Los Siete de la Raza, the Black Panther Party, and Solidarity between the African-American and Latina/o Communities

On Friday, April 27, I attended Seattle’s Black Panther Party (“BPP”) anniversary events at Washington Hall. I was particularly moved by the courageous man on the panel titled “The Angola 3 and Political Prisoners.” Albert Woodfox, a Black Panther and Political Prisoner, reminded us that “individuals create chaos, movements create change.” Mr. Woodfox spent four and a half decades in solitary confinement in Angola Prison, a prison and former slave plantation in Louisiana. Robert King, who spent twenty-nice years in solitary in the same Louisiana prison, remarked that “we want to attack the legality of immortality; not just people who have been politicized — all victims of this political system.” Addressing the dehumanization of the American prison system, Mr. King went on to say that “just because it is legal does not mean it is moral.” During their imprisonment, both men became mesmerized by the message of the Black Panther Party. It was Fred Hampton, a revolutionary Black Panther Party member, who brilliantly remarked that “we’re going to fight racism with solidarity.”

Solidarity was one of the defining characteristics of the Black Panther Party. The Panthers made significant efforts to express solidarity with the Chicano struggle, as reported in In Search of the Black Panther Party: New Perspectives on a Revolutionary. Once such instance was the case of Los Siete de la Raza. Los Siete was a group of young Latinos, from the mainly Latino Mission District of San Francisco, who were framed for the murder of a policeman in May of 1969. Los Siete developed a close working relationship with the BPP and organizations in the Puerto Rican and Chicano movements. The Panthers declared support for the group, calling them revolutionary heroes” who will “always be welcome in our camp.”

The Panthers declared unequivocally that “the Black Panther Party stands in support of Los Siete de La Raza and in firm solidarity with the Latin community.” In American, there are many systematic barriers affecting both the African-American and Latina/o community. In this piece, I will explore the Los Siete and solidarity with the BPP and examine the current social barriers in affecting both groups today. I aim to show that there are many benefits to both groups working together in search for justice and power. As Ericka Huggins, human rights activist, Black Panther leader, and former political prisoner explains, “we can form alliances across formations and identities; we can rest in unity.”

There is an African proverb that says, “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. This quotes come to mind when I think about the systematic barriers that African-American and Latino communities face in America. For example, African-American own approximately one-tenth of the wealth of white Americans; our households have fewer and are in greater need of personal savings than our white counterparts; African-Americans with some college education have roughly the same chance to gain employment as a white high school dropout; and we all know that African-American are disproportionally targeted, arrested, and imprisoned in America. Similarly, Latinos are at the low end of income distribution in America and are more likely to be employed; Latinos are also more likely to earn the minimum wage than most other ethnic groups; and our Latino/a brothers and sisters are also disproportionally targeted by our system of mass imprisonment.

There is, I believe, a strong need for commitment to solidarity during these dark politically-charged times. To be clear, black and brown communities have always addressed the bias and discrimination targeted against us in our communities, in our safe places, if you will. What I mean is that during these overly racist times in our current political environment there is a need to send a national and public messages to our leaders that African-Americans and Latino/a communities will continue to fight our shared enemies together — in solidarity. We are stronger together, and those that attempt to divide us know this. Our leaders want African-Americans to believe that it is our Latina/o brothers and sisters that are “taking our jobs.” We cannot afford to get distracted by this false narrative.

In addition, in the quest for solidarity, we must keep in mind, as Audre Lorde so brilliantly recognized, that unity does not mean unanimity. There will be some within our communities who side against us in our fight and challenge to systems of oppression., who will tell us, as they do today, that our fighting is no necessary or worth the time. Despite this, we must stand committed to fighting together, in solidarity. By “solidarity, I mean the act of recognizing a shared interest or working together toward a common goal — the common goal of justice and fairness for our communities, for our families and friends.

Finally, I believe that there is a need to welcome our Latino/a brothers and sisters to our African-American community, and vice versa. As Fred Hampton once said, “You can’t build a revolution without education.” There is a need to share our communities because we must be educated on the issues affected by our communities; there is a need to share creative, safe places so we can strategize and build relationships. The book Black against Empriseby Joshua Bloom and Waldo E. Martin Jr. notes that the Black Panthers got to know the Los Siete supporters Roger Alvarado and Donna Amador, who approached Bobby Seale for help during the San Francisco state strike. The Panthers offered their support by offering public assistance, stages at rallies, introduced them to the Panther lawyer Charles Garry, committed $25,000 to their legal defense, and kept the public updated on the Los Siete case when the Panthers were interviewed on the evening news. This history of solidarity should be a guide, using these past lessons to guide us in our quest for solidarity as we challenge systematic oppression.