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Why many Latinos are calling for a ceasefire in Gaza

Keffiyehs. Palestinian flags. Signs and songs. The rally outside El Monte City Hall Tuesday evening looked at first glance like many rallies that have taken place across the United States since October 7.

But some, among the fifty people, wore sweatshirts with the logo of the Mexican national football team. One sign read: “From Mexico to Palestine / Border walls must go.” A banner depicting a watermelon – a symbol of Palestinian solidarity – also bore the phrase “Viva Palestina”, a tribute to Frida Kahlo’s last painting.

The scene didn’t surprise me. Over the past six months, my social media has been flooded with Latinos expressing support for the Palestinians. Friends who were never politically active are now attending rallies in Boyle Heights, Santa Ana and other predominantly Latino neighborhoods and cities. They denounce U.S. aid to Israel and denounce Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as the butcher of the nearly 33,000 Palestinians – many of them women and children – who have been killed by Israeli airstrikes and military operations, according to the Gaza Ministry of Health.

Netanyahu said Israel must achieve “total victory” after attacks by Hamas that killed around 1,200 people on October 7, including around 200 taken hostage, according to Israeli authorities. More than 100 U.S. cities have called for a ceasefire in Gaza, from progressive stalwarts in big cities like Seattle, Oakland and San Francisco to cities in Ohio and Vermont. In Southern California, almost all of the cities that have joined the movement – ​​Pomona, Cudahy, Bell, Bell Gardens, Montebello and Santa Ana – are municipalities with Latino populations exceeding 65%.

On Tuesday, activists called on El Monte to join the list.

The visibility of so many Latinos during pro-Palestinian actions in Southern California represents a historic rupture in the long-standing political alliance between Latinos and Jews, who have lived side by side on the Eastside for decades. They banded together in 1949 to make Edward Roybal the first Latino member of the Los Angeles City Council in the 20th century, helped Tom Bradley become the city’s first black mayor, and propelled Antonio Villaraigosa’s victory to the town hall in 2005. Groups like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, regularly sponsor trips to Israel for Latin American lawmakers and have organized outreach summits to promote the alliance.

Spokesman Marshall Wittman didn’t offer much when I asked for AIPAC’s opinion on majority-Latino cities passing ceasefire resolutions.

“There is broad support for Israel within the Latino community,” he responded by email, citing the support of an AIPAC-affiliated political action committee at “nearly half of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

Such a statement, however, belies the fears of American Jewish leaders of losing Latinos over the Palestinian issue.

Sisters Jasmin Barbosa, 18, and Giselle Barbosa, 25, were participating in a rally outside El Monte City Hall on Tuesday calling for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza.

(Gustavo Arellano/Los Angeles Times)

A report released last year by the American Jewish Committee warned that young Latino sympathies for the Palestinians posed “a generational challenge” and a “potential obstacle” to Jewish-Latino relations and that “the fact that Israel is a fighter on behalf of the oppressed is clearly not the perception of this generation of Latino leaders.

A 2022 study by Fuente Latina, a nonprofit whose mission is “to provide accurate coverage of Israel, the Middle East, and the Jewish world,” found that Latino support for Israel has declined since 2010 and that an “overwhelming and fundamentally unfair power imbalance” has been noted. » between Israel and the Palestinians was mentioned “repeatedly” by those interviewed in the study.

At the same time, a Public Policy Institute of California survey found that the state’s Latinos were the ethnic group most supportive of a reduction in U.S. military aid to Israel and most often chose “strong support.” as an option to a question about a ceasefire in Gaza.

Latin American anticolonial intellectuals have long sympathized with the Palestinian cause. Chicano organizers have been traveling to Gaza and the West Bank for decades as part of cross-cultural exchanges. But what’s happening in Southern California now is none of those things, said Alexandro Jose Gradilla, a Cal State professor of Chicano and Fullerton studies.

“It’s not just about my radical students. These are my students in Anaheim hoodies. It’s upsetting for them to see this because it triggers ancient stories of land theft, resource theft and massacres,” Gradilla said of the images of corpses and rubble emerging from Gaza.

