Blacks, Hispanics, Asians trying to work together

April 08, 1991|By Arch Parsons | Arch Parsons,Washington Bureau of The Sun Researcher Roman Ponos of The Sun's Washington Bureau contributed to this article.

WASHINGTON — An article in yesterday's editions of The Sun on relations among black, Hispanic and Asian-Americans should have stated that there are two Californians of Asian descent in the House of Representatives. They are Robert T. Matsui and Norman Y. Mineta, Democrats, both of Japanese descent.

The Sun regrets the errors.

WASHINGTON -- Blacks, Hispanics and Asians, approaching parity as the three predominant non-white minorities in a new national racial balance, are cautiously testing "ethnic diplomacy" a means of reducing friction among them and creating a basis for cooperation.

Based on the 1990 census, what is being called the "equilibrium" of the nation's major racial and ethnic minorities underwent a radical transformation the last decade.


Black Americans, 12 percent of the nation's population, still constitute the largest racial minority. But a continuing explosion of the nation's Hispanic and Asian populations has raised these two minorities to 9 percent and 3 percent respectively -- enough to force all three groups to question whether their future relationships with each other will be competitive or cooperative.

A measure of resentment and hostility -- nothing new to the relationships -- not only continues but in some areas has intensified. However, interviews with black, Hispanic and Asian leaders indicated that they were at least in rhetorical agreement that cooperation and collaboration among them are essential.

Raul Yzaguirre, president of the National Council of La Raza, the leading Hispanic advocacy organization, acknowledged that "the new demographics mean a new era in terms of inter-minority relations. That's good -- and it is also troublesome."

Relations between blacks and Hispanics "have not been particularly wholesome or happy in the last 20 years," Mr. Yzaguirre said.

Billy Tidwell, director of research for the National Urban League, one of the oldest and best-known black civil-rights organizations, said the three minorities needed to "press for a domestic agenda of their overriding common interests."

"There will have to be some give and take," Mr. Tidwell said.

On this basis, the three minorities have undertaken -- albeit sporadically and gingerly -- efforts to prevent, or at least control, all-out turf struggles among themselves. These are the efforts being described as ethnic diplomacy.

The concept surfaced a dozen years ago when M. Carl Holman, then president of the National Urban Coalition, sought to bring together the heads of major black, Hispanic and Asian organizations to discuss issues common to them.

Some invitees from black organizations failed to show up; others came but quickly left.

Mr. Yzaguirre recently offered an explanation of why Mr. Holman's attempt was a bust.

"For many years, blacks were able to define minority concerns -- civil rights, affirmative action, poverty -- in black terms. Why bring the two other minorities -- us, the Asians -- into the fold at that time? There was no payoff for blacks in that -- then.

"If the situation had been reversed and Hispanics had been the dominant minority, we would probably have acted in the same way.

"In 1978, blacks perceived that Hispanics could neither help nor hurt them. Now the black leadership is beginning to understand that we have the capacity to do both. And that's beginning to pay off."

Last year S. B. Woo, then president of the Organization of Chinese Americans, probably the strongest Asian advocacy organization, invited Mr. Yzaguirre and Benjamin L. Hooks, executive director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, to a meeting to discuss strategies for this decade.

Both Mr. Hooks and Mr. Yzaguirre showed up -- Mr. Woo has apicture of the three, arms linked, to prove it.

Afterward, Mr. Woo reported that "several ongoing joint projects" had been discussed, including "the development of minority small-business ventures and advocating fair immigration policies."

Mr. Yzaguirre called Mr. Woo very courageous for taking the lead on the meeting, but the Hispanic leader also described it as "very preliminary."

More extensive, in-depth meetings with a more concrete agenda are needed, he said, beginning with sessions between blacks and Hispanics, "who have got to work out some very serious issues."

Two such black-Hispanic sessions were held later last year.

One was a three-day ethnic diplomacy conference sponsored by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Research, a public affairs center concerned mainly with black issues.

Milton Morris, the center's director of research, said the conference resulted in two discoveries. The first, he said, was "that it is easy to sell [the ethnic diplomacy] notion in principle, but it's a lot more difficult when you start saying, 'OK, so what are we going to collaborate on? What are our common issues?' "

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.