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Juneteenth event opens dialogue with Latino community on Black Lives Matter movement

Mayra Lopez
Written by Mayra Lopez

As Gabriel Machabanski announced the name of each person who died at the hands of law enforcement in Sonoma County, the crowd at the Las Vidas Negras Importan event in Roseland responded with a unified “presente.”

Machabanski, associate director of the Graton Day Labor Center, read 91 names at Friday’s Juneteenth event, organized to create a dialogue with Latino community members about police brutality, the Black Lives Matter movement, racism and anti-blackness.

“We decided that this was a really important moment for the Latino and immigrant community to step back and talk about how we can center Black Latino immigrants and the Black experience,” said Mara Ventura, director of North Bay Jobs with Justice and one of the event organizers. “The same police that are criminalizing us and turning us over to ICE are the same police that are pulling the trigger on our Black community members.”

The conversation was guided by Sonoma County United in Crisis, a coalition of local organizations that includes representatives of Border Angels of Sonoma County, North Bay Organizing Project, North Bay Jobs with Justice, Latino Service Providers, SEIU Local 1021, Racial Justice Allies of SoCo, Graton Day Labor Center and Raices Collective.

The coalition initially formed to assist members of the local immigrant community during the COVID-19 pandemic, but they shifted their focus as protests against police brutality emerged across the nation, Ventura said.

Las Vidas Negras Importan, hosted in Spanish with English translation, was the coalition’s first public event. Speakers included Ron Lopez, professor of Chicano and Latino studies at Sonoma State University, Omar Paz Jr., lead organizer at North Bay Jobs with Justice and Karym Sanchez, lead organizer at North Bay Organizing Project. 

“Creating this space publicly, with music, with food and with representative members of our organizations of confianza, seemed like a good conduit to start these conversations,”  Machabanski said. 

The recent Black Lives Matter protests have sparked conversations about racism and police brutality throughout Sonoma County.

“I grew up in the Bay Area, but I’ve lived in Sonoma County since 2014. I’ve seen racism here that we don’t see in other parts, whether that is interpersonal or institutional racism,” said Raquel Guevara-Bolaños, youth organizer at the North Bay Organizing Project. “It’s very overt here. I didn’t grow up seeing Confederate flags, but here you see them all the time.”

Anti-blackness within the Latino community was another topic that was addressed at the teach-in. 

“We feel like it’s important for the Latinx community to take a moment to be introspective to how we also have conditioning around anti-blackness in our community,” Sanchez said. “If we are truly going to be in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, we have to unpack that as a community.”

“Unfortunately, the colorism of history and slavery is alive and well today, even in our own families,” Ventura added.  “I’m from Colombia, and when I go home, my family tells me how pretty I am because I’m ‘blanquita.'”

The Latino community has been overwhelmed with racist and anti-black messages since the Americas were colonized, said Renee Saucedo, who came to the event with other members of the ALMAS group at the Graton Day Labor Center.

“Being here gives us the opportunity to talk frankly about anti-black racism that exists in our community and deal with that to move forward to ally ourselves with the black community and all the other communities fighting for justice” she said. 

“We’re hoping this is the first of many conversations that are building solidarity and a greater sense of understanding between the Latinx community, the Black community, and the Native community,” Machabanski said. 

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