Author Archives: Rudy Acuña

Los Angeles Herald Examiner (March 13, 1988)

From – Los Angeles Herald Examiner (March 13, 1988)

itle – “The West Side’s unfair shot at Richard Alatorre”

For the past two weeks, my West Side friends have been calling me to ask why Councilman Richard Alatorre voted against measure that would have made it easier for the City Council to revoke the ordinances allowing Occidental Petroleum to drill for oil in the Pacific Palisades. The question reminded me of my junior-high teaching days, when my white colleagues would always ask me to explain why Chicano students were misbehaving, or why Chicanos had so many babies.

Some members of the press have certainly been no help. One explanation of Alatorre’s vote has it that the councilman was angry at the West Side “political machine” of Democratic Congressmen Howard Berman and Henry Waxman because it supported then-Assemblywoman Gloria Molina, not his candidate, for the newly created Latino 1st District seat. Supposedly, Molina received machine money. Alatorre thus voted for Palisades drilling to get even with the West Side machine, and, at the same time, collect a few political chips from Mayor Tom Bradley, who didn’t want to face the issues yet again.

For starters, the account’s implicit portrayal of Molina as the little sister of the rich, white liberal West Siders is sexist and racist. She simply doesn’t need progressive white males, wherever they may live, to protect her from East Side machos. Ask Alatorre. Furthermore, Molina says that she received only a small donation from Berman, not the Berman-Waxman machine, which, in any case, is hardly preoccupied with any significant East Side concerns.

Second, I have known Alatorre for more than 20 years. If revenge was on his mind, he certainly would not have been barely audible, as news accounts described it, when voicing his “no” vote. That kind of meekness is not in his character. Alatorre enjoys paying the role of Big Daddy. He’s even belligerent at times. It is unthinkable that he would have stuck the knife in without smiling, as he did when he abandoned then-Assemblyman Berman in the latter’s bid for the speaker of the Assembly in 1980.

Why Alatorre voted the way he did can only remain the subject of speculation. Much more important is the feeling among my West Side friends, and no doubt among others who live there, that the councilman should be punished for siding with Occidental.

Truth be told, Latinos have little reason to empathize with West Side angst over Palisades oil drilling much less sympathize with the liberal supporters of Berman-Waxman. Latinos remember that Congressman Berman was one of the leading architects of the immigration laws that now threatens to keep thousands of immigrants underground in America. Neither has he nor any other West Side politician decried the toxic waste yards on the East Side or opposed dumping prisons in minority neighborhoods. Gang activity, and the economic deterioration that feeds it, in East Los Angeles is hardly noticed until gang-related violence hits close to their homes.

Moreover, East Siders remember that it was another West Side liberal machine in the 1960s, led by then-Councilwoman Rosalind Wyman, that pitted Latinos against blacks and appointed a non-Mexican to fill Edward R. Roybal’s seat on the City Council after his election to Congress, then reappointed his district to make it impossible to elect a Latino for the next two dozen years. And it was that same machine that joined with conservative business forces in Los Angeles to wipe out Latinos’ homes in Bunker Hill and Chavez Ravine.

Unlike Alatorre, I would have voted against Occidental because the company’s oil drilling plan unduly risks polluting the surrounding environment. No doubt, my motives, too, would have been fair game for a news media reflexively suspicious of Latinos who hold political power. How could I, they would ask, vote against a project that could mean more city dollars, as a result of oil royalties, going to the East Side? Regrettably, such scrutiny is never applied to the motives of whites when voting on our pet projects.

Los Angeles Herald Examiner (January 29, 1988)

From – Los Angeles Herald Examiner (January 29, 1988)

Title – “Power grabbers threaten dream of Latino museum”

While in Ciudad Chihuahua, Mexico, last October, I visited Pancho Villa’s home, which is now a museum. Walking through the home, I noticed an old man and his granddaughter standing in front of Villa’s portrait. After a while, he turned to the little girl and said in broken English, “This is mi general. He made us proud to be Mexicans.”

The old man’s pride in Villa struck me as ironic. It reminded me that though California has more Latinos than at least, half-a-dozen Latin American countries, more Mexicans than most states in Mexico, there is not a single museum celebrating our contributions to Los Angeles and California. Japanese Americans, Jewish American and blacks have one. But not Latinos.

