Black Issues Report:

Black-Hispanic Relationship


Part I. Welcome to the neighborhood

Clash of cultures

‘Their’ language

‘Already vibrant’

Not just visiting

Mexico not home

A ‘settlement’

Part II. Mutual mistrust

‘Why should we?’

‘Tough guy’ frown

Hard lessons

A matter of respect

A lack of trust

Suspicious minds

Racism redux

Part III. Suspicious minds

The numbers game

Conflict or competition?

The Republican push

A Milwaukee tradition

‘Rally around it’

Return on investment





Black-Hispanic Relationship (Washington Times, 030224 to 030226)


By Steve Miller






Part I. Welcome to the neighborhood


ZEBULON, N.C. -- This rural hamlet, like a lot of others around here, resembles a Mexican village. Carlos Ramirez opened his general store, Mi Tierra, on the town’s main drag six years ago. “There were no Hispanics around,” Mr. Ramirez recalls. “We opened and had very little business. We didn’t care, we knew it was coming.”


Now he and his wife, Connie, do a brisk business in work shoes and soccer jerseys, Mexican groceries and beer, Latino magazines and religious candles.


Zebulon, 18 miles outside Raleigh, covers only 3.1 square miles. But it is a symbol of the dramatic surge in the Hispanic population that took place across the United States during the 1990s, when the brown overtook the black to become the nation’s largest minority.


The Census Bureau last month made official what was increasingly apparent: Hispanics, at 37 million strong, now outnumber blacks, at 36.2 million.


More startling was this finding: Hispanics accounted for more than half of the nation’s 3.3 million increase in population between 2000 and 2001, at 1.7 million or 51 percent.


Many U.S. employers embrace what they perceive as the new arrivals’ willingness to work hard at menial jobs for low pay. More politicians are trying to engage “the Latino vote,” often ineptly.


Meanwhile, tense relations and turf battles between blacks and Hispanics — from the streets to the workplace to the political front lines — have supplanted old-school rifts between blacks and whites.


In Zebulon, where the Ramirezes are among the wealthiest entrepreneurs, the Hispanic population officially grew more than 20 times larger between 1990 and 2000 — from 17 to 348.


The 2000 census said the town of 4,100 was 35 percent black, 8 percent Hispanic and the rest white. But the census was wrong, according to residents and town leaders who peg the actual Hispanic population at closer to 30 percent.


“This is the classic undercount,” town planning director Michael Frangos says. “Almost all of our new businesses recently have been Mexican businesses.”


“First it was a Mexican restaurant that came in at a time when the only restaurant the town had ever had was a Hardee’s,” says Don Fuller, managing editor of the weekly Zebulon Record.


Mr. Fuller knows, as most do here, that the census count of Hispanics was far too modest.


“For every four you might count, there are probably eight more in that dwelling,” he says.


The newspaper editor grew up here when blacks held the farming jobs that these new residents now have. Back then, in the 1970s, Hispanic migrant workers would show up and live in small trailers, enduring crowding unimaginable to most Americans.


“They came here when I was a kid during the growing season, then went back home,” Mr. Fuller, 35, says. “Then all of a sudden, they just started staying.”


They stayed, but never forgot home. On the front of the check-cashing store, a few doors down from the newspaper, a frequently changing handmade sign is like a beacon for these newer residents: “Cambio 9.30” it says this day, meaning the exchange rate at which earnings can be wired home in pesos.


Walk inside and you won’t hear a word of English for an hour.


Down the street, patrons sip tequila con limon at the local bar, El Nuevo Tenampa, a name that jumps out from a blue-on-pink sign over the small, white-frame building.


The restaurant in the back of the Ramirezes’ general store has no sign advertising its presence, and no menu. Newly arrived Mexicans soon learn the tacos are made just like in Ciudad, and the enchiladas are as good as those in Torreon.


The mayor of Zebulon, though, still has a hard time believing that this explosion happened in his own back yard.


“Well, they have had an influence of some sort,” Mayor Robert Matheny says. “But I don’t see that the Hispanic population has grown that much over the years.”


At this Mr. Ramirez scoffs.


Clash of cultures


The documented Hispanic growth is bombarding convention in the United States, where voting patterns and race relations long were cast in terms of black and white — and where minority set-asides and other “affirmative action” programs were tailored to give blacks a leg up.


The Census Bureau’s latest numbers are bound to inject even more urgency into political and cultural efforts to court Hispanic votes and spending power. MTV and VH1 already devote custom music channels to the Hispanic market, for example. BMW recently aired its first commercials on Spanish-language television in the Cuban-rich South Florida market, and Aston Martin Jaguar Land Rover North America is preparing a Spanish-language radio campaign.


So-called pinata politics prompts headlines as repetitive as the mantras from the two major parties: “Growing Latino Vote Sought,” “Power Speaks Spanish in Texas,” “Spanish Enters Political Arsenal.”


The Democratic and Republican parties both formed units aimed at recruiting these voters. Party leaders suddenly desired to gain “a better understanding of the issues facing the Hispanic community,” as the Senate’s Democratic leader, Tom Daschle, put it last year in a letter to an activist in Raleigh.


While candidates covet the attention of these potential new voters, resentment festers among established black activists.


A wave of largely unreported black-on-Hispanic crime swept Southern communities in the late ‘90s, as the immigrants met lower-income blacks who had no use for newcomers who didn’t speak English and competed for jobs. Local police departments generally do not keep data on such crime, using the bureaucratic logic that “Hispanic” is an ethnicity rather than a race.


But this sometimes violent clash of cultures, in addition to language barriers and a formidable crime rate among Hispanics, is one reason police departments continue to hire more Hispanic officers and make rudimentary Spanish a part of recruit training.


These new residents do not use banks, fearing paper trails that could tip off immigration officers as well as honoring a tradition in their home countries of being cash-ready.


“They are the perfect target,” says Jay, a black man in his mid-20s standing outside a low-rent apartment complex in Memphis. “They carry lots of cash, and they never call the police.”


