Two Americas, Two Realities

A working-class Mexican-American with one foot in each looks at the Democratic National Convention

By Gil Contreras
Published on LatinoLA: August 23, 2000

Two Americas, Two Realities

As the Democratic National Convention came to an end, I suppose the thing that struck me the most was the fact that there are really two (maybe more) Americas:

America # 1 - We The People - non-main stream & politically incorrect


America # 2 - We The People - very main stream & politically correct.

America # 1

Watching several thousand activists in all shapes, sizes, races and ages take to the streets of Los Angeles, bringing attention to their many causes, was an awesome sigh. From the Free Mumia crowd to the Ballona Wetlands group, people who truly seemed committed to their individual causes made their stance known in spite of constant pressure from the ever-present LAPD.

Over the four days of the convention, I saw several hundred activists (I'm tired of calling them protesters) take some extremely courageous action. Despite what appeared to be LAPD/CHP overkill, civil disobedience was conducted at the infamous Rampart police station without incident.

A point well taken was made about a problem that will plague Los Angeles long after the DNC delegates are gone. I watched as 1,500 anti-police abuse activists walked right through LAPD territory calling for an end to racial profiling and abuse at the hands of law enforcement, and was awed by their willingness to face riot-clad cops while outnumbered 5 to 1. The chanting of 1,500 demonstrators in front of Parker Center at LAPD Chief Bernard C. Parks' front door was a sight I will not soon forget.

America # 2 -Latino Style

On day two of the DNC, I was fortunate enough to be invited to a Latino event at Universal Amphitheatre. All the Latino heavy hitters were present: Edward James Olmos, Lt. Governor Cruz Bustamante, Paul Rodriguez, the Cesar Chavez family. The cause was a good one. The Pueblo Corporation sponsored a concert of Latino artists for Democratic delegates and Lt. Governor Bustamante announced the state will recognize the birthday of Cesar Chavez as a legal holiday.

The salsa was hot, the politics was right, Los Lobos tore it up and Rodriguez had me in stitches.

As I looked around the amphitheater, it looked like a Latino Who's Who. In the audience Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina, the cast from the film Luminarias, and Esai Morales!

I saw old friends, made some new ones and saw two of my own editors!

I felt important, I felt proud to be a Latino. I felt, if only for a moment, a small taste of how it must have felt inside the Staples Center. Involved, connected, present, part-of. I found myself agreeing with Paul Rodriguez when he said he wished he could vote for Clinton again! That's right I thought, the economy is booming, life is good, just look around. Clinton's right, we should stay the course!

Then the capper. Enrique Iglesias appears on stage and captivates the audience. The music is great, the show is fantastic, and a great time was had by all! Then, as Enrique closed his set, two cannons blew red, white and blue confetti into the crowd amidst an array of lights and smoke.

What a finale!

And, as the crowd cheered for Iglesias and the confetti fell in my lap, I realized that the disconnected and disenfranchised Americans I had seen running westbound on Olympic Boulevard on Monday night were not present. There were no young or old people with red or blue or spiked hair. There were no placards espousing any cause (minus the UFW), and there were not hundreds of police officers giving the crowd "felony" looks just for being there.

No helicopters hovering overhead so the speakers and musicians could not be heard. No one pulling the plug on the electricity so we would leave.

I'll never forget watching Bill and Hillary speak to America # 2 about a booming economy, education for their children, and a litany of Bill's accomplishments, while outside the hotel where I was watching my Commander-in-Chief, the left-out America clashed with the protectors of America # 2. They were being used to test the many new "less than lethal" toys the LAPD purchased prior to the DNC.

Just minutes after United Farm Workers' own Dolores Huerta addressed the crowd in "the pit" (the designated protest zone) during the Rage Against The Machine concert, young and old were chased westbound on Olympic Boulevard while being shot with rubber bullets and bean bags from shotguns. They were shot with pepper spray pellets and pepper spray, and being pushed and shoved out of "the pit" by cops on horseback.

My fervor to stay the course began to wan as I realized that those in "the pit" had been chased out of the protest zone by force, only to clear the way for delegates inside the Staples Center who were getting ready to exit onto L.A. streets.

Question. If I vote Gore/Lieberman, am I a Chicano activist sellout? If I vote for W (Bush Jr.), am I a Latino sellout? If I vote Nader, am I wasting my vote?

No se.

I suppose my reality is simply working-class Mexican-American with one foot in each of the two Americas. I care about police abuse and the preservation of Ballona, but at the same time I want to make enough money to put and keep my kids in private school and live in an area where cops treat citizens with respect. I don't want to live with the sound of helicopters and gunfire (bad Mexican).

After all the protests, marchas, salsa and comedy last week, I still don't know who I will vote for in November. For now, I think I agree with what Eddward James Olmos said, "If the Democrats want my vote, they're going to have to earn it."

Excluding America #1 from the delegate process, the convention itself and creating an environment where people are intimidated into fearing the exercise of their First Amendment Right, does not appear to be the way to earn votes.

(c) 2000 Gil Contreras - All rights reserved.

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