November 17, 2000

Professor's book looks at 1970s failed Chicano political party and asks, "Why not today?"

The U.S. political forces that shut third-party candidates out of this year's televised presidential debates, and helped snuff out a Chicano-led third party nearly two decades ago, may also pave the way for a reawakened Latino political force, University of California, Riverside Ethnic Studies Professor Armando Navarro writes in his latest book.

Titled "La Raza Unida Party: A Chicano Challenge to the U.S. two-party Dictatorship," Navarro accuses the Democratic and Republican parties of holding a virtual monopoly on political power in the United States. Temple University Press released the 360-page book Oct. 16.

Navarro, a California organizer during the party's brief life from 1970 to 1981, said the dominance the Democratic and Republican parties wields today subverts the democratic process.

But a political counterweight is emerging. Rising numbers of mostly Mexican immigrants, concentrated mostly in the southwestern United States, are causing a demographic shift in the region, Navarro wrote. And the level of racism they encounter from non-Latino society is creating a crisis in Latino and Chicano communities. Those are forces for change, he said.

"The past 10 years has put us in a state of siege," Navarro said. "Our rights are being attacked."

The book cited three recent California ballot initiatives to illustrate the nature of the attacks. Proposition 187, passed by the state's voters in 1994, sought to take education and health services away from those who could not prove legal residency. Proposition 209, passed in 1996, did away with affirmative action preferences designed to boost the numbers of minorities in the workplace and public agencies. And Proposition 227, passed in 1998, eliminated bilingual education.

In examining the rise and fall of La Raza Unida Party (translated as The United People's Party) Navarro gauged the fairness of the American political system and found it wanting.

During the heyday of La Raza Unida Party organizing in California, Texas, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and the Midwest, leaders encountered the perils of challenging the two-party dictatorship, according to Navarro.

Restrictive election laws kept La Raza candidates off the ballots except for Texas and New Mexico. An uninterested media covered the party sparingly, and only when controversy swirled. The winner-take-all system kept many candidates who managed to run as independents from winning election. FBI infiltration of the party fomented infighting, got members arrested on questionable drug charges, and is alleged to have contributed to the deaths of six Colorado activists killed in a 1974 bomb blast, he writes.

"La Raza Unida Party" includes a history of U.S. third parties, and histories of the party in individual states. Extensively researched, with 161 interviews, "La Raza Unida Party" exhorts Latinos entering the 21st century that they should have a national party of their own once again.

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