Angelo politicians, who appropriated the money for those museums, are not solely to blame. Latino politicos have not exactly rushed to sponsor a Latino museum bill. Only after Antonio Rios-Bustamante and William Estrada, both of the California Museum of Latino History, spent years hounding Latino representatives in Sacramento did they finally persuade Assemblyman Charles Calderon to introduce a bill, in 1985, for a state-mandated feasibility study. The $50,000 report, conducted by the Economic Research Associates, supported the idea of a Latino museum and recommended four possible sites.

This month, Calderon introduced a bill, AB2798, that would fund the museum. The Alhambra Democrat estimates that $8 million will be needed to build it, and about $1 million a year to operate it (roughly the operating expenses of the Afro-American Museum.) With the museum’s funding now a real possibility, the fight over site has begun.

California State University Chancellor W. Ann Reynolds, a member of the Southwest Museum’s board, has written to a number of state representatives urging them to locate the Latino museum in Southwest Museum. Her rational: Southwest already has a large Native American collection. Adding a Latino museum would attract more art collections. Southwest’s shaky financial position would be significantly eased.

Museum sources, however, deny that Reynolds speaks for Southwest. They point out that the board has yet to take a position. In any case, Southwest is not a historical museum; its mission has never been to celebrate Latino history, nor, it seems, could the museum take up such a cause: No Latino sits on its board of trustees. Indeed, only one board member is a Native American, even though the museum specializes in Native American culture and art.

Another frequently mentioned site is East Los Angeles Community College, which would use some of the $8 million to supplement its Vincent Price art collection. True, East L.A. College is important to the Latino community. But its isolation from the cluster of museums frequently visited by schools argues against it as the best homes for the Latino museum.

The Terminal Annex next to El Pueblo Historic Park is another site possibility. According to Calderon, The East Los Angeles Community Union wants to buy the property and push it as the location for both the Latino and Children’s museums. Many Latinos, however, are doubtful that TELACU has the expertise to run a museum.

The most logical site, in terms of accessibility to visitors, for the Latino facility would be Exposition Park, where the Afro-American, Science and Industry, Natural History Museums are located. But the Exposition establishment doesn’t want a Latino museum on the premises.

Up until a month ago, Calderon was quick to concede privately that the California Museum of Latino History was the only organization with sufficient experience to build and operate a Latino museum. It had produced museum-quality exhibitions, among them the “Latino Olympians, 1896-1984” and the more recent show of Dr. Ernest Galarza’s works at Occidental College. Calderon also has privately assured Rios-Bustamante and Estrada that they will remain key players in the Latino museum project. But he has publicly distanced himself from them.

In part, the reason may be Calderon’s fall from Speaker Willie Brown’s grace. Calderon, like other members of the so-called “Gang of Five,” was punished by the speaker for displaying too much policy independence, losing his seats on the Assembly Ways and Means and Finance and Insurance Committees.

Weakened politically, Calderon appears to be using the Latino museum as a trading chip to recoup his power. Calderon, it should be noted, is no hero to Latinos. He supported Gov. Deukmejian’s quest to build a new prison next to Boyle Heights, and, on other issues, has more often than not voted against Latino interests. His primary constituency is the insurance and banking companies.

Which leaves Richard Alatorre as the real power broker in the museum affair and Calderon’s ticket back into the political limelight. Alatorre wants the Latino museum in his district but is wary of politicizing the siting issue.

It may be too late for that. The judgment of the officers of the California Museum of Latino History already has been questioned in some news accounts. Specifically, Rios-Bustamante and Estrada’s tentative plans for a Latino museum have been criticized for including a spacious executive bathroom and boardroom. What goes unreported is that the two are largely responsible for brining the dream of a Latino museum closer to reality.

But the museum does not belong to the California Museum of Latino History, or to the Latino politicos. It surely doesn’t belong to the “missionaries” who have been suddenly struck by the urgent need for one. It belongs to the community.

It would be nice, for once, if the Latino community could win without having to endure the experience of watching a long-overdue idea be ruined by political power-grabbers. That would require Latinos to get involved. The incentive is certainly there: An opportunity for Latino children and grandchildren to celebrate the sacrifices of their grandparents and parents. We, too, have our Pancho Villas to praise.

 

Los Angeles Herald Examiner (March 3, 1989)

From – Los Angeles Herald Examiner (March 3, 1989)

Title – “The caner in the ranks of L.A. teachers” “Petition attacking bilingual education reflects growing nativism”

It’s easy to support the higher-wage demands of the United Teachers of Los Angeles. I know too many dedicated classroom teachers who deserve better pay and more professional esteem. But UTLA President Wayne Johnson’s apparent decision to allow teachers belonging to Learning English Advocates Drive to circulate a petition attacking bilingual education raises serious questions about his and the union’s leadership.

