Growing Minority Blocs Struggle for Political Gains Black, Hispanic, and Asian Community Leaders Demanding Empowerment by Redistricting

Article excerpt

THE face of American government will change significantly in the 1990s - becoming more black, brown, and Asian - but not as significantly as many activists would like.

That seems to be the early conclusion of what the all-important decennial process of redistricting will mean for minority groups across the country.

As lawmakers from Maine to California move through the sensitive task of redrawing political boundaries, early snapshots show that dozens of new black and Hispanic leaders could be elected to offices at the state and federal level as a result of the way districts are being refashioned.

But in many states, the gains have been less than minority leaders believe they should be, and more quarreling and maneuvering lies ahead.

Already, Hispanic groups in Texas have challenged state redistricting plans in court and similar suits may be filed by groups in New Mexico and California. The United States Department of Justice has returned the maps of several Southern states for not creating more districts favorable to blacks.

While the redrawing is ongoing, minority groups offer these assessments of the early dynamics:

*Latinos. Activists had hoped to double the number of Hispanics in Congress, from 10 to 20. The way things are going so far, however, there will be only six or seven new districts created where Latinos will make up a majority of the population, and thus possibly be elected to office.

In California, Hispanics were pushing for three new Latino-majority districts. The Legislature created one, but, because of a gubernatorial veto, the courts will likely redraw the maps. Texas created two new Hispanic districts; New Mexico none.

"What we're seeing is not at all comparable to Latino demographic growth over the last decade," says Arturo Vargas of the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund; the Hispanic population grew 9 million in the 1980s, to 23 million.

Similar disputes loom over boundaries for state legislative offices. The Texas Legislature created seven fewer Hispanic-majority districts than Latino activists had wanted, which is one reason they are fighting the plan in court. Hispanics want at least one more seat in California.

*Blacks. Leaders project that eight to 12 black congressional districts will be created. Most will be in the South, but the leaders hope to see favorable districts drawn in Philadelphia, Boston, and New York City. Nationwide, blacks hold less than 2 percent of all elected positions while representing 12 percent of the population. …