaries and collaborators. This forced the democratically elected president Evo Morales to flee the country because he believed his country’s lithium belongs to his people. In Mexico it’s not uncommon to hear of gun battles in the streets and civilian killings. In the Iran-Contra affair, the United States in secret illegally sold weapons to forces in Iran to then finance pro-western contras seeking to overthrow the Nicaraguan government. Whether it’s officially against a government or not, across the continent war is being waged against the people. Even if you don’t see a foreign army’s uniform, this war is the bidding of the west. Every country has its bad people, but in these conflicts you’ll find these bad people with arms from the United States, often working with the United States. The goal is to destabilize, morally and spiritually erode, and recede the development of a beautiful people, rendering them less capable of standing up to the west and determining their own direction.

Racism: 

This continent had flourishing civilizations, whose technological innovation, communal way of life, and full human beings enriched this earth. Their abrupt demise and continual exploitation is racially permissible because these are darker people.

La Gran Tenochtitlan – Diego Rivera 1945 (Source)
Diego Rivera’s depiction of Tenochtitlan, the Aztec capital. At five times the size of Henry VIII’s London, Tenochtitlan was one of the largest cities in the world at the time. Only Paris or Venice might have rivaled its size. With complex canals, plumbing and irrigation, Tenochtitlan’s technological innovation in urban planning surpassed European cities, allowing for sophisticated economic development. Built in accordance with religious principles, the city reflected the Aztec people’s high level of unity in spiritual aspiration. 

Part 2: The Immigration Story

The peoples of Latin America are kept poor, uneducated, and under danger. Without many options presented, people think, Why not come to the United States? If I work hard, if not me then my child will have an opportunity for a good life.

At Odds with Labor, Now and in Your Children’s Generation:

It doesn’t exactly turn out like that. The United States knows what they’re doing to our countries, and they know we are coming. They have a plan. My family’s immigration from Mexico to the United States can help illustrate the path laid out for Latinos in this country. My dad and his brothers landed in southern California, a place already populated by hard working Latino immigrants willing to do more for less. They quickly realized they were only ever going to break even, so they went to Chicago. It was a time of growth there, so there were plenty of well paid construction jobs. Despite being paid less, as a working man he was eventually able to achieve stability and buy a home, living the American dream. The same is true of my uncles, but not of this generation. Well paid construction jobs are now few and far in between because as immigrants, they were actually put at odds with their children. The ruling class planned for immigrants to come from and arrive to precarious circumstances, allowing employers to take advantage of them and lower the floor for everyone. When there is economic growth, immigrants are meant to come to meet the demand for workers while keeping wages from rising as well. When the economy stabilizes, and especially when it’s in a downturn, the abundance of vulnerable workers allows industry to plummet wages. With fewer economic prospects for their children, the financial gains that immigrants left their homes behind for are often short term at best.

Men wait in parking lots and at street corners for a chance to do the most physically demanding and unsafe work at exploitative wages. Hired by the day, they have no job security. (Source: William Luther, San Antonio Express News)

This highlights a primary role the ruling class has for first generation Latino immigrants: they are meant to undercut American labor. The United States is underpinned by monopoly capital, where large corporations and financial institutions in partnership with the government manage the economy to extract as much profit as possible, even at the expense of others. Americans have fought for a more just economic order from the time of slavery, to modern day rights in the workplace like the 8 hour work day, safe working conditions, no child labor, and dignified wages. Black America has especially fought for these advances too. The ruling class has historically pitted these workers against one another, giving white workers less than they deserve if it means they have more than black people, or just the wage of whiteness, a mental sense of superiority. In order to undermine the progress of black and white unity, this potential united front is disrupted by Latino workers who don’t yet know what will happen to them, their kids, and their peers if they accept less wages and working rights. These groups feel their interests can only be gained at the expense of the other, and fight amongst themselves for crumbs. Impoverishing Latin America has made people poorer in the United States. Our destinies are intertwined; enriching one of us enriches us all.

Physical Violence & Drugs are Inescapable Here Too:

My cousin’s upbringing further illustrates the plan this country has for its immigrants’ children. Latinos often think less of black people because they are in a dejected state in this country despite having citizenship. This leaves Latinos ill prepared. The concerted effort this ruling class has taken to degrade black people spills over to them as well. With those low wages, they don’t live in the best areas. For one, the drugs that passed through their home country – their destination is here in their neighborhoods. The guns the US put in their home country to destabilize them are put in poor neighborhoods here too. Their education also fails them not just because of substandard base reading, writing and math abilities. The history they receive lowers their self worth. Removed from their ancestral heritage and given false American history, they are left with no positive examples to look to for the kind of person they can aspire to be, the values and principles they want to embody. 

The human education they receive in and out of the classroom is the most condemning. Their kids were not raised in a humble village, where your neighbors feel like family. Where you can open your arms to strangers instead of treading cautiously with distrust. Where you can see people that look like you holding their head up high, living tall and proud, finding joy in simple living of life. My aunts and uncles might think it’s progress because they didn’t go to high school, but this education here has failed to forge that same loving generous spirit. Instead the youth don’t value their lives and can’t conceive a worthwhile future for themselves. They’re mad at the world, and may retreat inward, like many young men who play video games all day, stunted as boys. Or they live recklessly, damaging their lives and the life of those around them as someone else takes responsibility for their mistakes.

All this is happening while their parents are working hard at many jobs, oblivious to what is happening and with little time to interject and dedicate themselves for their development. Then one day they think to themselves, “Why is my kid skipping class, drinking and smoking? Why is my teenage daughter pregnant? Where is her baby daddy? Why is my son a father with no interest in getting a job?” 