LEAD is financed by the ultraconservative U.S. English and English First movements, both of which are known for their anti-foreign-born and Third World biases. Linda Chavez, a prominent Latina Republican and Reagan appointee, recently disassociated herself from the racism of the English-only leadership.

The petition also singles out a program that has been part of the Latino education agenda since the beginning of the occupation of the Southwest. It is as fundamental to Mexican-Americans as integration is to blacks.

The LEAD proposal calls on union members to reject a contract provision already agreed to by the Los Angeles Unified School District: to pay stipends of up to $5,000 a year to 4,000 bilingual teachers. Since only 20 percent of the stipend comes out of district general funds, it has little impact on other teachers’ salaries. Thus, the aim of the petitioners seems to be to buy bilingual education by compelling the teachers in the program to leave. According to Johnson, the proposal stands “a very good chance” of passage.

Why would Johnson risk a union vote that could potentially divide his rank and file? It is almost impossible for him not to have known of and approved the petition’s circulation. Union rules and regulations give him the power to stop it.

The truth is that Johnson has a history of supporting anti-Latino agendas. For example, two years ago, he encouraged passage of a LEAD proposal to shift UTLA’s support of bilingual education to advocacy of the English immersion (“sink or swim”) method.

Latino teachers shouldn’t buy Johnson’s excuse that he is barred from taking sides because UTLA is a democratic union.

“Why, then, did Johnson last summer violate the constitution and policy of UTLA by censoring a Chicano/Latino Education Committee article on bilingual education?” asks Mark Meza-Overstreet, a member of the Chicano/Latino Education Committee. “Johnson went out of his way to insult UTLA’s standing committee on Latino education by using non-union bilingual teachers as consultants in his current contract negotiations with the board.”

So much for union solidarity.

There is little doubt that up to 70 percent of the union teachers will vote for the LEAD proposal. Some will vote that way because they feel every bit as worthy as those who speak a foreign language. But the crux of the matter is a rapidly spreading nativist mindset, inflamed by the changing demographics of the school system, among L.A. teachers.

Twenty years ago, Latinos comprised 20 percent of the district’s student population. Today, they constitute nearly 60 percent. Teachers are not immune to the fears and frustrations those shifting numbers have bred in society as a whole, in which the media and elected officials encourage an anti-foreign-born bias.

Interestingly, LEAD was born in Sun Valley, a community mirroring the changes and frustrations in the L.A. school district. There, residents and teachers, most of whom occupy leadership positions in LEAD, blame the Latino influx for a host of problems.

Union chief Johnson knows his teachers and sympathizes with their discontent. For him, there is no percentage in championing the rights of the student majority or the interests of Latino teachers who make up roughly 10 percent of UTLA’s 22,000 members. It is the not-too-silent majority who can re-elect him or send him back to the classroom.

Johnson is fond of saying that “the real needs of children and teachers are indivisible.” Apparently, that’s not the case in bilingual education. Ironically, most Latino teachers will not benefit form the bilingual stipend, since the majority are Anglo. They demand that UTLA support bilingual education and that it take a stand against the spreading cancer of nativism in teacher ranks. The Latino teachers want programs that give Latino students the skills they will need to achieve what UTLA members want for themselves – esteem and good-paying jobs.

Yes, I am for teachers getting paid a fair wage, but they ought to be appalled at the growth of nativism in their union. Until now, the Chicano/Latino Education Committee has carried the burden of the day-to-day struggle within UTLA. It’s now time that teachers and progressives of all colors join to support this standing committee in combating a disease that could lead to ugly confrontations. The LEAD referendum is a symptom of a much greater problem, and we better all be concerned.

Labor/Community News (August-September 1989)

From – Labor/Community News (August-September 1989)

Title – “We, the Community, Have a Stake in the Future of GM Van Nuys

The next time someone asks why the community is involved in the Campaign to Keep GM Van Nuys Open, I’ll answer a rhetorical, “why not?” Why shouldn’t the community be concerned about its future? Does anyone really believe that the San Fernando Valley would not be impacted if the plant closed?

GM Van Nuys has been part of the growth of the Valley for a half century. Its workers shop, live and go to church with non-GM families. Their children attend Valley schools. The Greater San Fernando Chamber of Commerce estimated that if the plant was to be closed:

 

  • 35,000 additional jobs in the community would be lost through the ripple effect
  • 514 retail establishments would be closed
  • $290 million in annual retail sales would be lost
  • 108,000 local residents making up almost 50,000 families would be relocated.

