Saturday, July 23, 2016

African-Americans, Latinos and California politics

Democratic Rep. Loretta Sanchez, in an interview aired on Univision 19, injected race in explaining away President Barack Obama’s endorsement of U.S. Senate rival Kamala Harris, whose father is Jamaican. Sanchez was asked why the president had endorsed Harris in the unusual race between two Democrats. Speaking in Spanish, she noted that Obama and Harris are longtime friends, then added: “She is African American. He is, too.” Sanchez, in a statement after the interview aired, said that she in no way implied or intended to imply Obama endorsed Harris for racial reasons. “I was stating the fact that the endorsement was based on their long-term political relationship,” she said. Her remarks come days after she ripped Obama for endorsing Harris, arguing that he should be focused on helping Democrats win the presidential race rather than inserting himself in a contest between two party members. “California’s Senate seat does not belong to the political establishment – it belongs to the People of California,” Sanchez said, adding she believes that voters will make their own choice in November 2016. Anxieties between African Americans and Latinos have been an underlying, yet seldom discussed, issue in California politics. Sanchez has aggressively courted Latinos in her campaign to succeed U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer. She has spoken about her Mexican American roots and her ability to speak Spanish. “I think we need a Latina in the U.S. Senate,” Sanchez said in January 2016. She also has tapped the support of Republicans who view Harris as too liberal. Harris, the state’s top law enforcement official and its highest-ranking black elected leader, has increasing waded into the complex tensions between police officers and people of color. Born to a Jamaican father and Indian mother, Harris said after the shooting of five officers in Dallas that she doesn’t know a black man, be he a relative, a colleague or a friend, that has not been subjected to racial profiling or an unfair stop. She also has attributed the rise of hate crimes motivated by religion to a national ratcheting up of anger and division in political discourse. In response to Sanchez’s interview with Univision, Harris’ campaign manager Juan Rodriguez said, “At a time when there is so much divisive rhetoric flowing through our politics, it's especially disappointing to see a Democratic member of Congress make those comments.” Sanchez has been has been criticized for making comments about race and ethnicity in the past. In December 2015, Muslim and immigrant rights activists called on Sanchez to apologize after she said that between 5% and 20% of Muslims want to form a caliphate to target Western norms. The California Immigrant Policy Center accused Sanchez of being “wildly off-the-mark” and said that the claims were irresponsible and dangerous, when “Islamophobic rhetoric is spurring troubling incidents of hate.” Sanchez said that she based the figure on her experiences, talks with world leaders and thoughtful and scholarly discussion about extremist trends in books, articles and surveys. Earlier in 2016, at a political meeting with an Indian American group, Sanchez mimicked a racial stereotype of American Indians, putting her hand to her mouth and making an offensive whooping sound. In 2010, facing a challenge from Republican Van Tran, a Vietnamese immigrant, Sanchez said on Univision that “the Vietnamese and Republicans” were attempting “to take this seat from us … and give it to this Van Tran, who is very anti-immigrant and very anti-Hispanic.” Sanchez apologized for her “poor choice of words” after Tran called it a “racial rampage.” Still, she accused Tran of taking “a cheap political shot.” Obama’s endorsement, which he jointly made with Vice President Joe Biden, credited Harris as being a leading voice for criminal justice reform, challenging old dogma and insisting we be “smart on crime” by ending mass incarceration.

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