Bidding for jobs, a slice of the economic pie and political power, Hispanics are a threat not only in the eyes of impoverished blacks but to the agendas of some well-heeled black activists, who worked for years to solicit governmental favor and a sympathetic public ear.


“I still think that we are going to see this tension fulminate,” says Sgt. Brenda Elmore of the Raleigh (N.C.) Police Department. “The biggest fear we have here is civil unrest between the two groups, as they start to form gangs and the crime against the Hispanics continues.”


‘Their’ language


On its face, parts of Memphis still resemble the old South. Vintage signs, that endearing trademark of the city, flog traditional goods and services: Love’s Seafood and Chicken; Don-Don’s Wings; the Bee Hive Lounge; Festival Wigs.


Now these are joined by signs of a newer South: Chua Pr Da, a child care center sporting the Mexican homeland colors of red and green, and El 7 Mares (“the Seven Seas”), a Mexican eatery at the corner of Jackson Avenue and Orchi Road.


Last spring, Shelby County Mayor A.C. Wharton put up a campaign sign in Spanish along Orchi, just west of El 7 Mares, asking for the vote of these new residents.


A few miles to the south, the Barnes & Noble on Winchester Avenue devotes two shelves of books to Spanish translations of best sellers by Stephen King and John Grisham along with books on Hispanic issues.


The percentage of the Memphis population made up of Hispanics officially is 2.7 percent, a figure questioned by academics and locals alike. In 2000, Hispanic enrollment in the Memphis and Shelby County public schools tripled.


“We came here from Chicago. I told my husband that this is where things are going to happen,” says Maria Saa, the Colombian owner of a nightclub, restaurant, grocery store and other businesses that cater to Hispanics.


The League of United Latin American Citizens will hold its annual convention in 2005 in Little Rock, Ark.


“We chose it because the mid-South is in the middle of an area of rapid growth,” explains Gabriela Lemus, LULAC’s director of policy and legislation. “And it brings attention to an area that nobody thinks about in terms of Hispanics.”


In the Hispanic magnet that is North Carolina, where race so long has meant black and white, the change is more than dramatic.


In this culture, an automobile is a vital sign of economic success. Sunday after church in Zebulon is a Southwestern auto show, with tricked-out trucks and cars sporting vanity plates (“Luptia 1”) and polished sideboards.


Proud, cowboy-hatted Hispanic men pose and preen around their vehicles. One leans against a metallic-blue GMC minivan with a wind scoop on the back and shiny chrome custom wheels. His wife takes a picture.


“That is the most important thing for these new people, that car,” says Federico van Gelderen, publisher of the Raleigh edition of Que Pasa, one of two Spanish-language newspapers in the Triangle region. “They send those pictures back home so people can see how good they are doing.”


‘Already vibrant’


Around the corner, a small group gathers outside Mi Tierra under a welcoming sign (“su tienda Mexicana” – “your mexican store”). Some stand near a pair of pay phones, waiting to call home. The rates are calculated easily with the help of green and white stickers posted there.


The construction laborers, the truck drivers and the field workers send thousands of dollars home each month to parents or wives, providing Connie and Carlos Ramirez at Mi Tierra with their largest profit source.


“They feel like they make so much money, some of them $700 a week, and this is what they have come here for,” says Mrs. Ramirez, who, with her notary license, seems to many Hispanics like the mayor, postmaster and judge all rolled into one. “We make between $6,000 and $7,000 in money-transfer fees every month.”


Zebulon and other nascent immigrant towns are trying to figure out what makes Hispanic commerce tick, the better to tap an estimated annual spending power that Hispanic Business magazine estimates at $540 billion and growing at 10 percent annually.


When Dallas Mayor Laura Miller was running for the City Council in 1998, she made a campaign stop on busy Jefferson Boulevard in Oak Cliff, which is dotted with Mexican-owned restaurants, hardware stores, legal offices and markets.


Cross the Trinity River into her old district, and enter a world apart from the corporate strip mall that is most of Dallas. The viaduct over the Trinity spans about a half-mile from downtown to Oak Cliff on the south side, but it may as well be a border crossing.


E-Z Loans and Angelo’s Car Repair are booming commerce here, while Restoration Hardware and Banana Republic are for those white people.


And like so many other earnestly do-gooder white politicians, Miss Miller made a gaffe that day.


“I stood there and promised them a Starbucks and a Gap,” she recalls, “and they all just stood there looking at me kind of blankly.”


After her speech, a woman came up and tugged on the sleeve of the candidate’s sweater.


“She told me, ‘This is already vibrant. This is what big business is here.’”


Family-run businesses are great commerce in the Hispanic neighborhoods; suburban staples like Starbucks and the Gap have little heft in Oak Cliff.


“It was then that I got it,” the mayor says.


Not just visiting


The running joke among immigrants both legal and illegal is the length of their stay in the United States. They agree there is no need to settle here, just make a little cash and go on back home.


“Two years,” says Pompeo Dominguez, pushing an ice cream cart on a side street in Oak Cliff, where blacks and Hispanics do their best to avoid each other.


His multi-hued cart is emblazoned with the words “Orgulloso de Vivir en America,” or “Proud to Live in America.” Two years ago, he paid a smuggler $1,000 and, on a chilly spring night, waded across the Rio Grande.


Mr. Dominguez, 26, has a wife and three children in Hidalgo, Mexico. He sends $400 a month to them while living with five other men — four are illegals like himself — in a two-bedroom apartment in Oak Cliff.


But it is likely that he won’t go back, and that’s the crux of the leap in Hispanic population: Things are going well here.


“So many of them come here and say they are going home and so they keep their wives in Mexico,” says Ruth Valdverve, a Spanish immigrant who heads the Memphis chapter of LULAC. “But then it turns into 10 years and they are still here. Many of them never become residents and they never go home, either.”


Work is why they are here, almost to a man. To a woman, they are here to be with their men or other family.


When the new arrivals are stopped at the border trying to cross illegally, the common refrain is that they are coming to work somewhere, anywhere. They had a job promised.


And they’ll work anywhere, anytime.


“I’ve been here since 1997, and there is so much work,” one young man from California says.


He speaks Spanish only and is standing with roommates outside the apartment they share in the Hickory Hill neighborhood of southeast Memphis.