 

Historically speaking, the community as an institution is one of the oldest units of production; only second to the family. Early trade unionists recognized the community’s importance, and they attempted to preserve it through the organization of mutual aid and cooperative societies. Fair wages and job security were and are fundamental to the maintenance and independence of a community.

It was not until the Social Darwinists of the right with their “survival of the fittest” rhetoric rewrote history, selling workers on the idea that labor-management relations were an individual affair, that unions were conveniently separated from the community. The separation made workers increasingly vulnerable since the corporations easily divided collective bargaining into “you and me” instead of “them and us”.

Community members of the Coalition to Keep GM Van Nuys Open want to keep Los Angeles a community where our children have a wide range of occupational choices. GM Van Nuys is a union shop where auto workers get a decent wage and benefits. Too many plants like GM Van Nuys have left the metropolitan area and tha(***) not healthy. The choices are quickly narrowing and future generations will be divided into professionals and those working for a McDonalds like industry. We don’t think we can afford to (***cut off word***) back and be lulled by GM executives who don’t give us anything more tangible than “Trust me.”

We buy more cars in Los Angeles than any other place in the world. Justice demands that those profits be used to improve the quality of life in the community where they are consumed.

The Van Nuys plant, because half of the workforce is Latino, is of particular significance to the Chicano community. Of all ethnic groups, Chicanos are the most loyal buyers of GM products. If GM closes the only auto plant in the country with a largely Chicano workforce, many will interpret this as racist.

But how can we convince GM, a company without a conscience, to abide by the ethic of social responsibility? How can we make GM understand that the corporation must make a long-term commitment not just to the workers but to the community as well? The only was is to tell GM as follows:

“IF YOU EVER CLOSE DOWN THE GM PLANT, THE COMMUNITY WILL ORGANIZE ITS OWN BOYCOTT OF GM PRODUCTS AND THE WORKERS CAN JOIN AS OF THE COMMUINTY. IT IS THE COMMUINTY THAT PURCHASES GM PRODUCTS AND IT IS THE COMMUNITY THAT WILL RETALIATE IF GM EVER CLOSES DOWN THIS PLANT. TO THE EXECUTIVES OF GM IN DETROIT, WE SAY, “KEEP GM VAN NUYS OPEN, AND MAKE A LONG-TERM COMMITMENT AND YOU WILL GAIN THE SUPPORT OF THE GREATER L.A. COMMUNITY. CLOSE THE PLANT AND YOU WILL HAVE A BOYCOTT ON YOUR HANDS.”

 

Los Angeles Herald Examiner August 7, 1987

From – Los Angeles Herald Examiner August 7, 1987

Title – “Olvera Street faces wholesale changes”

The fate of Olvera Street, Los Angeles’ oldest, is up for grabs. Earthquake laws, historically preservation, the pimping of Mexican culture and a political power struggle over who will control El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historic Park, all are playing a role.

During the 1880s, Olvera Street was part of a larger Mexican barrio – encompassing today’s Chinatown – called Sonora Town. Although they competed with newcomers to Los Angeles to live there, Mexicans made up a majority of its residents at the turn of the century.

But by the mid-1920s, Sonora Town, now reduced to Olvera Street, was in its last urban cycle. Its residential character was gone, its buildings occupied by commercial enterprises. When light industry moved in, almost everyone expected Olvera to be bulldozed. Enter Mrs. Christine Sterling, who wanted to save the Avilla house, as well as other buildings, and preserve a bit of “Old Mexico.”

With the help of the city elite and convict labor, Olvera Street, as we now know it, opened in the early 1930s. The area was not only meant to be a tourist attraction. It also was intended as a showplace of Los Angeles’ multi-ethnic heritage, a demonstration project on how different races could work and live together in the city. Ironically, that ideal was daily tarnished by government-sanctioned repatriation squads looking for Mexicans, who, during the Great Depression, were blamed for the shortage of jobs. A mural critical of American capitalism – “America Tropical” by David Siquieros, the great Mexican muralist – was whitewashed. Yet Sterling’s Ramonaland, a sort of Mexican Romeo and Juliet fantasyland in which rancheros wear oversized sombreros and their wives wear layered petticoats, survived.

When California established El Pueblo Park in 1953, Olvera’s merchants had great expectations. They were short-lived. As their first priority, state bureaucrats insisted on restoring the street’s buildings. That meant those built by the Italians, Chinese and other ethnics. The dwellings of the poor – the adobes, where Mexicans had lived since 1781 – were the first to be bulldozed.

