The Sunset Park-based group runs outdoor market and civic education – The Indypendent | Team Cansler

On Sundays from May through October, one corner of Sunset Park feels like a thriving Mexico City marketplace. It’s called Plaza Tonatiuh and is organized by Mexicanos Unidos. At this year’s final plaza on October 30, the narrow avenues between the rows of vendors in the park were crowded with visitors of all ages. Vendors sold Mexican and other Latin American foods, household items, toys, clothing, jewelry, and more. Live music and dancing to celebrate the anniversary of the death on November 2 continued into the night.

Mexicanos Unidos was founded in the early weeks of George Floyd’s riots that shook New York City three summers ago. In July 2020, the organization staged protests over the killing of Vanessa Guillen, a 20-year-old US soldier who was beaten to death by another soldier, Aaron David Robinson.

Later that month they distributed a flyer: “Mexicans United of America Lost invita a un foro para discutir nuestros projectos comunitarios/ Invites you to a forum to discuss our future community projects.”

By early 2021, MxU protested less often and had begun to shift its energies to community engagement. In May 2021, they launched Plaza Tonatiuh, their pivotal organizing project, to stoke frustration over gentrification and the crackdown on street vendors.

There were 20 vendors at the last plaza in 2021. This year ended with 88+ applicants.

During each Plaza, MxU will hold a dealer meeting to discuss operations. On November 7th, a week after the last plaza of the season, the organization invited the vendors back to Sunset Park for a debriefing. About 60 people came. Childcare and coffee were provided.

Mexicanos Unidos draws inspiration from the Black Panthers’ ability to analyze and respond to the needs of the community.

Vendors and MxU members formed two discussion groups, in which each participant in turn offered criticism of themselves and the Plaza as a whole. They discussed at length how to secure access to restrooms when park officials close them hours before the plaza ends, and other logistical issues.

Now in the off-season, MxU will aggregate vendor feedback and needs, and travel to vendor homes to continue civic education. The organization, which has around 50 members from all counties, hopes to acquire a community space in Sunset Park soon. It takes inspiration from the Black Panthers’ ability to analyze and respond to the needs of the community.

Leo, 26, is chairman. He grew up in Sunset Park with his mother and four siblings but has since been priced out and now lives in Bensonhurst. He works at a coffee shop in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn. Leo became radicalized when he learned of the disappearance of 43 students from Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers’ College in Guerrero, Mexico in 2014. In 2021, he traveled to Mexico to join indigenous activists who occupied water bottling plants in Bonafont.

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Leo is the chairman of Mexicanos Unidos. Photo by Amba Guerguerian

How was Mexicanos Unidos founded?

It was created during the George Floyd riot and had a lot to do with what happened to Vanessa Guillen and the consciousness that grew out of it. We wanted to channel these mainly nationalistic tendencies into something more revolutionary, more organized for the collective – and also to understand that New York City is not just the Mexican diaspora. So we have a large Caribbean, Asian, Central American, and South American diaspora. We wanted people to understand that our liberation is linked to the liberation of others.

Tell us a little about the upcoming citizenship education and why it matters.

At the moment we are preparing to offer more courses in political education. We see this as a necessity. We do that first with the Plaza participants. It is also a way for us to gain unity in thought because we already have unity in action. It’s also something we’ve also done internally with new members.

Our basic course consists of Five Golden Rays from Mao, State and Revolution from Lenin, The pedagogy of the oppressed by Paulo Freere, misery of the earth by Franz Fanon and we also take excerpts from it Open Veins of Latin America by Eduardo Galeano. We also have advanced courses consisting of readings on George Jackson and more from the Black Panthers.

What are your experiences with how people received what you shared?

We use Paolo Friere and Popular Education because we strive for people to understand that we are not teachers – we also learn with you. After going through the study, we see a change in mentality and commitment, but some people retain it much quicker than others. It’s hard to ask people to study it in their spare time while they are also working-class people. Not everyone has time to read. And not everyone can read. So we shifted a lot of our learning to discussions.

“We use Paolo Friere and Volksbildung because we strive for people to understand that we are not teachers – we also learn with you.”

We met at protests outside Bergen County Jail in North Jersey in late 2021. The cops beat up rallies for supporting hunger-striking ICE prisoners inside. That was brutal.

We realized how unsustainable that was and how widespread burnout was, especially among organizers.

I remember watching a video of Kwame Ture mentioning the difference between mobilization and organization. In 2020 and parts of 2021, we were still mobilizing heavily. No one has ever pulled out a clipboard as we marched to ask people what they can contribute, or ask people where they are, or how we can organize to defeat this monster that has its body in has all of North America.

So we took a moment to sit back and start building the base in Sunset Park and the Plaza to consistently stay somewhere. And just build here, honestly.

What you describe reminds me that providing people with a vision of the positive is so crucial in organizing. It cannot just be about protest or even self-education. Things like the Plaza give people a vision to get excited about.

Many Thanks. Yes! Franz Fanon mentions why celebration for the oppressed is so important, because we can shake all that oppression out of ourselves. And we must not use horizontal violence against each other on the street. But now we can dance together and shake all these things out of our bodies.

What was the inspiration for the square?

One of the most important was Chicano Park in San Diego and others in Colorado. Those cultural pillars that help with resistance movements. Another motivation was Industry City, a gentrifying entity moving into Sunset Park. Also the homicides and robberies of street vendors, park police dumping their belongings. The NYPD issues tickets for selling mangoes on the street and on the subway.

At the Plaza debrief, I noticed a man wearing a Che Mario shirt. How do you think attending the Plaza and practicing direct democracy affects people’s ideologies?

Well, you have to remember that people in Latin America are generally more radical. They have more leftist stories. But I also definitely noticed that the square created more of a collective consciousness and fought individualism.

So what is the goal or vision of Mexicanos Unidos?

To help build a revolutionary socialist party and organize the lumpen proletariat (including but not limited to the unemployed, marginally employed, undocumented and on welfare) who are most dispossessed and who will benefit most from socialism.

Do the salespeople know you’re a bunch of clerks?

Yes! We are open with them about it. But we also try not to hit them over the head with it.

For more information, follow @mexicanosxunidos and @plazatonatiuh on Instagram or email mexicanosxunidos@gmail.com.

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