“I can’t buy a home because I can’t get a Social Security number. So I keep sending money home and visit one or two times a year. And so I work all the time,” he says, declining to give his name. (“Federales, I can’t have them find me.”)


This young man and so many others like him work weekends, after hours. They work when you don’t even want them there, some employers say.


“Their work ethic is out of this world,” says Jimmy Swinson, owner of J&S Roofing in Goldsboro, N.C., 20 miles east of Zebulon. “It’s better than blacks or whites.”


Mr. Swinson says he had several regular Hispanic employees who wanted to work Thanksgiving.


“Thanksgiving means nothing to us,” he recalls them saying, affecting a Mexican accent in the telling. “So I had dinner and went out and joined them.”


Mexico not home


A kid with a strong back and brown skin is a sure bet for Sun Belt contractors, who will pay $13 an hour for sheet-rock work, $6 an hour for construction to start. If the employee can show up on time and stay sober, the wage moves up fast to $9.


Then there is the overtime, which gives the workers money to buy a satellite dish.


The mark of a Hispanic household in lower-income areas is the dish, which brings in soccer, soap operas and Latino MTV from back home. Drive down the street in any mixed ethnic neighborhood and check for the dishes. Those are the Hispanic homes.


Prudencio and Sylvia Sanchez and their five children settled over the summer into their $103,000 house in Hickory Hill, the Memphis enclave that has become the Spanish Harlem of the South.


He is a greenskeeper at the prestigious Southwind TPC Golf Course. She is a homemaker.


“I take care of my babies,” Mrs. Sanchez says in Spanish. “And he works.”


The Sanchezes’ new neighborhood is racially mixed and working class. Families strive to have a parent at home for the kids, where teen-agers still drive beaters and wear family castoffs and the sidewalks are a little ragged. Iron bars cover some of the doors and windows alongside American flags, throwing a little irony into the dream.


But for Mr. Sanchez, 38, the move to Hickory Hill is a big one, solidifying his status as a full-fledged American. Yet neither he nor his wife can speak much English. Their Nissan pickup has Mexican plates.


The Sanchezes have another home in Mexico that the family visits routinely. The couple have been in the United States for 20 years, 18 of those in California. He was making $5 to $6 an hour there, which made relocating to Memphis a simple math equation.


“More money,” says Mr. Sanchez, his blazing green eyes intent.


A ‘settlement’


The Sanchezes’ real estate agent is Anna Palazola, a Venezuelan who has lived in Memphis since 1981. She deals with an almost exclusively Hispanic clientele, closing on eight to 10 homes a month in pretty much the same southeast sector of the city.


“They come here and know right where they want to live, around other Hispanics,” Miss Palazola, 39, says. “This area is really a settlement.”


The financing generally is supposed to involve a resident or citizenship status, but she isn’t concerned. Many Hispanic business owners conduct transactions of all sorts without regard to immigration status.


Some use illegals as maids, while others solicit smugglers to import cheap labor. They all fall back on the same logic.


“I am not an immigration official,” Miss Palazola says. “I let them come to me with money, and I don’t have to keep track of anything else.”


One of the Sanchezes’ neighbors, a black man with three children, is not impressed with the addition to the block.


“Can they speak English?” he asks, raising a bushy eyebrow and pointing to the Sanchezes’ dream house.


Welcome to the neighborhood.




Part II. Mutual mistrust


LOS ANGELES — Early dusk in South Central and a black gangbanger is tagging a sun-bleached stucco wall along Slauson Avenue with blue spray paint.


“Murder” is the message of the graffiti vandal’s barely legible scrawl.


A mile away, Gustavo Huerta locks the gate to his modest, well-kept bungalow on West 59th Street.


He, wife Linda and their three children are inside.




South Central, once a nationally known black ghetto, is now predominantly Hispanic. In many ways, this insurgence means more of the same: crime all the time.


But in other ways, the new arrivals are angry about the legacy left by the 1992 riots — a landscape of decimated storefronts and graffiti-marked gang territory.


The new Hispanic residents want the culture that perpetrated the wreckage gone.


In the mile radius circling Western and Slauson avenues, the Hispanic population jumped 68 percent between 1990 and 2000 as the black population plummeted 21 percent. Similar contrasting shifts, likely understated by the census, hold true throughout this beleaguered area.


The Starbucks at Chesterfield Square is a nice touch, and the Home Depot brought $9-an-hour jobs. But they don’t do much to ease the strain of immigration and migration.


Many Hispanics here will tell you that black is no good. They will tell you that thugs scared them and attacked them, singling them out for crime even as many lower-income blacks took flight or, in some cases, died from crack and its attendant lifestyle.


Blacks, many hardworking and long established on this turf, will tell you that the Mexicans came in and took the jobs, pretty much invading the place. And Mexican gangs, they say, are running and ruining some neighborhoods that “regular Joe” blacks once enjoyed.


“They took our homes and our schools,” says Morris Griffin, nicknamed “Big Money,” a maintenance worker for Los Angeles County who lives in Inglewood, a mostly black extension of South Central.


“Our elderly are being forced to move out because of new schools the city had to build to hold all of their kids,” Mr. Griffin, a 52-year-old New Jersey native, says of the Mexicans as he props his feet up on a desk in a cubicle of the Southside building where he works.


Mr. Griffin, 6-foot-6 and a former college basketball player, calls himself a civil rights activist. Except when it comes to the “infiltrators.”


He sees the ethnic transformation when he drives to work, past the B&B Barbecue Connection down the street from Fernando’s Lumber No. 3. He knows the smells of chicken adobo and fresh mole sauce. He reads the signs advertising fresh pupusas at the new Salvadoran eateries. He notes the older-model Fords with pastiches of maroon primer.


“We’re talking about people who were blamed for taking our jobs,” Mr. Griffin says. “It feels like those jobs went straight to them. And they multiply in a big way, all the time.”


‘Why should we?’


This browning of the nation, in which the Hispanic population soared by 58 percent in the ‘90s to overtake the non-Hispanic black population, makes some among the nation’s longer-established minority a little testy.


