WASHINGTON – The racial divide exposed by Hurricane Katrina has united minority lawmakers in Congress who hope to leverage their numbers to aid overlooked communities.
Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus are creating a new group that will include all of their members. The Tri-Caucus will not replace the existing caucuses.
The leaders of each of caucus wrote the House Administration Committee last week asking for formal recognition of the new group. The request comes two weeks before members of the minority caucuses are to meet in Houston for a previously scheduled retreat that was canceled because of Hurricane Katrina.
Many of those who were unable to escape Katrina and the flooding it caused in New Orleans were black and poor. The Aug. 29 storm also greatly affected the Hispanic and Asian immigrant communities in the Gulf Coast states.
"What happened in Katrina can be a lesson to understanding what could happen in other areas," said Rep. Grace Napolitano, D-Calif., who heads the Hispanic caucus. "The Red Cross was not putting in people who were bilingual. When groups like the National Council of La Raza tried to volunteer, they were turned away."
Katrina "pulled the veil back on the kind of poverty we've been trying to address," said Rep. Mike Honda, chairman of the Asian Pacific American caucus.
"Communities of color have been separated by race, by language ... they've been very busy trying to survive. Working together we can get things done that we have in common in our community. We can create political leverage when we are together, we can create common solutions together," Honda said.
The caucuses members total about 75. While the groups are open to lawmakers from any party, the caucuses members are all Democrats, which limits their power because Republicans are in the majority in Congress.