“The Whittiers and the Downeys are doing nothing,” he continued. “These are the working-class towns. There, you are more likely to have contact with Arabs. (Latinos) don’t really come into contact with the Jewish community like we saw 50 years ago. Let’s go. This created a change on Israel.

While the rise of Latino activism over Gaza is popular, ceasefire resolutions from majority-Latino city councils have spread largely thanks to Rida Hamida, a longtime community activist of Orange County who also worked as a staffer for state legislators and members of Congress. She is the executive director of Latino & Muslim Unity, a nonprofit organization best known for its Taco Trucks at Every Mosque, which distributes free halal tacos during voter registration events and COVID vaccination drives. 19 across the state.

Hamida, who has family in the West Bank and whose parents own a house there, said she began contacting council members to approve ceasefires after becoming distressed by what was happening in Gaza . “I told them, ‘You’re majority Latino cities, but I’m Palestinian and I’ve worked in your cities.’ We must serve each other and defend each other.

She offered receptive council members suggestions on how to draft resolutions, allaying any fears of blowback by emphasizing that their constituents understand.

“When I talk to vecinas (neighbors), the links between Latin America and Palestine are easy,” Hamida said. “Today there is a change, and it is not because of the Palestinian movement. It’s because of the movement among Latinos.

At the El Monte rally, Kimberly Primero handed out stickers that read: “How many must die? and “Viva Viva Intifada”. A few months ago, the 27-year-old participated in a similar protest outside Rep. Grace Napolitano’s office in El Monte. Only two others showed up.

“A lot of issues happened in Mexico and Central America that affected people here, and it was glossed over,” said Primero, a data entry worker who wore a necklace with a charm representing Handala – a cartoon character depicting a barefoot oppressed boy. adopted by Palestinians as a symbol of their resilience. “Seeing this today makes me very optimistic and happy.”

People holding signs stand in front of a sidewalk

Supporters of a ceasefire in Gaza gather in front of El Monte City Hall.

(Gustavo Arellano/Los Angeles Times)

The crowd stormed out of the rooms during the council meeting, which almost never happens in El Monte. Hamida handed out falafel and shawarma sandwiches. Many snapped their fingers in agreement as dozens of speakers — almost all Latino — urged council members to vote for a ceasefire.

“Show us you care,” said El Monte resident Giselle Barbosa, 25, who held a “Stop the Genocide” sign at the rally while her sister Jasmin, 18, waved the flag Palestinian. “Show us you have empathy. May El Monte be on the side of history that advocates justice.

“I hope to be proud tomorrow of the great city of El Monte,” said René Jiménez. “I know you will do us good.”

The only Latino who spoke against the proposed resolution was former El Monte Mayor Andre Quintero, who said despite boos and shouts of “¡Fuera!“(Come out!) that he visited Israel and that the country has a right to protect itself,” just as you (council members) have a duty to protect El Monte. “

After two hours of comments, the council finally discussed the resolution while members of the public recorded on their smartphones.

Mayor Jessica Ancona requested that the resolution – per Hamida’s suggestion – call for a “permanent” ceasefire and mention the number of women and children killed and how many Palestinians have been displaced. “I think it’s important that we add up these numbers,” Ancona said in a calm voice, “so as not to dehumanize what’s happening in the Middle East.”

Council member Victoria Martinez Muela asked for mention of Israelis killed by Hamas. “It speaks to my heart and to humanity,” she said to snickers from the audience.

Council member Martin Herrera revealed that after October 7, he and his colleagues hesitated to introduce a resolution denouncing Hamas, before ultimately deciding not to do so. Questions surrounding a ceasefire motion “kept me up at night,” he said.

“Your stories make me cry for the Palestinians,” he told the audience, “but I cannot forget the laments of the Israeli families who also experienced some of these atrocities. » Some people groaned in response, while Ancona asked for silence and respect.

No other council members spoke. The vote was unanimous, 7-0. The crowd applauded, chanted “Long live Palestine!” » and left the rooms.

After a five-minute recess, the El Monte City Council meeting resumed regular business. There were almost no spectators left.

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