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MLK insistió a los líderes civiles latinx para que se unieran a la Marcha sobre Washington, ya que sentía ambas luchas hermanadas. Photo: AFP
MLK insisted that Latinx civic leaders join the March on Washington, as it felt the two struggles were twinned. Photo: AFP

Martin Luther King Jr. and the shared dream of Latino and Black communities in the U.S.

Today marks the 92nd anniversary of the birth of the father of the Civil Rights Movement, which created powerful alliances with the Latino community.

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"As brothers in the struggle for equality, I extend the hand of fellowship and goodwill and wish you and your members continued success. Our separate struggles are really a struggle for freedom, dignity and humanity." 

The quote is part of a telegram sent by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to civil rights activist Cesar Chavez in late September 1966. The previous March, Chavez had marched from Delano, California, to Sacramento with a caravan of farm workers to denounce the situation in the fields of both Mexicans and Filipinos. 

The African-American leader wanted to show his support, as well as the mutual admiration that both had for each other over the years, with the Chicano saying that MLK inspired the philosophy of the United Farm Workers of America (UFW).

"It has been our experience that few men or women have the opportunity to know the real satisfaction that comes with giving one's life totally in the non-violent struggle for justice," Chavez wrote in an article published a decade after the pastor's death. "Martin Luther King, Jr. was one of these unique servants and from him we learned many of the lessons that have guided us. For these lessons and for his sacrifice for the poor and oppressed, the memory of Dr. King will be cherished in the hearts of the peasants forever."  

But on the annual celebration, it is not of death, but of birth. Both that of Martin Luther King, whose birthday is celebrated throughout the country today, and the brotherhood that has always existed between Latinos and African Americans, which united again last year in the struggle through Black Lives Matter demonstrations.

It was a friendship built in the early 1960s through the alliance with the Chicano Movement, MLK's visits to Puerto Rico, and the now-legendary 1963 March on Washington, when Dr. King pushed for greater visibility of Latinos in the march — and they were counted in the thousands. 

As former National Council of La Raza President Raul Yzaguirre told AP a few years ago, MLK's Washington speech — the famous "I have a Dream" — was a dose of energy needed to add new momentum to the Latino struggle: 

"Although the focus was on the African-American community at that time, I think his thoughts, his sense of justice resonated with those of us who had perhaps a broader sense of inclusion, who wanted Latinos and Native Americans and other minorities to be an integral part of a civil rights movement," said Yzaguirre. 

The father of the nonviolence movement had asked former Puerto Rican Day Parade president Gilberto Gerena Valentin to mobilize Latinos in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Massachusetts to join the march, and a good portion of the Puerto Rican community in New York joined the nearly 300,000 people who followed Dr. King on his pilgrimage for change. 

Gerena also spoke to the crowd on that iconic day in American history. He addressed his people in Spanish and for 15 minutes talked about the discrimination that Hispanics and Puerto Ricans in the country also suffer and their common struggle. 

Undoubtedly, MLK's dream is a shared one. And the way for freedom and justice today more than ever, in times of political and social changes in the country, is the same for all BIPOC communities.

Happy birthday, Dr King. 

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