Why Are So Many Latinos Obsessed With Black Lives Matter? It's Complicated — Or Simple.
Many Latinos who back President Trump bring the racial — and racist — complexities of Latin America to their demonization of the racial justice movement.
Joe Biden is expected to win the Latino vote big. But not so big in Florida. A new Florida International University poll gives President Trump a 34-point lead with Cuban voters in Miami-Dade County. In another poll, Trump has two-thirds of Florida’s Venezuelan voters. Many Colombians support him as well.
Among the reasons many Latinos here say they prefer Trump is that many have fled left-wing regimes in Latin America. And so this summer many Latinos started to loudly express contempt for — and falsehoods about — the Black Lives Matter (BLM) racial justice movement.
For months, Latinos for Trump rallies — like one in Miami Lakes where an organizer shouted BLM “wants to tear down the Biblical definition of family!” — have been trumpeting bogus claims about the movement being anti-American.
And then there are the really racist diatribes on Spanish-language media — like one disgorged recently by conservative Miami radio host Carines Moncada, a Venezuelan expat.
On her show on WURN Actualidad Radio — a mainstream Spanish-language outlet –—Moncada told listeners, “Black Life Matters practices lo negro — witchcraft and devil worship — and wants to burn down your property and kill police officers.” She then added that a vote for Biden “supports that rape and anarchy.”
Moncada did not respond to WLRN’s request for comment. But her demonizing rant against Black Lives Matter is not uncommon in South Florida — although it often has more to do with socialism than Satan.
Like, for example, when Republican congressional candidate Maria Elvira Salazar tears into BLM. Salazar, a Cuban-American, is a former TV journalist challenging Democratic Miami Congresswoman Donna Shalala. She regularly and falsely claims that Black Lives Matter controls Biden and the Democrats — and has turned them into “radical far-left socialists” like those in Cuba or Venezuela.
Salazar’s so-called “evidence” is that a BLM co-founder once had her picture taken with Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro in New York. But she insists that’s sufficient “ prueba,” or proof.
WLRN reached out to Salazar for comment; she did not respond. Regardless, political analysts say the broad Black Lives Matter movement that’s been demonstrating throughout the U.S., most recently after the George Floyd killing in May, is not by any means a Marxist organization.
So a key question WLRN would have liked to ask leading figures like Salazar is: Why do conservative Latinos seem so obsessed with it?
But experts who’ve studied the Latino community here — and its complicated relationship with race — are offering important explanations.
“Miami has been the place where I’ve been made most aware of being Black — by fellow Latinos,” says Danielle Clealand, a Black Latina who says she’s found many White Latinos in Miami will not speak Spanish with her because they don’t accept her, “as one of them.”
Clealand now teaches Latino Studies at the University of Texas at Austin, but until this fall she taught at FIU in Miami-Dade for almost a decade. Clealand is a Black Puerto Rican, but her research — including an upcoming oral history — focuses on the Black Cuban experience in Miami and the U.S.
She says the Latino attacks on Black Lives Matter don’t surprise her — because while racism runs deep in Latin America, Black activism is all too often an unsettling shock for many Latin American expats here. More, even, than for many racist White Americans.
“Racism is hidden in Latin America to maintain the status quo,” says Clealand. “And so when you come here and you see, particularly now, Black activism in the streets, people cannot hide from it anymore. When you are confronted with this it creates a negative and racist reaction.”
Clealand also notes that because Latino groups in Miami experienced discrimination themselves when they first arrived here, they believe that gives them a pass from being accused of anti-Black racism.
“It emboldens them to think they could never be racist,” Clealand says. “The denialism is huge.”
Another FIU scholar, Michael Bustamante, says it’s also “a deflection to label Black Lives Matter Marxist, communist.”
Bustamante, a Cuban-American history professor, says branding Black activism as “communist” is how many Latino expats avoid having to acknowledge the similarities between their struggles in Latin America and Black Americans’ struggles here.
“When you think back to the fact that at the same time the United States was opening its doors to Cuban migrants seeking freedom from communism, African-Americans were still fighting to desegregate Miami’s public schools right?” says Bustamante.
“One could make a positive case that these folks are fighting for justice and their rights in the same way we’re trying to do back in Cuba and Latin America.”
Along those lines, Bustamante says he understands why some Latinos got angry at a few protesters who waved the image of brutal Castro sidekick Che Guevara this summer. Still, he argues that even if some Black people in U.S. have in the past expressed sympathy for, or solidarity with, left-wing regimes in Latin America, too many Latinos wantonly ignore why they might feel compelled to do that — foremost the perception that those regimes treat darker-skinned Latin Americans better than the U.S. treats Black people.
“And it wasn’t lost on Black Americans,” Bustamante notes, “that Cuba was one of the first countries to show support for Nelson Mandela in South Africa. It’s distressing how many Latinos here don’t realize those things matter.”
But making that case is often overpowered by the racial — and racist — political histories of countries like Venezuela.
“A lot of the people who were galvanized by the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela were darker-skinned, poorer folks,” says Venezuelan expat political analyst Maurizio Passariello.
“And a lot of Venezuelans here, they see Black Lives Matter protesting in the streets and they immediately relate that to the revolutionary process in Venezuela. They’re not really even paying attention to what the racial justice message is; they’re just hearkening back to their traumatic experience with radical left-wing politics back in Latin America.”
Passariello is quick to point out that’s no excuse for the racism and lies so many Latinos in Florida are spouting about Black Lives Matter.
Another Black Latino here, Cuban-American Andres Albuquerque, agrees. But Albuquerque also reflects just how baroque the Black-Latino relationship is on issues like Black Lives Matter — because, as a Cuban who himself fled communist persecution before arriving in Miami, he too is wary of BLM’s reputed leftism.
“The name, the idea of Black Lives Matter is sacred to me, and I deplore people in the Latino community here who are using this to voice their innate racism,” says Albuquerque, who heads the nonprofit Afro-Cuban Forum in Miami.
“But that doesn’t mean that Black Lives Matters isn’t compromised by Marxism.”
Clealand insists her oral history confirms Albuquerque’s outlook is in the minority among Black Cubans here. Nonetheless, it’s indicative of how tragically hard it is in South Florida to keep the memories of leftism in Latin America from obscuring the realities of racism in America.
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