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Bernstein writes: "Most sane Democrats, and more and more Republicans, are shifting their support to former vice president Joe Biden."

Migrants are loaded onto a bus by Border Patrol agents in El Paso, Texas. (photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Migrants are loaded onto a bus by Border Patrol agents in El Paso, Texas. (photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Free the Children, Joe: A Yaki/Chicano Perspective on What Biden Must Do to Secure an Overwhelming "Brown Vote" in 2020

By Dennis J Bernstein, Reader Supported News

12 September 20


ost sane Democrats, and more and more Republicans, are shifting their support to former vice president Joe Biden. But a large chunk of that support is conditional and may be fleeting in the Latinx community if Biden continues to display a lack of real understanding of the multiple challenges facing emerging Brown communities across the US – communities now being rocked by the dual pandemics of racism and Covid-19.

Miguel Gavilan Molina, an award-winning radio producer and the host of La Onda Bajita on Pacifica Radio in Northern California, has some strong thoughts on what Biden needs to do to win. Molina, a former child farmworker, is the oldest in a farmworker family of six. Molina says he helped raise his four younger brothers and his sister in a modified “chicken coop,” working in the “fields of misery” near Healdsburg, California.

“Bear in mind,” says Molina, “Barack Obama became known as the Deporter in Chief for a reason. And with the energetic support of Joe Biden, this dynamic duet deported more people than any other administration in the history of our republic. And, adds Molina, with a bit of rage burning at the bottom of his throat, “Brown women, children, and men – entire families – were overwhelmingly the target of this violent forced-removal program from the land of the free.”

As a young boy, Molina saw his undocumented dad yanked out of their “shack” for deportation, after he “overstayed his welcome” as a part of the Bracero “Guest Worker” Program of the 1950s. Miguel’s mother was knocked unconscious during her attempt to stop the sheriffs from beating her husband and dragging him out of the house in his underwear.

Molina jokes about his two birth certificates, a year apart. He says he’s either 67 or 68. “A yaki/Chicano needs at least two lives to survive the fields of misery.”

As a young child, Molina was cared for until the age of five by relatives on the Mexican side of the border. He says he wasn’t sure who his mother was when she finally gathered the means to come scoop her first child up for his new life in America. Molina would later become familiar with the United Farm Workers during a break from the scorching planting fields of whatever fruit or vegetable was bursting from the fertile grounds of Northern California. Years later, Molina would stand side by side with UFW co-founder Dolores Huerta and go on to co-found the first bilingual radio station in America, KBBF.

I interviewed the activist radio-producer in the crowded streets of San Francisco 15 years ago, at one of the first major national demonstrations on behalf of the rights of undocumented people. He was pointing out at that time the number of baby strollers in the streets, as well as little Brown kids walking alongside their parents or being held in their arms. “Soon,” Miguel opined at the time, “very soon, they will be deciding who will be the next senator and governor and president of the United States.”

In a recent extended interview, I asked Molina to articulate some of the key needs of the Latino/Latinx community to which Biden must turn his attention in order to sustain his support from the Latino voter.

“The Latino vote is no longer a shoo-in for the Democratic Party,” he said. “A lot of Brown voters are not excited about the Biden/Harris ticket. They haven’t forgotten that Biden stood next to President Obama for eight years, and did nothing to stop mass deportation.” Racism, Molina is quick to point out, “still rules” the lives and destroys the hopes of millions of Brown people, who do the hardest work in this country and face abuse for it. Molina says it is crucial that Biden understand the emerging power of Brown people in America and show it, through his actions.

According to Voto Latino, “Racist policing and state violence ... destroys lives and separates families in Latinx communities, in the form of police brutality, ICE detention centers, and Customs and Border Patrol abuses.”

Molina harkens back to the work Robert Kennedy did on behalf of the farmworkers. For instance, says Molina, back in the sixties, “Robert Kennedy came and sat with Cesar [Chavez] when he was on hunger strike, sat with him, listened to the demands of the farmworkers, and then did something about it. You think Joe gets it? You think Joe knows it’s grape-picking season in wine country, and it’s 110° in the shade? You think Joe is thinking about the fact that farmworkers are essential workers that deserve hazard pay for risking their lives to pick the fruit, while the industry big shots head for cover from the flames that are now spreading all over farmworker country? How about a national holiday for Cesar Chavez.”

At this moment, Molina says, “Latinos are the largest growing demographic in this country, and their vote is crucial to the Democratic Party’s ticket, and ultimately necessary to ensure a victory that will be indisputable and impossible to be legally challenged – particularly in those battleground states like Arizona, Nevada, Texas, Florida, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania.”

Molina went on to articulate the misgivings of thousands of Latinos in the US. “We’ve been wondering where Joe was when Obama increased the Border Patrol from several thousand to over 200,000 employees,” he says, a touch of irony rising in his voice. “Where was Joe when President Obama authorized private independent contractors to build and operate detention centers, aka concentration camps? Where was Joe when Obama funded and expanded a special militarized border police force known as ICE to profile, identify, track, raid, assault, arrest, detain, and deport Brown people?”

Molina notes that in a departure from Obama’s immigration policy, Biden has promised he will make it a topline issue from the first days of his presidency, but he says we have heard this “song” for years, without anything ever happening. “Yes,” said Molina, “it is good that Biden has called for a 100-day moratorium on deportations if he wins the presidency. But that’s not nearly good enough. What about calling for an end to the militarized ICE police terror, and releasing over 7,000 children who are in cages and jails, and implementing a family reunification program to reunite these innocent children with their parents?”

As Jorge Ramos, leading Latino journalist/producer for Univision, has asserted repeatedly, “No candidate will be able to win the White House without Latino votes. Mr. Trump would never have won the presidency without Florida’s 29 electoral votes and Arizona’s 11.” Indeed, he is correct. In 2016, more than half of eligible Latino voters did not vote. In the upcoming presidential election, Latinos will make up the largest number of eligible minority voters in the US. The Pew Research Center reports that in 2020, over 32 million Latinos will be eligible to vote.

Now, unlike Obama, Joe Biden has also announced that he will attempt to pass an immigration bill at the start of his administration. Ramos continued, “He probably thinks that some sort of immigration reform will immediately gain Latino support for his presidency. But if Biden is to attract the Brown vote, he can’t just focus on immigration. He needs to broaden his message to include economic justice and equality, as well as job development that includes fair wages, takes people out of the cycle of poverty, and raises their standard of living.”

Molina concluded: “It took Biden nine months after he started his presidential campaign, and three years after he left office, to publicly admit that it was a mistake for the Obama administration to have deported so many people, without criminal records, and without due process. Not until there is some real immigration reform and a clear path to citizenship will he gain the trust and support of the Brown masses and their overwhelming vote.”

And finally Molina said, in a direct first-name address to the Democratic candidate for president: “Release the children, Joe Biden, all of them – on day one!”

Dennis J Bernstein is the host of Flashpoints, on Pacifica Radio, and the author most recently of Five Oceans in a Teaspoon, recipient of the 2020 IPPY Gold Medal in Poetry.

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