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Commentary: Conscience of a community activist

By Carlos J. Licea
Recently I shocked a fellow worker and a few others by outing myself as a Latino community activist.

An “Activist” he said accusatorially. “You cannot be a Latino community activist and an advocate for other causes.” Some people, he added may object to a person who has a strong commitment to a particular group.

carlos.jpgHis response both surprised and offended me.

While there is a good point in the sense that there is a negative side to being obsessive about commitment, we cannot forget that both he and I are committed to making sure the Civil Rights legislation of 1964 benefits all Americans – regardless of what the word preceding the hyphen that precedes the word American and that is used so often and divisively in our diverse society.

Carlos Licea

I am reminded that while some may color the word activist with a subjective shade, activism is at the core of the evolutionary rather than revolutionary change in our society.

Let’s consider my personal hero: Martin Luther King, the driving force leading activism in the struggle against bigotry and hate. A man of great wisdom and failings’, a minister and orator and most definitively a man of God who refused to accept to “leave things alone” in the United States of America and make it his life calling — and ultimately his martyrdom — to make sure people were not judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

He had a dream and we aim to see that dream a reality and reach the promised land of equality that he showed us from the steps of the Lincoln monument one hot summer afternoon in 1968.

Dr. King was criticized by some in the civil rights movement for his expression of support for the peace groups who opposed the war in Vietnam. The cause, they said, was not the ending of fighting in Asia but rather civil rights at home.

Dr. King wisely pointed out that black men were fighting and dying while their rights were being denied at home and that made natural allies of the antiwar groups and the civil rights group, because all Americans have to march together for a common purpose whether it is in war or in peace.

Many more activists have followed that dream and made sure the dream did not die or be subjugated to a single cause or group.

Richard Pimentel, the driving force behind the Americans with Disabilities act is another. He, building upon the foundation laid down by Dr. King, is another activist who made sure people with disabilities are not left behind on the road to that dream.

Some of us labor in the dream of equality in our respective communities. We aim, respectfully and persistently to make sure that equality is here for the 35 million Latinos who are an integral part of this society.

As UFW leader Cesar Chavez pointed out “my people are of many colors” — hence his favorite church hymn was ‘de colores’ because the catchy tune means Latinos come in many colors, races and origins reflecting the colorful tapestry of the American nation. And disability does not make an exception when it comes to our ethnicity and race. Disability comes in many colors and languages.

I am a Latino with a disability…

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