By: Raymond R. Beltran
“Aqui! Ya, Ya! La Paz y Unidad!” was the war cry for the Raza Rights Coalition and the Chicano youth organization Somos Raza during a march titled ‘Walk for Peace, Unity and Justice’ Saturday, January 25. In response to a recent shooting last month, where two raza youths were injured and one murdered, San Diego activist organizations decided to beef up their solidarity and be one voice, a voice of peace with a cry for unity.
The march began at Southcrest Park in National City, where the organizations, along with M.E.Ch.A. de San Diego State University, met and rallied with concerned community members to address the violence that plagues the barrios. The marchers took their message up National Avenue, while handing out fliers. Drivers zoomed by honking their horns, and waving at the one thing that unites raza from different barrios, the Mexican flag. Strangers came out of their shops, restaurants, and churches along the street to witness the spectacle of a people coming together because of the lack of safety in their lives.
“I got jumped by some fools from Lomas. They just felt like picking on someone for no reason,” says Salvador Benedino, senior at Patrick Henry High School and member of Somos Raza. “I’m tired of gang violence, and I’m tired of not being able to walk in different neighborhoods just because we live in Logan Heights. It’s shady, like bad. Usually people from Logan wouldn’t come over here [to Southcrest Park] ‘cause you live in a certain neighborhood. We’re all Mexican, you know? We should all stick together and help each other out.”
Along with Salvador, Adrian Garcia, and Bert Benedino came out to the march to represent unity in the rival neighborhoods. Being from the youth organization Somos Raza, it seemed evident to the young men, ranging from eighth graders to high school seniors, that there are always alternatives. Although, as obvious as it is, they don’t deny the fact that youths seek out acceptance, as well as protection and safety. Growing up in a poverty-stricken neighborhood, where the social class is restrained by an invisible bubble, all that young Chicanos know is their barrio. At times they fall victim to the cycle of picking up the torch of their elders in protecting their diminutive turfs, sometimes being just a single block.
“Shooting is symptomatic of the violence we see everyday, not only in the barrio, but in society,” says Pablo Aceves, member of Union del Barrio and Raza Rights Coalition. “Barrio violence, what they call crime, is not going to end until the socio-economic conditions that cause it end. And right now, we have more homelessness in our community; we have more unemployment, less services, and just a lot of hopelessness. We have an education system, if you want to call it that, that teaches us nothing about our historia, about our cultura, nothing like that, and basically miseducates our youth and African American youth. We have a warlike culture going on everyday that’s teaching and spewing out anti-Mexican venom everywhere you go.”
These social conditions, in which these people live, are evident to anyone living in Barrio Logan within the past year. There were incidents never resolved, such as the police beating of 52 year old Yolanda Fajardo Perez, racist vandalism on the historic raza murals of prominent Chicano Park, this one-of-the-many shootings that occurred last month resulting in a dead raza youth, and the construction of the new ballpark, which plants a seed of doubt in the community members surrounding the new project. Answers and solutions from a local government are rare when it comes to the predicaments in this community. The members feel that they can no longer look to councilmen, and have lost, if they’ve ever had, any confidence in the police department that they feel terrorizes, as well as militarizes, their barrio daily.
The Chicano-on-Chicano violence is an on going, genocidal crime within the Chicano communities. This is a terrifying factor when one takes into account that ‘Hispanics’, or all Spanish speaking communities, within the United States comprised of 35.3 million of the population according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
The Mexican American made up 66% of that number, and continue to be the largest growing population, mainly on the west coast. With this in mind, the U.S. Department of Justice alleges that from the years between 1996 and 2000, what they call ‘Hispanics’ made up 47% of the “gang” population. 50% are under 18 years old, and 94% of “gang members” are male.
The RRC not only recognizes the problems causing the violence within the communities, it also points out solutions to fix the poverty and the weak education that cause it. Alex Medina, a member of the RRC spoke on the kiosko in Chicano Park where the march ended, and offered solutions like community control over the hiring of teachers in the schools, a more democratic society without ‘vendidos’ continuously taking office, community control over police and their tactics, and most of all keeping Chicano money within the barrios.
Also visited was San Diego’s Xicano/Indio barrio unity activist Lucky Two Tears Morales, or ‘Lucky’ as he likes to be called, reminded raza that his Unity Walk through Highland still exists, and he hasn’t washed off the war paint or taken down his Mexican Flag for nothing.
Luck is the founder of Los Indios Del Barrio, and he organizes the Barrio Unity Walk every Sunday at 5:30 p.m. The walk starts in Chicano Park and stretches out toward the lowriding ceremony along Highland Avenue. Exactly like the RRC and Somos Raza, Lucky’s Unity Walk is geared toward inviting raza to unite under the Mexican flag, to find that similarity between Chicanos as a race with a beautiful culture.
It seems that both Lucky and Pablo Aceves would agree that what needs to be done in the situation of violence, when it comes to our youth, is proper education. Malcolm X once said that people without a knowledge of their history are demoted to a lower animal. Not that raza are in any way demoted in this sense, but the lack of knowledge of our culture in the school system is devastating. People of color make up 76% of the expulsion rate in high school. What else do they have to hold on to when their already petty education is taken from them? What’s left to do? Where is the hope? In essence, Lucky feels that educating Chicanos on their own culture as well as their own history will make a change. Some kind of pride will arise in the community that will ultimately unite raza under one flag.
If ever you’re cruising down Highland Avenue on a Sunday night, and you see a tall proud Xicano/Indio marching down the calle, waving his flag, headphones rapped around his long indio hair, feel free to join him, or say hello. The war paint across the bridge of his nose isn’t a battle cry against raza, it’s for its unity. Follow in the steps of youths such as Benedino and Somos Raza. There are alternatives for the lack of acceptance within your barrio. You can contact the Raza Rights Coalition at CoalicionProDerechos@hotmail.com for information on how to get involved in really protecting your barrios without killing other raza.