A Conversation With Dr. Ezekiel Mobley | Local Vocal | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

A Conversation With Dr. Ezekiel Mobley



Dr. Ezekiel ... or Ezequiel, if you're Spanish ... Mobley is devoted to solidifying relationships between Central and South Americans and African Americans. For the last three years, his PCTV 21 television show, Hola!, has featured Afro-Mexican guests as well as many others who have a shared African and Latino ancestral background. He currently works to encourage more Latin Americans to move to Pittsburgh, while making connections between local African-American and Latin American organizations.



Your PCTV show pre-dates the Mexican immigration debates, but how has the spotlight been since it became such a hot-button issue?


When you go visiting Central or South America, you see blacks. The present propaganda doesn't allow you to absorb that there are blacks from Mexico ... unless it's sports figures. But there are many other examples of blacks in Mexico doing big things. I decided to create Hola! to provide space in the media for blacks and Mexicans to come together. I use it as a way to encourage African Americans to look to Latinos to find common ground.


African Americans were upset last year about the Mexican stamp commemorating Memin Penguin [a Mexican cartoon figure resembling early 20th-century racist cartoon characters]. We can understand why, right?


Absolutely, and for good reason they were offended. But you have to appreciate that we were offended by the issue within our own American context. ... [B]ack in the '40s and '50s the American press were characterizing us like that, with characters like Amos 'n' Andy and Aunt Jemima. You didn't have anywhere near as much protest about those figures as there is now. Both of our historical experiences in this country have been shaped by American racism ... not just the black experience but the Latino American experience as well.


African Americans often say they'll support Mexican immigrants if they'll support us, but don't we already have a tab with them?


Yes. When you look at our slavery experience in terms of Mexico, when we crossed the border, they would absorb us all throughout the 19th century. We ran into much racism [in the United States] and we were looking for places to flee. Many times we found opportunities across the border. When blacks were being moved from east to west, they would often flee slave catchers and go to Mexico.


So how should African-American anti-immigration sentiment be understood?


It's just a question of space when it comes to recent or long-term immigrants trying to develop themselves in this country. All this time, African Americans were relegated to either the South or big cities in the Northeast, Midwest and far West. The first location for most immigrants who come to the United States is in the large cities. Much of the southwestern portion of our country was Mexico back then. So when Mexicans talk about coming back to those areas, they're just thinking, "We're coming home." You see a lot of Mexicans with Mexican flags in the protests because in their emotional cosmology, this is just coming home. That creates conflicts around space and employability and them and us. But we haven't been taught about the relationship black people should have with brown people.


Have brown people been taught that?


No, and the reason is because of the European influences [in] their country. Increasingly, if blacks want to do more things in this country, we desperately need allies. Mexican immigrants in this country desperately need allies so they can understand their economic and political freedoms. If they could find common ground with African Americans on political and economic issues, we could be a huge power factor in this country. Frankly, there are people who don't want that.


Why is Pittsburgh's Latino population so small?


Some Latino Americans say the immigration of unskilled workers has not been encouraged in Pittsburgh. Over the last 20 years, highly educated and highly skilled Latinos are coming to greater Pittsburgh. You haven't found as many unskilled Latino immigrants coming to this area. I don't know the answer to that. The question becomes: If the young people who come here for college don't stay here, then when the older people die off, who's going to be here? The answer to that question may eventually be Latin Americans.

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