Today, Olvera Street is more tourist trap than model of inter-racial harmony. But many of its merchants and their families have developed strong ties to the neighborhood – some have lived there for 57 years – where Mexican traditions such as “Las Posadas” and the “Blessing of the Animals” are still celebrated. Indeed, it is their continuing presence that has preserved much of Olvera Street’s traditional image.

But the rise of Chicano nationalism and the arrival of hundreds of thousands of Mexican nationals and Central Americans have significantly transformed the character of El Pueblo. On Sundays, up to 13,000 Latinos attend mass at Our Lady Queen of Angels. The plaza is increasingly used to celebrate Latino holidays, as well as to protest continuing injustices. In short, Olvera Street is not just an enclave of Mexican business families. Over the years it has come to represent a sense of place for the larger Latino community to share its culture.

A merging of forces, financial and political, threatens to change all that. The enactment of strict earthquake standards, many of which fail to take into account the nature of historical buildings, have made bringing Olvera structures up to code extremely expensive. Environmentalists have compounded the problem by demanding laws that limit a building’s restoration to its original shape and use, without insisting on additional money to achieve this purpose. Faced with paying the bills, the Legislature has decided to appropriate only limited funds to upgrade quake safety in the area.

The lawmaker’s reluctance in part stems from a long-simmering squabble over who should pay for the repairs. The city says Sacramento is responsible, since the state owns the park. In turn, Sacramento wants the quake buck passed to the city, which administers El Pueblo. The dispute has led some city politicians, notably the mayor, to pressure Sacramento to transfer park ownership to the city, a goal that many Olvera merchants support. And for good reason.

The directors of El Pueblo Park have been non-Mexican. In setting policy, they never bother to solicits the advice of Mexican-American scholars. Furthermore, the directors have tried to intimidate the Olvera merchants by reminding them that at other state parks, concessions are bid on. The message is clear: Don’t make waves or you’ll have to compete with Taco Bell.

The massive redevelopment occurring across the street at the old Terminal Annex and the Union Station also has upped the economic and political ante. It is an open secret that developers would like to assume management of Olvera Street and parcel out the concessions to the highest bidders.

Only two years ago, the City Council unanimously approved preconditions for Olvera Street development. Among other things, they promised to protect the merchants and preserve the integrity of the district. But political winds shift quickly.

The council’s recent redistricting put Olvera Street squarely in City Councilman Richard Alatorre’s district. Some of the merchants worry that Alatorre’s ties to East L.A. redevelopment corporations might compel him to put developer profit motives at the head of the line, should the councilman ever be in a position to move and shake.

Other Olvera merchants also are leery of plans being pushed by Tom Bradley’s office, which wants the park put under the control of the Parks and Recreations Committee. Specifically, the businessmen fear they might be forced to compete in bidding wars for the street’s concessions which would be prohibitively expensive for most of them.

Another option would be for either the merchants or a directorship controlled by them to buy the park. The idea led them to commission a study on how this could be achieved. They realize that the needed changes must safeguard the Latino community’s deepening stake in the park while not unduly jeopardizing Olvera Street as a tourist attraction. Toward this end, Latino run shops and Latino employees seem indispensable. It would also serve as a reminder that Mexicans (of Indian, black and Spanish blood) originally built and lived on the street.

But will poor Latinos still be allowed to attend mass at Our Lady Queen of Angels or sit in the plaza? Will activists be able to hold political rallies in the kiosco in defense of La Raza? Or will they, like Siquieros mural, be whitewashed, lest they interfere with Ramonaland’s image?

Los Angeles Times (December 25, 1989)

From – Los Angeles Times (December 25, 1989)

Title – “A Uniquely Needy Flock Mustn’t Lose Its Padre

When Roger M. Mahony became archbishop of Los Angeles, there were high hopes that the archdiocese would turn its attention to Los Angeles’ burgeoning Latino population. The scheduled reassignment of a popular Latino priest, Father Luis Olivares, threatens to return us to the days of Cardinals James Francis McIntyre and Timothy Manning.

It was 20 years ago this Christmas Eve, at St. Basil’s on Wilshire Boulevard, that Chicano activists protested what they considered Cardinal McIntyre’s neglect of their growing community. A confrontation ensued and a dozen demonstrators were arrested.