“Why should we be in coalition with some group that wants to outnumber us?” asks Shannon Reeves, head of the Oakland, Calif., chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.


Even so, Mr. Reeves has begun to assemble participants for a conference later this year that aims to encourage peace in this clash of minority cultures.


Rep. Maxine Waters, California Democrat, angered Hispanic activists when she appeared in an ad on behalf of Los Angeles Mayor James Hahn during his contentious, successful race against Antonio Villaraigosa in 2001.


“She made it in general, this endorsement, for all African-Americans. And that was wrong,” union leader Miguel Contreras says. “Black officials are going to have to be more sensitive when it comes to Hispanics. Things like that can come back to haunt her.”


Across the country, a bill in the Georgia state legislature to formally recognize Hispanics as a minority stalled in 2001 after several black lawmakers initially refused to back it.


State law first enacted in 1984 gave companies an incentive to hire minority subcontractors: a tax break of 10 percent on all payments, up to $100,000, made to those subcontractors. The new measure passed, with the dissenters signing on.


State Rep. Bob Holmes, a member of Georgia’s Legislative Black Caucus, was an early objector. He argued that government programs to help minority businesses were remedies for discrimination against racial groups such as blacks and American Indians.


Hispanics are a “language group” with no history of being discriminated against in Georgia, Mr. Holmes argued. He and other black legislators protested that including Hispanics in the definition of minority could “dilute the original intent of such programs.”


When the Dallas school board formulated a plan to create a third majority-Hispanic district in an area of Oak Cliff, black residents made enough noise to defeat it. The plan would have eliminated a black seat on the nine-member board.


The Rev. W. Raymond Bryant was among the protesters.


“We just weren’t about to let them do that,” says Mr. Bryant, who at the time led St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church in a seedy part of Dallas and is now a pastor in Austin, Texas. “They wanted to put more blacks with the Hispanics. Now why would we let them do that?”


Blacks showed up in large numbers at a hearing on the school redistricting plan.


Mr. Bryant, 45, claims no racial animus.


“But blacks like to say, ‘I have an Hispanic friend,’ just like whites used to say, ‘I have a black friend,’ “ the minister explains, noting the hypocrisy of tokenism. “So it is funny: We are doing something now that we accused whites of doing.”


‘Tough guy’ frown


When the Huertas moved to South Central Los Angeles in 1989 from a better area over by the Ramparts police station, near MacArthur Park, the place was predominantly black.


Gustavo Huerta says his kids — Steven, now 23, Frank, 18, and Marlene, 16 — were robbed by locals. Gunfire at night was an unsettling lullaby.


“I wore a frown all the time when I would walk around here because I had to look like a tough guy,” Steven Huerta says, recalling himself at age 10.


The family sits in the living room of their small home. Cozy and modestly decorated, the two-story, four-bedroom house essentially is a fortress.


The peach and lemon trees in the front yard are part of the local landscape. So is the 5-foot-high wrought-iron fence with a gate that is always locked. And so is the bullet-chipped red brick of the Huerta home.


“I was grilling out here one day,” says Mr. Huerta, a small, weathered man of 49 who has worked with his hands all of his life. “Some car drove down the street shooting, and I just stood here with my spatula.”


Even after living in the United States for 30 years, his English is a bit fractured. But he gamely plows ahead, with some humility. Now he realizes what he is trying to say.


“Two years ago, nobody could walk around here and be safe; it was half blacks. But then the Spanish people moved in. Now it is safe.”


Over 10 years, much of the black population died or left, sometimes headed for prison.


“We had a family living two doors down from us, they all sold drugs,” Mr. Huerta says. “When police would arrest the son or the father, the mother and the sisters would sell.”


Three of those neighbors died of street symptoms: drug deals gone sour, gang wars, bad health from all the dope.


“That was good for the neighborhood,” Mr. Huerta says.


Three years after he took on the $600 monthly mortgage, the neighborhood was ravaged by the riots of 1992.


Mr. Huerta got tired of it real quick. Like on the days when his children came home from Manual Arts High School and told him that there weren’t enough books for each student, or that black and Hispanic gangsters were beating up the unaffiliated Hispanic kids.


But “the whole place got better,” he says, when black neighbors started moving out of South Central. “We didn’t have to be afraid as much.”


Gustavo Huerta and thousands of other Hispanics — almost all Mexicans — moved here because the housing was cheap and the work plentiful. They could get jobs at the plants in nearby Watts or in the tire shops or Mexican eateries. And they could walk or take the bus and be home by sundown, when the trouble started every day.


But the new arrivals also carried a crime wave of their own in the form of Mexican street gangs, which still run rampant. The mix of black and Hispanic gangs, each violently guarding territory, continues to make South Central a war zone.


“We have people here who won’t even come to work unless they know I am here and carrying a gun,” says Miguel, who manages a steel manufacturing company in Watts.


He doesn’t want his last name used “because I’ve already had people try to hurt me for speaking out against the neighborhood.”


Hard lessons


The Hispanic migration to the South coincided with a black return, and racial scuffles are not unusual.


In Memphis, Tenn., black-on-brown crime rose dramatically. The city scrambled to find a way to quell conflict. Municipal leaders looked at the 2000 census figures — 2.97 percent Hispanic — and thought: Why does it seem like there are so many more?


Because Hispanics were grossly undercounted, says Dilka Roman, former head of the local chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens.


She says the city of 650,000 is almost 25 percent Hispanic.


The city’s solution was Marco Yzaguirre, a 35-year-old Peruvian, a towering, barrel-chested man with a shaved head and a simple MO: respect.


“I was appointed Hispanic outreach sector of the Memphis Police Department two years ago,” Officer Yzaguirre says, walking through a neighborhood in Hickory Hill that is home to the majority of the city’s Hispanics. “We have started to teach them to use the banks instead of carrying their money. And we have taught them that it is OK to call the police.”


Officer Yzaguirre has a favorite story about how the newcomers began to fight back when the local black criminal element overwhelmed them.


“The Latin Kings — the street gang — came to town when a bunch of Mexicans started getting hit — robberies and murders,” he explains.


