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updated: 11/21/2010 2:04 PM

Seeking a place to call home in politics

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Many Latinos have become disgruntled with both political parties, and I can easily see why. One ignores us while the other seems intent on driving us away. The last straw was when Democrats flunked immigration reform, then tried to fool Latinos into thinking Republicans were to blame an easy trick to pull off given how often the GOP flirts with nativism.

Now I hear from people in their 20s who, in their disillusionment, are pining for something that had its heyday before they were born: the Raza Unida Party.

Founded on Jan. 17, 1970, in Crystal City, Texas, Raza Unida held a binational nominating convention in 1972 in El Paso, Texas, and Juarez, Mexico. At one point, it was operating in 17 states and the District of Colombia. Its goal: to elect Latinos to office.

I wondered what the veteranos who lived through that history make of this renaissance for radicals. So I went to the source: Raza Unida co-founder Jose Angel Gutierrez, a 66-year-old attorney and university professor who lives in Dallas. During the Chicano movement of the 1970s, Gutierrez was mentioned as one of the "big four" of Latino leaders along with Cesar Chavez in California, Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzales in Colorado, and Reies Tijerina in New Mexico.

Gutierrez and I are now friends, but our relationship got off to a rocky start. The first time we locked horns was on a public affairs television show in Dallas about 10 years ago. I made a snarky comment about how, while his generation of Latinos had the benefit of experience, they also carried baggage since "all the experiences are bad."

Gutierrez glared at me. And then, on air, he put me in check for my rudeness.

"It's too bad the (Texas) Rangers aren't here," he said. "Because what you need is a good a-- whuppin'."

Still, what makes us kindred spirits is that we both know what it's like to make our fellow Latinos uncomfortable by saying what they don't want to hear.

I asked Gutierrez what he thought about a new generation of Latinos romanticizing the third party he helped to build. He said it all made sense given the original principle behind Raza Unida.

"The legacy of the Raza Unida Party is the concept of independent thought and that we can speak for ourselves," he said. "No ventriloquist needed."

The people who flocked to that movement felt that both parties had failed them. But when the party was over, most of the Raza Unida faithful loyally folded into the Democratic Party where they faded into the wallpaper.

When I asked Gutierrez about gains by Hispanic Republicans in the midterm elections, he agreed that the GOP was making a play for Latino voters. He mentioned how 34-year-old George P. Bush son of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and his Mexican-born wife, Columba is heading up Hispanic Republicans of Texas, a political action committee whose goal is to elect more Hispanic Republicans in Texas.

"Look at the 'little brown one,'" Gutierrez joked, invoking a phrase that George H.W. Bush once used to describe his half-Mexican grandchildren. "Why is he (George P.) invested in that? Why isn't he out there with the other Bushies?"

These days, Gutierrez's hobbies include tweaking nativists with provocative comments about how Anglos are losing sleep over the browning of the United States.

"They think this is a white country," he said. "And when someone says the opposite, then that's the demon."

Speaking of fear, one wonders what Gutierrez finds frightening. Answer: The tea party movement.

"It's kind of scary," he said. "They hate everyone."

Back in the day, those at the bottom knew what they were angry about and at whom to direct that anger.

Today, it's more like a shotgun effect, anger for anger's sake. This might get you some attention. It might even get you elected to a few offices. But, in the end, it won't get you very far.

Neither will apathy. That's the danger for Latinos, given the shoddy treatment they receive from both parties.

"Republicans don't have to pay attention to us because we don't give them anything," Gutierrez said. "And Democrats don't pay attention to us because we have no other options."

Well, we don't have many options anymore. But once upon a time, thanks to people like Jose Angel Gutierrez, we did.

• Ruben Navarrette's e-mail address is

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