Washington-style unrest could flare in 4 cities where grievances are similar

May 12, 1991|By Arch Parsons | Arch Parsons,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- In at least four major cities -- New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Miami -- Hispanic grievances could lead to disturbances similar to the rioting that occurred in Washington last week, according to the head of the nation's major Hispanic advocacy organization.

Raul Yzaguirre, president of the National Council of La Raza, said he would estimate that the prospects were "80 percent that within two to three years we're going to have an earthquake in one of the four," adding that like any earthquake, it was impossible to say precisely where or when it would occur.

Other Hispanic leaders and some urban analysts were less willing to express as much certainty about the future. But when asked to compare the problems of Washington's Latino population with those faced by Hispanics in the other cities, they agreed the problems were essentially the same everywhere: unemployment; an absence of local political clout; police "hassling"; clash of cultures; and -- most often heard -- a lack of channels for Hispanics to bring grievances to the attention of the local government and get action.

"There has to be a pressure valve," said Harry Pachon, director of the Los Angeles-based National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials.

"People get frustrated when they have no avenues for addressing their complaints," said Representative Solomon P. Ortiz, D-Texas, chairman of the Hispanic Coalition in Congress.

Mr. Yzaguirre's assessment targeted the three cities with the largest Hispanic populations in the nation. On the basis of last year's census, New York ranked first with 1,783,511 Hispanics, or 24.4 percent of a total population of 7,322,564; Los Angeles was next with 1,391,411 Hispanics, or 39.9 percent of a 3,485,398 total; and Chicago was third, with 545,852 Hispanics, or 19.6 percent of a total population of 2,783,726.

Miami, although eighth in its total number of Hispanics (223,964), had one of the nation's highest proportions of Hispanics in its population -- 62.5 percent of 358,548.

By comparison, Washington's 32,710 Hispanics comprised 5.4 percent of its 606,900 total. (Baltimore had a Hispanic population of only 7,602, slightly more than 1 percent of its 736,014 total.)

Numbers and proportions, however, were not the reasons for Mr. Yzaguirre's forecast.

There is "an increased feeling of alienation" among Hispanics in Los Angeles, he said, and "no give" in their demand for jobs.

"Friction" with police, he said, is increasing.

In New York, he said, Hispanics feel "disenfranchised" -- the election of the city's first black mayor, David Dinkins, has failed to bring any "real presence" of Hispanics to city government, he said.

Instead, he said, there is "growingtension" between Hispanics and blacks in competition for jobs in the municipal administration, with Hispanics making "no inroads."

Hispanics also "haven't made it" into Chicago's local government, Mr. Yzaguirre said. A budding alliance between blacks and Hispanics, established when the late Harold Washington was the city's first black mayor, has failed to come life as the city has returned to a "white" administration under the current mayor, Richard Daley.

Miami is a totally different story. Both blacks and Hispanics -- especially Puerto Ricans -- have protested violently against its solidly entrenched Cuban-American administration, and blacks currently are promoting a boycott against the city's tourist industry as a result of arun-in with the city administration.

In Washington, however, those who were interviewed agreed that the situation facing Hispanics here appeared to be unique.

Geographically, analysts point out that there is not yet a neighborhood here that is populated exclusively by Hispanics. When newly arrived Hispanics settle in Los Angeles or Miami, and to a lesser extent in New York or Chicago, they can go to a neighborhood where they feel "at home," Mr. Ortiz said.

The presence of stable Hispanic communities in Los Angeles and Miami is as old as those cities are. There was a Mexican-American "core community" in Chicago early in this century, said Diane Pinderhughes, a political science professor at the University of Illinois and former Washington resident.

The Mount Pleasant area of Washington, where the riot occurred, is a diverse neighborhood, but it is not a Hispanic neighborhood. Part of Mount Pleasant is occupied by upper-income whites. Another part, the rioters' battleground, is occupied by lower-income blacks, whites and Hispanics.

Finally, there was the problem of "implicit expectations" from a black-run city government, as Milton Morris of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies put it.

Hispanics expect the administration of Mayor Sharon Pratt Dixon to show "greater understanding of and greater responsiveness to Hispanic grievances," Mr. Morris said. "They feel the city's leadership should be giving them a fairer shake."

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