Some Mexican guys, drinking beer in a parked car, were confronted by three masked black men with guns drawn.


“The guys in the car scattered, and the black guys started firing on them, but one of the guys in the car, from the Latin Kings, drew his weapon,” Officer Yzaguirre recalls. “And he shot one of the black guys right there.”


The officer points to the center of his forehead.


“This guy was dropped dead, still holding his gun when we got there.”


Investigators concluded it was self-defense. One witness to the attempted robbery was a black man who lived nearby. The shooter fled to Mexico.


A matter of respect


“It’s really tough to convince Latinos that blacks aren’t all bad,” Officer Yzaguirre says. “They will talk to [white officers] or me, but they won’t even talk to a black officer.”


The history of the Deep South doesn’t mean a thing to David Cortez. He knows little of the civil rights movement that took place so many years ago in Memphis, where he now lives.


Cortez is 22. He wasn’t even alive when Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968.


But the Mexican construction worker, a convicted felon, knows one thing: He won’t let blacks at Eastview Apartments mess with him, as they have with his Hispanic neighbors.


“I’ll respect them if they respect me, but they should know not to mess with me,” says Cortez, 130 pounds of cocky charisma.


Cortez got out of county jail a year ago; he did a year for shooting and wounding a black man. It was the street way of dealing with a spate of black-on-Hispanic crime, which later leveled off. But when Cortez moved here two years ago, there were as many as six homicides a month.


“It seemed as though we were shipping bodies to Mexico every week,” Officer Yzaguirre says.


Break-through-the-door, home-invasion robberies were not unusual. People got seriously hurt, usually Hispanics, newcomers to Memphis seeking good pay for construction work and the company of others who speak their language.


“They also have jobs that we used to have, and they do it for less money,” says Will, a black man, standing in front of his apartment building in Eastview.


Will looks across the parking lot at a half-dozen Hispanics who are tinkering with a rusty blue Toyota pickup. He makes this pronouncement not so much in defense of the crimes, but more to think it through himself.


“I mean, they work for so little, and we have to wonder why they do that. If you are working a job for $8 an hour and they come along and will do it for $5, that’s a pretty easy choice.”


Cortez, who works construction in nearby Mississippi these days, says he has news for his black neighbors.


“Just give us three or four years,” he says, “and we’ll take over. There will be more of us.”


A lack of trust


Eastview is one of a growing number of lower-class complexes on the Southeast side, where Memphis’ two primary minorities live together but separately.


For many Hispanics, that means hitting the parking lot, drinking Budweiser and smoking Marlboro Reds, working on someone’s car and shooting the breeze.


Always the talking, the incessant Spanish staccato, about home, about friends, about soccer, about work.


And in turns, they glance nervously at small gatherings of blacks around doorways, under stairways, in the same parking lot. Ask a group of Hispanics whether they hang out with black neighbors and the nervous glances turn to nervous laughter.


“No, no,” says Dennis Hernandez, 30, who arrived in Memphis from Honduras five years ago.


Mr. Hernandez knows of the intimidation and crimes perpetrated on the burgeoning Hispanic community.


“We can’t trust them,” he says.


Slight glance at three blacks, two of them holding leashed dogs.


“It’s just too hard after all of that.”


“We are not prejudiced, but it seems that they commit all of these crimes,” adds another man, a construction worker wearing dusty jeans, a T-shirt and boots and clutching a 22-ounce Bud. “We know there are good ones, just as there are good Mexicans and bad Mexicans.”


Many blacks, meanwhile, don’t understand the tidal wave of immigration that is transforming their city.


“I lived here seven years ago and there were none,” says Candice, a young black woman who is hanging out at the back of her apartment building. “Now they are everywhere.”


Suspicious minds


The girlfriends eating lunch together at Carolina Turkeys in Mount Olive, N.C., are at odds over their brown-skinned co-workers, who sit within earshot under the lunchroom’s incandescent lights.


Lovie Fikes looks like someone’s kindly grandmother, but she isn’t ready to embrace all these newcomers. They don’t speak much English, she says, and they aren’t even nice.


Miss Fikes has lived her 59 years as the largest minority in the South, and she isn’t comfortable accommodating this rival group.


And besides: “They’re mean, some of those ladies. I work with them. We try, I guess. But they could go back, and it would be all right with me.”


Hazel Chester, sitting across the table, has another complaint.


“They don’t pay taxes, I know that,” she says.


But Danielle Hastin, almost 40 years younger than Miss Fikes, went to high school with Hispanic teens and concedes “they were cool.”


“Some of them hung out with us,” she says. “Nobody really minded them, and some of us were friends.”


The three black women are in the minority among the 2,400 employees of Carolina Turkeys, one of the largest producers of turkey meat in the world. Hispanic workers outnumber black workers almost 3-to-1.


The 16-year-old company sits on 2,000 rural acres in the deep green Southern outback. Unions disparage the business for its $7-an-hour wage and 109-unit trailer park set aside for employees.


Saladin Muhammad, chairman of Black Workers for Justice and lead organizer of United Electrical Workers Local 150, mounted an unsuccessful campaign a couple of years ago to unionize Carolina Turkeys. He called for solidarity between black and Hispanic workers.


But most employees didn’t want anything to do with that.


“Why do we want to endanger our work, which some of us broke the law to get?” one Hispanic asks.


Racism redux


Mr. Muhammad contends that many employers play on the competition. Hispanics are willing to work for a lower wage and make up for it in overtime; blacks, longtime union advocates, in many cases hold the union line.


The result?


“The same kind of racism that exists between black and white workers now exists between black and brown,” Mr. Muhammad says.


The black-brown alliances forged most easily are born of politics and struggle, liberal laws and civil rights agitation.


On a national level, the NAACP, the Urban League and other black-led civic organizations for years have extended invitations to Hispanics. The response has been less than enthusiastic, as Hispanic activists formed their own coalitions, such as La Raza and the League of United Latin American Citizens.


Pablo Pena got his job at Carolina Turkeys the old-fashioned way: He walked up to the employment office, filled out an application, found a place to live in the trailer park.