At the time, significant changes were occurring in the Roman Catholic Church. Unhappy about their church’s lack of social commitment, encouraged by the reforms of Pope John XXIII and the spread of liberation theology in Latin America, and inspired by the heroics of black Protestant ministers in the civil rights movement, Latino priest and nuns pressed for an expansion of their ministry to poor Latinos. Many of these priests and nuns worked in the Los Angeles archdiocese, then one of the most reactionary in the country.

In San Antonio, by contrast, Archbishop Robert Lucey and Francis Furey had for 40 years built an environment to empower Mexican-Americans. Outspoken critics of racism and advocates of trade unionism, they paved the way for the appointment of Patrick Flores as San Antonio’s first Mexican-American archbishop and helped Mexican-Americans gain control of city government in the late 1970s.

This is the tradition of church activism that Olivares brought to Los Angeles and that still imbues his ministry. He was an early supporter of Cesar Chavez and the farm workers. As pastor at Our Lady of Soledad in unincorporated East Los Angeles, he helped organize the United Neighborhood Organization, a grassroots group seeking to expand Latino influence.

In 1981, Olivares became pastor of Our Lady Queen of the Angels, the city’s oldest Catholic Church. Once a symbol of Spanish colonial domination, La Placita, as it is known, became a refuge for poor Mexicans who were unwelcome in English-speaking parishes like St. Vibiana and St. Vincent.

Olivares arrived at the church when waves of Mexican and Central American pilgrims, in a modern-day Christmas tale, were seeking sanctuary in this 20th century Belen. Mindful of La Placita’s historical significance and of the importance of giving people hope, Olivares opened the church’s doors to the refugees. His message was clear: How can you show love for a God that you cannot see if you show no love for your fellow man?

During his eight years at La Placita, Olivares has become the symbol of the Christ who kicked the Pharisees out of the temple rather than the Jesus who ate at their table. An adamant critic of U.S. involvement in El Salvador, he declared his church a sanctuary in 1985. He forged strong links with labor and community organizations, reinforcing their commitment to peace with justice. He has been threatened by Salvadoran death quads based in Los Angeles.

It thus shouldn’t be difficult to understand why the transfer of Olivares to Fort Worth, Tex., if allowed to go forward without an appeal, would be interpreted by Latinos as a weakening of the church’s commitment to the cause of social justice. For many of us, it would also mean a loss of faith. When a child, I often prayed “Please help me God!”, and I knew He would. As I grew older, doubt crept into my prayers. “Please God, help me if you can!” evolved into “Please God, if you’re there!” Olivares made me and many others at least listen again, for there was never any doubt that Olivares was there and would help if he could.

Finally, his departure in July would come at a critical time in La Placita history. Plans are under way to redevelop the area, including the conversion of the plaza into a tourist haven. Many fear the Queen of Angels will become part of the “Old Town” landscape.

Yet Olivares need not have to leave. His order’s decision to transfer him can be appealed.

Archbishop Mahony’s most severe critics concede that he is an improvement on his predecessors. His past differences with Olivares may stem from a clash of different traditions. Even so, the archbishop displayed considerable courage in personally taking medical aid to El Salvador. We hope he will summon similar courage and request that the Claretian order allow Olivares to continue giving posada (lodging) to the modern-day pilgrims coming to Los Angeles.

Los Angeles Herald Examiner (April 7, 1989)

From – Los Angeles Herald Examiner (April 7, 1989)

Title – “Once again, Latinos won’t get their seat”

Created when the city was forced to redraw its political lines in 1986, the 7th Council District looked to be L.A.’s third Latino seat. Councilman Ernani Bernardi, deprived of his Van Nuys base, appeared vulnerable this election. And many Latinos expected the Democratic Party to live up to its rhetoric of promoting Latino empowerment.

Instead, the party, along with the media, have acted as if the district were still the fabled white bedroom community of the past. Fact is the 7th District is now predominately Latino.

Even 10 years ago, it was roughly 40 percent Latino. The 1980 census counted more than a million people living in the San Fernando Valley. 19 percent of whom were Latino. In the East Valley, where the 7th District is situated, Pacoima/Arleta was already 60 percent Latino, Sun Valley, 34 percent, Sylmar, 28 percent and North Hollywood, 25 percent.

More recent data and projections, however, suggest that the 7th is currently 55 percent to 60 percent Latino. The Latino population in the San Fernando Valley may well be 300,000, making it one of the largest concentrations of Latinos in the U.S.

It’s no surprise that the media’s demographic slight has colored their determination of a frontrunner in the Councilmanic race. Consider the case of Lyle Hall, 49.