Do they bear some responsibility for their situation? Yes. And yet I can’t accept that my people are simply inferior. This society purposely failed them. Latinos were not able to simply leave degradation behind and find peace elsewhere. Their destinies were once more inseparable from America’s, and the rest of the world.

Part 3: Our Responsibility and the Path Forward

Current Failure:

We are still left with the burning question: what should we do for our people in all the Americas? 

The broad consensus among young Latinos is to fight for DACA and the DREAM Act in exchange for loyalty to the Democratic Party. DACA stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, and it essentially gives undocumented immigrants that came as children a chance to apply for a driver’s license and work permit for a 2 year period. It’s a short protection from deportation, subject to renewal, and has no path to citizenship. The DREAM Act stands for Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors, and it allows the best behaved immigrants who came as children a path towards citizenship if they go to college and then either work or join the military. 

This legislation at most cultivates a small elite dedicated to the ruling class and to advancing themselves. They tell the story: “I come from a poor, corrupt place, so I deserve to be here and have privileges to make up for it.” The United States is painted as the hero that gave them an opportunity. This provides the ruling class with a moral shield to pursue its perverse interests at home and abroad. These crumbs do not address why people feel compelled to come here in the first place, while giving the war agenda free rein to make things worse for their brothers and sisters where they came from. These laws also do not speak to the degeneration they are inevitably increasing for themselves and for their brothers and sisters right here. 

“Struggle” is currently conceived transactionally. The thinking goes: I’ll sidetrack myself a little bit to support your singular issue if it means you show up when I try to push mine. Without a sense of our mutual destinies, this is bound to happen and is especially true of the immigration movement. What makes this worse is that upholding and expanding this legislation is not only seen as the highest expression of political consciousness, it’s also heralded as a place for “principled” unity with Asians in America. We are corralled together for a detrimental cause and are reinforced down this wrong path because it must be right if another racial group is also committed.

Asian Anti-Colonial Struggles:

There is a higher striving. We can join our brothers in fulfilling the ideals of the Asian Anti-Colonial Struggles. 

The United States dropped over 3 times more bombs on Korea and Vietnam each during those wars than they did on the entirety of Europe during WWII. These struggles showed us that united, man can triumph over machine. That a moral force can overcome a military force.

In Korea, ordinary people decided the direction of their lives and country through governance natural to their life worlds. They had farmers associations, unions of varying kinds, neighborhood associations. Through these you could elect someone you knew and trusted. That understood and often shared your experience. Who was invested in improving your country and wellbeing. Koreans found a way to enact their will and build up their battered nation. Why not us? 

Black Freedom Struggle:

From Slavery Through Reconstruction – Aaron Douglas 1934. (Source)
Reconstruction demonstrates that the most subjugated people can transform themselves and their world.

We also have a home in the Black Freedom Struggle of America.

Black people were forced to live like animals for centuries. Yet slaves were able to turn the tide during the Civil War, liberate themselves from bondage, and raise themselves up to men during Reconstruction. The southern plantation viability was only in sustaining plantation owners; it was inefficient, wasteful, obviously neglected the slaves working it. Working whites were also left destitute, as the south was organized around the black worker as the primary producer. The freedmen redistributed land, transforming the southern economy so that a man could be self-sustaining, provide for his family, and build up his tattered country he just finished fighting for. They also drafted state constitutions and through elections, controlled congress in former slave states like South Carolina. Freedmen wholly dedicated themselves to founding the public school in the south. All facets of Black America gave themselves to this cause. Those who had the least, sacrificed the little money they had just made since becoming free and offered their labor to physically build it. No one was too old to get educated. All were welcome to better themselves so they’d be more equipped to serve their people and ensure the next generation. Poor whites had also not been educated in the south prior to Reconstruction, so this sacrifice was made for all people.

We should seek to fulfill the high ideals of democracy, continuing the work of the black proletariat in this new context. If we refuse war in all forms, we remove the obstacle to joining arms with each other in a world democracy, so in this country and internationally we can develop ourselves towards mutual elevation.

Our History:

As Latinos we must also look to ourselves for our path forward. We must discover the distinct character our struggle has taken and the fundamental contributions to human uplift. It can feel like we’re on a downward spiral. Our present and ancestral homes are being physically destroyed and morally adulterated. But we have something to hold onto. We have fought for the human family. That progress must be upheld. We must inherit this and make it our own.

Latin America has already advanced this cause. Cubans have fought to bring forth the natural expression of democracy in their country through their literacy campaign. After overthrowing the Batista dictatorship and making an enemy of the United States, this island 90 miles from Florida decided their priority was to eradicate illiteracy. Developing their country first and foremost meant developing their people. The youth went to the most rural parts of the country to teach people how to read and write. Yet the youth learned more than they taught. By bringing all of their people together and raising their consciousness, the country could decide what the new Cuba was going to be; what freedom meant for them.

Cuba has also contributed to World Democracy. Their free medical program is available to young people from around the world. They will educate you if you wish to live a life in service to your people. Despite facing economic warfare, their people volunteer themselves to provide medical services across the continent. Cubans have so little yet their citizens offered their lives to fight imperialism in Angola because they knew that fight was theirs. What directly affects one indirectly affects all of us. Allowing apartheid South Africa to consume another nation will only strengthen western empire to turn its talons on us. The immiseration of the Angolans will diminish all of us. A free Cuba has enriched all of us, and so a free Angola will do the same.

America has people from all corners of this earth. Here we can learn to live amongst each other as brothers and sisters, synthesize these guiding truths from our forefathers, and form a broader conception of struggle. The way we live together here can bring about the birth of a new world order.

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