And here Mr. Pena is, ready for another day in the liquid-freeze department on the turkey line, where tens of thousands of headless birds move along in an immaculate, 40-degree processing warehouse.


“I come here to work, to save money for college,” Mr. Pena says. “I need $7,000 for college in Chiapas. I think I can get it in two years, and then go back.”


A black co-worker, Wayne Kornegay, wasn’t happy to see Mr. Pena.


When he first noticed the influx of Hispanics in his native Mount Olive, Mr. Kornegay asked: “Why are they here?”


For money, he was told. His response was point-blank.


“Don’t they have money where they come from?”




Part III. Suspicious minds


HOUSTON -- Orlando Sanchez, a blue-eyed Cuban, is ready to make another race for mayor of Houston after a narrow loss in 2001 to the city’s black incumbent, Lee Brown.


But Mr. Sanchez, a Republican running for the nonpartisan office, says he can’t count on black voters to make him the first Hispanic to take the helm of the nation’s fourth-largest city.


“They see the pie as finite and limited,” Mr. Sanchez, 45, says. “If an Hispanic gets in, they see a diminution of services, but it really isn’t that way at all.”


Mr. Sanchez’s dilemma in addressing the suspicions of black voters — that the burgeoning Mexican population of Houston threatens their jobs, housing and services — reflects increasing street-level tensions across the nation as the Hispanic population soared by 58 percent in the 1990s to overtake non-Hispanic blacks as the largest minority.


At the national level, black and Hispanic leaders continue to call for coalition and common cause between the two groups, downplaying conflict over such issues as affirmative action, immigration policy, bilingual education and redistricting.


But some ugly political fights at the local level foreshadow the increasing difficulty of embracing a common agenda as Hispanics, lacking blacks’ racial solidarity and still fragmented by their nations of origin, test their political muscle:


•Los Angeles Mayor James Hahn defeated Antonio Villaraigosa, former majority leader of the state Assembly, with 80 percent of the black vote in 2001 and an ad that linked him to favors for a drug dealer. Mr. Hahn, who is white, enjoyed a hearty endorsement from Rep. Maxine Waters, California Democrat, who is black.


Some analysts attributed Mr. Hahn’s appeal among blacks to the legacy of his father, a former Los Angeles County supervisor. Poll data, though, showed blacks also voted against Mr. Villaraigosa, the eldest son of a Mexican immigrant and a Mexican-American secretary, out of growing resentments over Hispanic gains in political and economic clout.


•Hispanics and blacks wrestled in court and public hearings in recent years over the redrawing of district boundaries in Florida, Texas, New Jersey and California because the final lines could determine whether blacks or Hispanics win state or federal political office.


The two groups butted heads two years ago in Dallas, delaying a school board election until district lines could be redrawn to reflect the new census numbers. The figures showed Hispanics to be 35 percent of the population, outnumbering blacks by more than 100,000.


“Blacks are now threatened by us, even though they have used our numbers for years to show how large the ‘minority’ community is,” says Dallas lawyer Adelfa Callejo, who led the fight for Hispanic parents. “They are threatened by us because they know we have the numbers.”


•Mr. Sanchez came within 4,383 votes — fewer than 1 percent of the total — of denying Mr. Brown a third term in Houston. In an 11th-hour ad campaign, he said, the mayor played the race card to pull out the victory.


The ads featured the sister of James Byrd Jr., the black man who was dragged to his death by whites in east Texas, slamming Mr. Sanchez for not supporting a hate crimes bill while on the Houston City Council. The tactic, Mr. Sanchez said, “went beyond decency.”


Mr. Brown in turn accused Mr. Sanchez of “consciously targeting a certain ethnic group that speaks a certain language and emphasizing a last name that definitely appealed to many of them, regardless of the issues.”


Such conflict on the political stage is not likely to abate.


“We are going to see more and more of that kind of thing,” says Tatcho Mindiola Jr., author of “Black Brown: Relations and Stereotypes” and director of the Center for Mexican-American Studies at the University of Houston.


“Hispanics trail African-Americans in terms of political maturation, African-Americans vote in larger numbers and have more elected officials, but Latinos are beginning to make their move,” Mr. Mindiola says. “And because they tend to live in a lot of the same areas, there are bound to be these conflicts.”


The numbers game


For now, some black critics of the census count insist that Hispanics — who can be of any race originating from Spanish-speaking nations — are not a true minority but an ethnic group. If anything, the reasoning goes, they should be considered white, as many Hispanics see themselves.


“What has been done here is to compare a race with a language group,” says Ron Walters, a University of Maryland professor who directs the African-American Leadership Institute. “And in some ways, that means that blacks are still the largest minority because Hispanics can be white, black or brown.”


Studies in Houston, Los Angeles and other major U.S. cities found that non-Hispanic blacks — even those with more education and higher-paying jobs — are much less accepting of immigration than are non-Hispanic whites.


Analysts note that blacks exhibit more racial solidarity and are concerned that Hispanic immigrants — even illegals — are benefiting from the fruits of blacks’ civil rights struggle. Affirmative action policies likely exacerbate the unease between the groups as they compete for minority positions or set-aside contracts.


The number of Hispanics will leap from 37 million to 88 million by 2020 and account for 21 percent of the U.S. population, while blacks hold at 12 percent, according to projections by Strategy Research Corp. published in Hispanic Trends magazine.


Hispanic turnout in the November general elections doubled between 1990 and 2000, from 2.9 million to 5.9 million. But census numbers show that only 27.5 percent of the voting-age Hispanic population actually voted in 2000, compared with 53.5 percent of blacks.


President Bush won 35 percent of the Hispanic vote that year, according to Voter News Service exit polls. Republicans aim for 40 percent in 2004.


But for now, more than 90 percent of the nation’s roughly 4,500 Hispanic elected officials claim Democratic as their partisan affiliation.


On paper, at least, this puts them on the same political page as the approximately 10,000 black elected officials, who are overwhelmingly Democratic. And indeed, black and Hispanic activists do find common ground on some issues, such as their fight for fair housing and opposition to racial profiling.


Conflict or competition?