A former president of the firefighters union and now a fire captain, he’s lived in the Panorama City area for the past couple of years. In endorsing him, the County Federation of Labor seemed to go out of its way to insult the Latina candidate. The interview committee was composed of five males – four whites (two firefighters) and one black. On the basis of this endorsement alone, Hall, an unknown to the 7th’s Latino majority, became the frontrunner in most news accounts.

By contrast, Irene Tovar, 50, raised in Pacoima, graduated from San Fernando High School and California State University, Northridge, received the endorsement of the L.A. County Democratic Party Central Committee. But according to sources inside the Tovar campaign, the endorsement has been worthless. Without donations from the County Federation of Labor, the party will not even mail out a slate card.

The tragedy is that Tovar is more than qualified to represent the district. During the past 25 years, she has held high-level jobs in both city and state government. She is past president of the statewide Hispanic Caucus to the Democratic Party and was the highest-ranking Latina in Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration.

More important, Irene Tovar has served the Northeast Valley all her adult life. As a student, she walked the barrios on weekends to persuade parents to send their children to preschool to learn English and get a head-start. Before she became a public servant, she was a founder of the Latin American Civic Association. In the mid-1960s, the association brought the federally funded head-start program to the San Fernando Valley. Since then, 20,000 children of all colors have been served by the program.

Tovar also played a leading role in organizing Legal Aid, campaigning for fair housing and better race relations and establishing the equity programs at San Fernando Valley State College, now Cal State Northridge.

Why, then, have the labor and media establishments been so intent on slighting Tovar’s candidacy? Why have they ignored a homegrown Latina candidate, one who is especially equipped to handle the district’s problems? Why haven’t they owned up to the fact that there is more vacant land in the 7th than any other district and that this represents an obstacle to Latino empowerment?

Anyone who’s seen the Hansen Dam area, for example, can tell you why developers are drooling over it. They can also tell you how Hansen Dam, in contrast to the Sepulveda Basin, has been allowed to deteriorate. The lake hasn’t been restocked in years, and is drying up. Yet, this recreational area is important to those who live in the district.

True, the 77-year-old Bernardi is not considered pro-development, though he does accept developer money. Hall, however, was endorsed by the San Fernando Valley Realtor Association, which, along with the County Federation, is pro-developer. Problem is that either candidate, once in office, will probably be pressured to develop Hansen Dam and other areas in the district. In the end, development creates a reliable political constituency, and Latinos aren’t a part of it.

Truth be told, the affluent in the San Fernando Valley mock Latinos. The Valley’s leaders are among those who own and rule Los Angeles. Eight of 15 City Council members have Valley offices – and not one of them is a known advocate for Latino interests.

The 7th District is the “Other San Fernando Valley,” where lower- and middle-class Latinos, whites and blacks live in modest but well-kept neighborhoods. Some of the more affluent live in the foothills. In the lowlands, multiple-dwelling complexes are home to the foreign-born. Two to three families living in a single unit is the rule there.

Bernardi inherited the problems of the 7th when the city was remapped. But his career preoccupation has been cutting the budget, and many of the programs cut were aimed at solving the problems of the 7th.

Although most Latino officeholders have endorsed Tovar, they have done little else. Notably missing from her supporters are Rep. Edward R. Roybal and Council members Gloria Molina and Richard Alatorre. This is all the more disappointing because Valley Latinos, deprived of their own representative, have always looked to them to defend their interests.

One explanation is that should Bernardi win this time around and retire in 1993, a Latino would be in a better position to succeed him. Coupled with strong Latinos running in the 1st and 9th districts, the 7th would help get Latinos to the polls at a time when a Latino – Alatorre being a likely candidate – will possibly be running for mayor.

Should this scenario develop, it would be potentially divisive. Latino candidates loyal to the two East Side camps would trigger a fight within the Valley Latino community, ending all hope of a homegrown candidate such as Tovar from emerging in the 7th District. The Northeast Valley deserves better.

Los Angeles Herald Examiner (November 26, 1986)

From – Los Angeles Herald Examiner (November 26, 1986)

Title – “None dare call it racism”

The word “racism,” one of the most damning words in American politics, is seldom heard in public these days. Anyone bold enough to use it risks being labeled a “radical kook,” or worse. Consequently, many Americans seem to believe that the nation has moved “beyond racism,” that its institutions and individuals do not intentionally practice, even in subtle ways, discrimination against blacks and Latinos. New laws and endless litigation have created, at least in principle, a color-blind society.

