February 2, 2001
By Julio C. Calderón
"Latino leadership has taken a double loss this month." Wrote Los Angeles Times' Agustin Gurza. "One on the political right, the other on the left. One on the East Coast, one here in the West. The big void is everywhere in between," went his lament. Mr. Gurza drew his observations from the death of Bert Corona and the political demise of Linda Chavez, President George W. Bush's original nominee for Secretary of Labor.
Mr. Gurza points out that "Unlike African Americans, Latinos have only one national hero, Cesar Chavez." First, Mr. Gurza is wrong. He is wrong in using Ms. Chavez in the same sentence with Bert Corona. Nothing about Ms. Chavez compares to Bert Corona, not her humble beginnings or her accomplishments in life. While her accomplishments are noteworthy, they were, never-the-less, personal. Bert Corona's accomplishments were for community, the greater good.
Mr. Gurza is also wrong in his assessment that Latinos have no heroes. They are everywhere, unsung. There are men and women, who, for decades, have, as did Bert Corona, toiled in the face of adversity. Some of them impacting a barrio some a state others the nation.
California is as large and diverse as a nation. Our community's interests are just as diverse. Our heroes have not cornered one part of this country's ills, as did the Reverend M. L. King, whose fight was civil rights. Even Cesar Chavez focused on farm workers and their plight. This was, and continues to be, an important segment of our community struggle, but it is also one of the smallest segments. And Mr. Gurza forgets that Mr. Chavez had Dolores Huerta, a national hero on her own right.
Our battlefields have been many and each produced its share of heroes, Latinos and Latinas Chicanos and Chicanas, if you prefer, who sacrificed home, family and comforts to kick open doors in every institution in California and the country. They stormed city council meetings for parks and community centers in neglected barrios from San Jose to San Diego. They kicked open doors to colleges and universities. They organized politically to lobby legislatures and the congress and elect representatives. They pressured media outlets to hire Latino and Latina reporters, paving the way for the Los Angeles Times to make room for the Agustin Gurza's of the world.
I can only write about the heroes of California. Yet, I am confident that in states from California and the Southwest to Florida and the Eastern Coast, and every point in between, in that "big void" of Mr. Gurza's lament, that you will find Latino heroes. Mr. Gurza compares Latinos to African Americans, the comparison implies that African Americans have more "national" heroes than Rev. King. Who? Jesse Jackson shows up to other people's organized demonstrations and has done nothing original. Rev. Al Sharpton is New York, original or national? I don't believe so, but then, I don't speak for African Americans. So who wears the mantle of "National Hero" for African Americans?
Our heroes are many. Sometimes, our community's hero is only a parent, hero only to a boy or girl, who because of the father or mother, may grow up to be Mr. Gurza's national Latino hero. So there is no Mexican Martin Luther King. Y que! We have heroes, some with feet of brass, some of clay, all have impacted our community's quality of life. We don't need a national hero, but a continuation of a long line of community leaders.
(Julio C. Calderón can be reached at Latsac@aol.com)