Although Democrats may have secured Hispanics for now, however, at least a quarter of them are not yet old enough to vote.


In addition, exit polls and other surveys show Hispanic political affiliation leaning Republican as household income rises. A pool of 40 percent to 50 percent of Hispanic voters with household incomes below $50,000 consider themselves “independent” and, in theory, are persuadable.


Accounts of black-Hispanic friction — on the streets, at work, in the political arena — irritate Andrew Hernandez, who has made a mini-crusade of downplaying such rifts.


“Some people call it conflict, but it is really competition,” says Mr. Hernandez, executive director of the 21st Century Leadership Center at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio. “There is nothing unusual about African-Americans voting for African-Americans and Hispanics voting for Hispanics.”


He also cites several recent political collaborations:


•In New York, Democratic mayoral candidate Freddy Ferrer, a Puerto Rican, attracted solid backing in 2001 from black voters with the encouragement of activist Al Sharpton.


•Democrat John Street, who is black, was elected mayor of Philadelphia in 2000 with the support of the city’s Hispanics.


•In Illinois, Democrat Carol Moseley-Braun, the first black woman ever elected to the U.S. Senate, garnered 83 percent of the Hispanic vote in her losing 1998 re-election race.


“The nature of politics is competition, but for people to insist there is conflict [between blacks and Hispanics] is simply not true,” Mr. Hernandez says.


Mr. Sharpton, whose protest of the U.S. Navy’s bombing range at Vieques, Puerto Rico, landed him in jail for 90 days, argues that many blacks and Hispanics “are in similar situations.”


“I would hope to continue our alliance,” Mr. Sharpton says. “We need to find even stronger bonds.”


“The white male power elite has always tried to drive a wedge and create division between blacks and Latinos,” says New York City Council member Charles Barron, who is black. “And I think some of us have bought into that, wrongly.


“Others try to say that blacks are angry because Latinos have come in and taken our jobs,” Mr. Barron adds. “Well, what is really happening is that all the ‘haves’ have too much and there isn’t anything left.”


The Republican push


“Hispanics are Republicans,” Ronald Reagan once said. “They just don’t know it yet.”


What the nation’s Hispanics are not, though, is as fixed in their voting habits as blacks, whose modern devotion to the Democratic Party all but stymies overtures from the Republican Party. President Bush, for one, keeps on trying.


In November’s midterm elections, though, a mere 11 of the 61 Hispanics elected at the state and congressional levels — or 18 percent — were Republicans.


Still, that encourages some Republican strategists, who have begun to take the long view that “the minority vote” means Hispanic, not black.


“It was like a five-yard run instead of an 80-yard touchdown pass,” Rudy Fernandez, director of grass-roots development for the Republican National Committee, says of the midterm results.


Mr. Fernandez led the party’s unprecedented effort to land Hispanics at the polls, with mixed results. The move was significant, though, in showing just how dedicated the party has become to wooing this rapidly growing share of the electorate that shows a willingness to listen to Republican candidates.


“We are finding that as Latinos become more educated, they tend to vote more Republican,” says Larry Gonzalez, director of the Washington office of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO).


One recent indicator of Hispanics’ own competing agendas is the disagreement over whether Miguel Estrada is “Hispanic enough” for a federal appeals court slot. It became so strident that the National Council of La Raza called for both sides to cool down.


The plea for civility from the nation’s largest constituency-based Hispanic organization underscored deep division over Mr. Estrada, whom Mr. Bush nominated to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.


Among Hispanic interest groups opposing him are the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Foundation and the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund. Among supporters are the League of United Latin American Citizens and the Hispanic National Bar Association.


Mr. Sanchez, a Houston businessman, starts with the premise that everybody wants a good job, a nice home, the American dream — black and Hispanic and white alike.


“That is one of the most Republican, conservative districts in this country,” the mayoral candidate says, gesturing out at the 7th Congressional District, where Hispanics make up 16 percent of the electorate.


“Hispanics are made to be Republicans,” Mr. Sanchez says, echoing Mr. Reagan’s grand pronouncement of more than 20 years ago. “They have these strong work and family values that should be tapped.


“I agree that education is the number one issue, and I think a lot of African-Americans feel that way,” he says, sitting on a balcony outside his office at the Galleria mall on a sunny afternoon. “And on everyday issues, I think that Republicans and Hispanics are in lock step. This is why we see the Republican Party making such a major move to get that vote.”


Blacks by contrast, Mr. Sanchez argues, “have voted as a bloc and been stuck in the promises of the Great Society and told that it is taboo to break out of that pack.”


A Milwaukee tradition


Hector Colon, a 30-year-old Puerto Rican, plans to run next year for a seat on the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors.


Here in Mr. Colon’s native Milwaukee, the census says 13 percent of the population is Hispanic, a jump of 82 percent since 1990. When he hit his teen years, the city he grew up in was black and white and on its way to urban seed.


“I’m a Democrat, as most of the Hispanics here are,” Mr. Colon proudly announces.


The seven-time amateur boxing champion, who recently turned pro, expects to run from a district that is 67 percent Hispanic. But, Mr. Colon says, “the low voter turnout of Latinos means that they may not be the ones getting me in.”


He worked to get out the vote in 2000, shoulder to shoulder with black, white and Hispanic volunteers from local unions, Operation Big Vote, the NAACP National Voter Fund, the A. Philip Randolph Institute and the League of Women Voters.


Al Gore won the Milwaukee area by 5,500 votes — an estimated 2,900 from Hispanics.


Mr. Colon paid $50 to attend a two-day seminar in Milwaukee last spring on the ins and outs of raising money for a political campaign, launching a message and mobilizing supporters. NALEO sponsored the traveling workshop and a cast of partisan local presenters.


State Rep. Pedro Colon, a lanky, 34-year-old Democrat with designer spectacles and a boisterous, animated manner, is among the speakers who addresses about 30 participants.


“Hispanics running for office are given a lot of expectations,” explains Mr. Colon, who is not related to Hector. “There are issues they are expected to tackle: immigration, women’s issues, English-only debates and even boxing.”