The irony, of course, is that deleting the word racist from our active political vocabulary has made it that much more difficult for blacks and Latinos to square reality with principle. For no other word conveys such a decisive moral censure. “Prejudicial,” the most commonly used substitute, clearly lacks a similar force. In such a climate, racists are less reluctant to take the offensive and racial minorities must now prove that racism exists.

This is in marked contrast to the 1960s, when the charge of “racism,” admittedly abused at times, forced society to confront the fact that some American institutions and public policies consciously discriminated against minorities. The charge of racism galvanized Americans to take notice. It added a moral dimension to problems that compelled action.

In the ‘80s, the revival of patriotism in some quarters has taken the form of “We are all Americans and we are all the same.” Critics of government policy are sometimes called unpatriotic. Social scientists reinforce the mindset by creating euphemisms for “racism” like the “isolation of minorities.” Such an abstract concept reinforces the belief that American society is no longer tainted by traces of racism.

Actually, during the past 15 years, as the arrival of undocumented workers from Mexico has accelerated, racism towards Latinos has increased. This growing antipathy toward Latinos is in the large part the result of statistics released by the Immigration and Naturalization Service. The agency’s formula for estimating the numbers of “illegal aliens” who elude capture crossing into the United States – for every one who is caught, three to four make it – has contributed to the impression that we are losing control of our borders. Last year, for example, the INS reported that 1.7 million undocumented workers were arrested. Multiplying that figure by a factor of 3 or 4, per INS’ “got away” ratio, does indeed suggest a deluge. But clearly there is no way to verify these estimates. The figures, nonetheless, are dutifully reported in the media without any critical evaluation. Given this misleading scenario of Mexicans streaming across our borders, racism toward all brown-skinned people can, and does, flourish.

Regional INS director Harold Ezell has set the tone of the new racism in his attacks on the undocumented workers. When the INS “sweeps” factories looking for “illegal aliens,” it is not uncommon for its agent to detain anyone who might be of Mexican heritage and ask he or she to prove American citizenship. Ezell also has condoned the formation of paramilitary groups whose self-proclaimed duty is to carry out INS policy. They patrol the border unimpeded and justify their vigilantism in terms of stopping the “communists” and/or the drug traffickers at the border. Yet none dare call their mission racist.

The loss in legitimacy of the word “racism” as a meaningful form of protest also has loosened moral restraints on politicians who would exploit the anti-foreigner hysteria. Take Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich. In his unsuccessful bid for the Republican Party’s nomination for the U.S. Senate, he played on public fears that we are being deluged with “illegal aliens.” His aid even went so far as to say that the problem was so bad that he wished he had a Smith & Wesson.

In the ‘60s, such talk would have led to charges that Antonovich and his aid were dangerously close to, if not over, the racist line. Today, no one in the media, from editorial writers to commentators, called Antonovich’s remarks racist.

The overwhelming passage of Proposition 63, the English-only initiative, underscores this trend. If anyone still doubts the real intentions of some of the measure’s supporters, he need look no farther than Sacramento, where work is under way on a number of bills to implement Prop. 63’s provision to “preserve and enhance” English. Assemblyman Frank hill, a supporter of the measure, said this week he seeks to change “the fundamental focus on bilingual education in California away from native language instruction.” At whose expense?

Gov. George Deukmejian is a good example of a politician whose policies, though not overtly racist, have the effect of “isolating Latinos.” At least four examples come to mind. One, he has weakened the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board by stacking it in favor of growers. Needless to say, their primary concerns do not include improving the living conditions of farm workers, the majority of whom are poor Latinos. Two, in pressing the downtown Los Angeles prison, he has callously disregarded the potentially harmful effects a new jail would have to the East L.A. community. Three, during the administration, Deukmejian has done everything in his power to reduce the community-college budget, with the fact that they are fast becoming mere technology schools. This has been a serious blow to Latinos, whose attendance in community-colleges is disproportionately high. And in September, the governor vetoed funding for bilingual education, stating that he wanted a review of the cost-effectiveness of the program (which would take years and in effect kill bilingual education). Unfortunately, the governor has not been as conscious with respect to the downtown prison site: He has refused to study its effectiveness or its environmental impact.

During the 1960s, it would not have been controversial to argue that some of the policies of Deukmejian and Antonovich and Ezell foster racist ends by unfairly discriminating against Latino interests. In today’s political climate, that charge is likened to the raving of a Lyndon LaRouche. Hence, nobody is listening which means that the struggle for equality which is ultimately dependent on the underdog being given his chance to share his case, is that much harder.