By Christina Saenz
Martin Luther King, Jr, is celebrated as a hero of African Americans and minorities as a whole. The Black Civil Rights Movement spurred the Latinoist Movements, such as the Cesar Chavez’s farmworkers’ protests and inspiring Nuyorican activist Gilberto Gerena-Valentin. He has been framed as an inspiration for the Latinoist 1960s movements but, however, MLK was more than an inspirational symbol. He provided resources, public relations, and emotional support to our Latino Civil Rights Movements-in particular, the Chicano Civil Rights Movement.
MLK knew Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta as colleagues and privately encouraged them to continue their resistance with their work at UFW. In the Spring of 1963 in order to build the March on Washington where he gave his “I Have a Dream” speech, King came to Los Angeles rally for Mexican Americans. A large rally of 20,000 or more came to hear him at L.A.’s Wrigley Field and sponsored special guest speaker Juan Cornejo (the first Mexican American elected to the all-white city council in border town Crystal City, Texas, in 1963).
In the months before his death April 4, 1968, MLK spearheaded a movement to address economic inequality during the presidential campaign. The movement was to unite poor people of all color and nationalities. MLK reached out to the Chicano Movement and began meeting with leaders, such as Bert Corona, Corky Gonzales and Reies Tijerina. He wanted to ensure that Mexican Americans were heavily involved in the grassroots formation of the Poor People’s Movement.
MLK’s direct support for justice for Latinos would continue today if he were still alive. We see how his associates such as Jesse Jackson have admonished SB1070 and other racial profiling policies. We have watched as African American congressmen and women during the DREAM congressional debates in December invoked the spirit of MLK of why Latino children should be made “legal” under the law so they can gain equality. MLK was more than inspiration for Latino Civil Rights; he was an unconditional, direct supporter.
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