Showing up


Attendees learned an important lesson at NALEO’s workshop: Illegal immigrants can work in campaigns, and often do. Just because they can’t cast a ballot doesn’t mean they can’t make calls, prepare mailings and run errands.


“They can be volunteers, they can help get out the vote, they can make a difference,” notes Christine Neumann-Ortiz, representing Voces de la Frontera (“Voices From the Border”), a workers’ rights group for illegals.


Marcelo Gaete, who organizes these campaign workshops as NALEO’s deputy director of programs, later says that no other views were presented because “this town is run by Democrats.”


Mr. Gaete may not have intended to do the bidding of the Democratic Party. But the effect is the same as speakers slip their agenda into classroom banter: pro-immigration, pro-choice, pro-union.


Most of Milwaukee’s Hispanic community — Hector Colon among them — lives in Walker’s Point, a 110-block area on the north side. An anti-smoking billboard, in Spanish, greets visitors who cross the Menomonee River. It is the first sign of the growing population of immigrants and trailing family members. The next signs are the restaurants — Salvadoran, Mexican, name it.


The United Community Center is here, a rather industrial-looking place that boasts gyms, classrooms and the chatter of social services. The center is run by Walter Sava, who notes that Milwaukee’s fledgling Hispanic politicos learned their stuff from the city’s black leaders.


“They have a history here, and while they are separate groups, the Hispanics and the blacks can and do get together on issues,” he says. “There are also some who are not as comfortable here, as we have mostly Spanish-speaking people here.”


Voters in Walker’s Point voted almost 3-1 for Mr. Gore, and residents say the Republican Party has yet to come knocking. The formidable Democratic machine aims to ensure that these wards, small as they are, reinforce Democratic voting patterns that will be passed along in the swelling Hispanic electorate.


“Latinos are willing to vote for anybody who will show up at their door and will listen,” Milwaukee school board member Jennifer Morales says.


‘Rally around it’


Nick Pacheco thinks he can give Republicans and Democrats a lesson in winning the Hispanic vote.


The Los Angeles City Council member gives straight talk that makes Sen. John McCain and his Beltway rhetoric look more like small talk. He says that candidates can’t just appeal to Hispanics’ nationalism.


“I went into the district and talked to them, all the time, and I asked them for their vote,” says Mr. Pacheco, 38 and the son of Mexican immigrants.


The Democrat represents District 14, a blue-collar tract that includes most of downtown and the east portion of the city as well as bohemian Highland Park and mostly white Eagle Rock. The district is 84 percent Hispanic and draws a crowd of Democratic primary candidates.


Mr. Pacheco grew up in Boyle Heights. He lived there until 2001. To win his council seat in 1999, he defeated a fellow Democrat who outspent him by nearly $800,000. It didn’t hurt that he was camera-ready and spoke in sound bites.


“I may not have been the best candidate,” Mr. Pacheco says, unflinchingly. “But I ran the best campaign.”


How to capture the Hispanic vote?


“Get them to connect their hopes to a candidate and make sure that they know that if they only get out to vote, that candidate will help them.”


Mr. Pacheco is mining those potential votes again for his re-election bid. They flourish in the streets of Boyle Heights, where men in cowboy hats drink beer in the parks off Cesar E. Chavez Avenue, and at the exhaust-drenched bus stops where mothers wait with strollers and arms full of produce to take home for dinner.


Mr. Pacheco goes there to push his platform of a new government that works for all people and is composed of regular guys — like him. In his last campaign, he disparaged the climate of professional politics at city hall and let his people know that he was one of them, a boy from Boyle Heights.


“Get a key issue and rally around it — that is how you get out a vote,” he says.


Return on investment


“There is no Hispanic vote,” insists Fernando Oaxaca, 75, a Ford administration appointee and retired engineer who lives in west Los Angeles. “The Hispanic vote is a composite that the media put a label on, do a survey of 1,000 Hispanics, and it sells. But there are Hispanic people in Miami who vote quite differently and have different issues that matter to them than those Hispanics in Los Angeles.


“To me, the Hispanic mentality, the view of the world, is more in sync with Republicans right now, while blacks are now a large part of the middle class but don’t seem to be voting Republican,” Mr. Oaxaca says.


Mr. Oaxaca, of Mexican heritage but born in the United States, founded the National Hispanic Republican Assembly 30 years ago. Once boasting a dues-paying membership of 20,000, it has dwindled to a few thousand today.


“At that time, when you said ‘minority,’ it meant ‘black,’ “ Mr. Oaxaca says of his stint in Washington three decades ago. “There was no sensitivity at all to the Hispanics as a minority.”


Much of official, political Washington did not envision that Hispanics would have major implications for national politics. Texas, sure; California, of course. But nationally?


“For Republicans, at least, there is now a return on the investment with Hispanics,” Mr. Oaxaca says. “And for Democrats as well, I suppose.”


The short-term return for both parties is fealty to an agenda that can capture the White House in 2004.


When the updated census numbers last month confirmed that Hispanics had eclipsed non-Hispanic blacks in population, some black politicians and activists grumbled that the announcement was politically motivated by Republicans.


“It was a political attempt to gain favor with the Spanish-speaking people in the country,” says Yvonne Scruggs-Leftwich, who heads the Black Leadership Forum. “These census figures also include people who are undocumented, which also skews the figures, if we are counting Americans.


“The whole thing was a smoke screen that has to do with the presidential election of 2004 and the appearance of garnering more support for one political party,” Miss Scruggs-Leftwich says. “When the party in power issues a press statement like that, there is more to it than just counting people.”


Gabriella Lemus, legislative director of the League of United Latin American Citizens, rejects that notion.


“Frankly, it has a lot to do with funding issues and who gets what,” she says. “Perhaps that’s why there are some misgivings here. I think we could be doing so much more by working together, African-American and Latinos. Instead of going for crumbs, we should be baking the pie.”


The “who’s bigger” argument has arisen before, notes Eric Rodriguez, director of the economic mobility initiative at La Raza, another Hispanic advocacy group.


“It is clear that down the line, there will be a larger disparity between the two communities,” Mr. Rodriguez says.