I just returned from the annual conference of UNIDOSUS, the organization formally known as the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) in Washington DC. This, the largest advocacy agency for Latinos, also celebrated its 50th anniversary.
One would not normally think so, but the political divisions in the country DID affect the dialogue and exchanges in the conference presentations and information sessions. It is as though there was a conscious effort to shield the sponsors of so much of UNIDOSUS activities from the fall-out of an angry segment of the Latino membership that favored the other less corporate and more grass-roots name.
Even though there appeared to be an effort to dampen the differences between Latino Conservatives and Liberals in their presentation panels, they were too obvious to ignore. It seems that the name change from NCLR to UNIDOSUS also changed the context and space for discussion.
Ironically, this also changed the brand and character of the political message from the blunt approach so characteristic of Southwest Chicanos and Mexican Americans to the more measured Eastern and Caribbean establishment tone. Even the music featured Salsa and Merengue and left no room for Rancheras and Cumbias.
One issue that everyone was in agreement with however, was the refugee treatment at the border and elsewhere, especially the separation children from their parents. It has become a fact that tearing babies away from mothers is a deliberate ploy by institutional actors that are losing their soul and sense of what it really is to be an American as they follow the policies of a President that has no moral compass.
The highlight of the conference was a keynote by Ilia Calderon, an Univision anchor and an Afro-Latina refugee from Colombia who juxtaposed two stories in her speech that illustrates the bottomless fall of America’s legal, social and political character. The first was her interviews on both sides of our southern border that illustrate the human tragedy involving refugees that know that they cannot stay in their country and expect to live, know that the journey that takes them from their homes in Central America to the United States is full of obstacles and death at every step and know that America is almost an impossible dream that allows them to only grasp the concept but not the reality of being safe to work and prosper in this special place.
Yet they keep coming because that is what migrants have done for ages. Not even the Great Wall of China that was thousands of miles long, could keep the Manchu immigrants from taking their place in the new country.
The other story Ilia Calderon shared was her visit and interview of a Ku Klux Klan Imperial Wizard Christopher Barker of Yanceyville, North Carolina who expected to meet a “lighter” Latina and instead got the first Black to visit his property. The Latino ethnic and racial diversity was not enough for Barker to accept any of the 11 million undocumented immigrants as he threatened to kill them all by burning.
When asked how he could kill some 11 million people like that, he answered: “Don’t matter, we killed six million Jews last time. Eleven million is nothing.”
One of the most important things the UNIDOSUS national conference did do was to feature Latino Millennials, especially the young Latinas that came to celebrate their new-found voice and exercise the leadership that is so important to the future of the country. Political divisiveness however, can ruin a good thing.