Hispanics respond with caution to Jackson overtures

Jesse Jackson's ''rainbow coalition'' is missing the hue that would be added by Hispanics. So far this primary season, most Hispanic votes have gone to other Democratic presidential candidates.

Take New York, the state with the third largest Hispanic population in the United States. In New York's April 3 primary, The Rev. Mr. Jackson won only 22 percent of the Hispanic vote. Walter Mondale captured 48 percent.

Yet Jackson, with an eye on the coming Texas and California primaries, is trying hard to convince Hispanics that an alliance with blacks is their quickest route to political power.

Speaking before the recent National Hispanic Leadership Conference (NHLC) in Washington, Jackson said that blacks and Hispanics ''cannot win and grow and develop unless we are together. Together, politically and economically, we are a potent force.''

Jackson suggested, for instance, that this ethnic group alliance could defeat New York Mayor Edward I. Koch, and replace him with a politician perhaps more sensitive to minority concerns.

And at this particular meeting, at least, his message found a receptive audience. Hispanic organization leaders, at a post-conference press briefing, were all smiles and sighs when talking about Jackson.

''Hispanics are very sensitive to what Jesse Jackson has to say. We share with blacks concerns about employment, community aid, and economic development, '' one prominent Hispanic comments. ''And the implications of a black-brown coalition are tremendous.''

''He was very respectful,'' Gloria Rodriguez, local director of the National Puerto Rican Forum, says of Jackson's NHLC appearance. ''He did his homework.''

But Ms. Rodriguez doubts that many Hispanics will join the coalition now. And by 1988, she says, Hispanics - the fastest growing US minority group - may have enough political muscle to make it on their own.

''We've got to see a bit more substance (before forming a political alliance with blacks),'' Ms. Rodriguez says. ''We've got to be assured of a few more things.''

Ms. Rodriguez's comments bring up a larger point. In the past, American blacks and Hispanics have often been at political odds. This is undoubtedly a major reason why Jackson isn't getting large numbers of Hispanic votes.

Hispanics complain that blacks have often treated them like an ethnic-junior partner. ''We want to make sure the phrase 'minority' is all-inclusive, and not just a euphemism for the black community,'' Raul Yzaguirre, head of the National Council of La Raza, said.

And the two groups often split over sensitive issues.

Immigration reform is currently the issue most dear to Hispanic groups' hearts. They worry that the Simpson-Mazzoli immigration bill (now before the House) would lead to wholesale discrimination against Hispanics, because it punishes employers who hire illegal aliens.

Jesse Jackson supports Hispanics' position on Simpson-Mazzoli. But some black groups, such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), do not.

According to Raul Yzaguirre of La Raza, many black groups also hedged about extending the Voting Rights Act to cover Hispanics.

Hispanic leaders, for their part, say they may not be able to support one of Jesse Jackson's pet issues: elimination of ''runoff primaries'' by the Democratic Party.

And the two groups are also split over tuition tax credits, says one civil rights community leader. The NAACP opposes such credits as detrimental to public schools; Hispanics, many of whose children attend parochial school, sometimes favor the credits.

So, while Jesse Jackson may be speaking to Hispanics' hearts, it seems to be Walter Mondale that is making them pull the lever. Though Mondale annoyed Hispanic leaders by not showing up at their conference, he has many important Hispanic backers, including Henry Cisneros, mayor of San Antonio, and Toney Anaya, governor of New Mexico.

The first appeared April 30.

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