Commentary: Conscience of a community activist
by Carlos J. Lice, amigos805.com
May 23rd 2011
Recently I shocked a fellow worker and a few others by outing myself as a Latino community activist. An “Activist,” he said accusatorially. “You cannot be a Latino community activist and an advocate for other causes.” Some people, he added, may object to a person who has a strong commitment to a particular group.
His response both surprised and offended me. While there is a good point in the sense that there is a negative side to being obsessive about commitment, we cannot forget that both he and I are committed to making sure the Civil Rights legislation of 1964 benefits all Americans – regardless of the word preceding the hyphen that precedes the word American and that is used so often and divisively in our diverse society.
I am reminded that while some may color the word “activist” with a subjective shade, activism is at the core of the evolutionary rather than revolutionary change in our society.
Let’s consider my personal hero: Martin Luther King Jr., the driving force leading activism in the struggle against bigotry and hate. He was a man of great wisdom and failings, a minister and orator and most definitively a man of God who refused to “leave things alone” in the United States of America and made it his life calling — and ultimately his martyrdom — to make sure people were not judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
He had a dream and we aim to see that dream a reality and reach the promised land of equality that he showed us from the steps of the Lincoln Monument one hot summer afternoon in 1968.
Dr. King was criticized by some in the civil rights movement for his expression of support for the peace groups who opposed the war in Vietnam. The cause, they said, was not the ending of fighting in Asia but rather civil rights at home. Dr. King wisely pointed out that black men were fighting and dying while their rights were being denied at home and that made natural allies of the antiwar groups and the civil rights group, because all Americans have to march together for a common purpose whether it is in war or in peace.
Many more activists have followed that dream and made sure the dream not die or be subjugated to a single cause or group.
Richard Pimentel, the driving force behind the Americans with Disabilities Act is another. Building upon the foundation laid down by Dr. King, he is another activist who made sure people with disabilities are not left behind on the road to that dream.
Some of us labor in the dream of equality in our respective communities. We aim, respectfully and persistently, to make sure that equality is here for the 35 million Latinos who are an integral part of this society. As UFW leader Cesar Chavez pointed out, “My people are of many colors” — hence his favorite church hymn was ‘de colores’ because the catchy tune means Latinos come in many colors, races and origins, reflecting the colorful tapestry of the American nation. And disability does not make an exception when it comes to our ethnicity and race. Disability comes in many colors and languages.
I am a Latino with a disability. I cannot separate one part of me from the other because my disability is wrapped under my skin and speaks with the accent of a proud, hard-working immigrant who is not afraid to speak out and will not meekly accept the scraps on the table I have set the food of freedom and justice for all. When I see a wrong, just like MLK, Pimentel and Chavez, I will point it out and actively seek to peacefully change it so that those who follow me in the pursuit of the American dream are able to share equally at this table. We do it just like Dr. King taught us, with peaceful persistent determination, and listening, like Pimentel did, to our music within.
That means that when I see a half-hearted effort to reach this portion of the disability community that is close to my heart I will speak on their behalf with the same passion as I do for the others because my interest lies in justice for all. The same way we reach out to any group, I want to see it done on an equally respectful level, tone and voice because that is the best way we can be equal.
Our conversation must always be at the same level and tone. Let’s do it at the same level, tone and meaning. I do not take kindly to unwarranted patronizing or misguided paternalism. Conversation is, after all, a two-way street between equals.
A Latino community activist is no better and no worse than a disability activist or as the South Chicago community organizer Barak Obama was at the start of his political career that led to the White House.
My aim is that a Latino kid from Santa Paula will pick up my baton and wind up in the White House some day. I have been up in the mountains of Ventura County and have seen that same promised land Dr. King saw.
I may not see it, but I know a Latino kid from the barrio will get there — one whose father picked strawberries in Oxnard or whose grandfather was a bracero; a kid who may even have been derisively called “anchor baby” by some.
This is my dream.
— Carlos J. Licea has previously worked with such publications as the Ventura County Star’s Mi Estrella weekly newspaper, the Daily Press in Ashland, Wisc., El Nuevo Herald in Miami, La Prensa in Orlando, Fla., El Mundo in San Juan, Puerto Rico, The Orlando Sentinel, the Miami News, the Miami Herald and the Tampa Tribune. The views expressed by Carlos J. Licea do not necessarily represent the views of Amigos805.com
Original Page: http://amigos805.com/?p=4770
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