Author Archives: Rudy Acuña

Los Angeles Herald Examiner (January 23, 1987)

From – Los Angeles Herald Examiner (January 23, 1987)

Title – L.A. Latinos need a new Ed Roybal

The recent turn of events in the controversy over the proposed downtown prison makes “leadership ability” the most pressing political qualification in the special election for the First Councilmanic District. For it is clear from Gov. George Deukmejian’s first State of the State address of his second term that his concept of justice begins and ends with “just-us” white Republicans. He will not curb his obsession to dump another prison on the East Side Latinos, even though Crown Coach, the company whose property was the cornerstone of the prison proposal, has sold out to private developers. “In the name of fairness,” the governor said, the fight must not be abandoned.

The governor’s unwavering confidence that he will still get his new prison exposes a crisis in the political leadership among Latinos. It also shows that Latinos should be wary of (***I believe the article is missing a word here although nothing is cut off***) depending on the support of liberal Democrats, though some of them helped block the prison last year, in their struggle against Deukmejian. The temptation to mend political fences in Sacramento and move on to other issues is just too strong. This state of affairs shouldn’t be all that surprising since most political leaders today stand for little, if anything.

What makes Latino leadership so crucial now is that Latinos are passing through the worst of times: Demographers predict that they will replace blacks as the most depressed minority in the United States by the 1990s. Already, the majority of the next two generations of Mexican-Americans living in Los Angeles have been condemned to a life of poverty. Someone should have already sounded the clarion in response to Deukmejian’s sense of “fairness.”

The political plight of Latinos is further aggravated by local politicians and the media whose grasp of the history of the East Side is shaky at best. In the postwar era, developers steadily encroached upon Mexican-American communities in and adjacent to the Civic Center, threatening to wipe them out. The downtown elite oversaw and participated in the destruction of the area’s transit system, thereby increasing the necessity for freeways. Federal policy and money made their construction possible. Suburbia flowered, and whites abandoned the inner city to minorities and the poor.

Five freeways crisscross the East Side. Thousands – 10,000 in Boyle Heights alone – were uprooted to clear the way. One freeway divides Hollenbeck Park, one of the state’s most beautiful, in half because planners wanted to avoid demolishing a brewery. Simultaneously, plans were made to redevelop most of the East Side. The planners did not, however, address such needs as public housing for the poor. Indeed, the “ethic” of the time sanctioned the practice of taking land away from Latino and other landowners to sell to private developers at well below market prices.

Bunker Hill and Chavez Ravine stand as testimonials to the concept of fairness that Republicans and Democratic politicians regularly support. In the case of Bunker Hill, occupants were forced to sell their homes without any guarantee of – or the means to buy – comparable housing elsewhere. In Chavez Ravine, sheriff deputies forcibly removed families to give Walter O’Malley and his Dodgers the 300 acres the city promised to lure the team from Brooklyn.

The media rationalized this plunder by portraying the Latino community as economically blighted, crime-ridden and gang-infested. Such a view had made it politically easy – environmental impact reports were not required, for example – to locate waste disposal sites, prisons and public facilities in the area. And implementing those mandates often involved police brutality.

The only elected Latino official in the city was Edward R. Roybal, who served on the Los Angeles City Council from 1949-1962. His active support of progressive civil rights causes quickly earned him the wrath of the downtown elite when he opposed a loyalty oath for city employees during the McCarthy hysteria. Throughout his tenure, Roybal led the Mexican-American community in condemning police brutality, the downtown elite and the forced removal of urban families. In the case of Chavez Ravine, he focused public attention on the uprooting of families there.

But Roybal’s finest hour came in January 1960, when the late Los Angeles Police Chief William H. Parker testified before the U.S. Civil Rights Commission. In his testimony, the chief asserted that since Mexicans were genetically prone toward crime, his department’s aggressive tactics were justified: “Some of these people (Mexicans) were here before we were, but some are not far removed from the wild tribes of the district of the inner mountains of Mexico.”

Roybal attended and led numerous rallies demanding Parker’s removal and/or his apology. But council members lined up behind Parker, accusing Roybal of being disruptive. All the local newspaper editorialized that Roybal was fomenting racial discord. (For the record, Parker never apologized.)

Today, there are three East Side Latinos in the California Assembly, one in the state Senate, another on the City Council and a dozen or so judges. Combined, they have not even approached the leadership standard set by Roybal. Generally, they have played it safe. Nowhere is this more evident than in their close relationships with Roybal’s old nemesis – the developers.

The downtown prison is thus important in the First Councilmanic District race because it underscores the desperate need for a new Roybal. The community cannot afford to elect another representative who stands for little or who merely defends the monied interests. For Latinos, the choice is between Los Angeles Board of Education member Larry Gonzalez and Assembly woman Gloria Molina. The question that should be uppermost in the voter’s minds is which one can revive and carry on the Roybal tradition.

The Los Angeles Herald Examiner (May 15, 1987)

From – The Los Angeles Herald Examiner (May 15, 1987)

itle – “Put Cinco de Mayo on the wagon”

Twenty years ago, Cinco de Mayo was an event largely unknown outside the schools and parks of the Mexican-American community. It is now a part of the culture of the Southwest. This month, both barrio and yuppie bars advertised Cinco de Mayo “Happy Hours,” and margaritas and beer flowed freely. In good old American fashion, the celebration has been packaged and marketed to the public. And therein lies a problem.

Latinos visiting Mexico during Cinco de Mayo week are shocked to discover that Mexicans hardly note the day. After all, Cinco de Mayo commemorates just one victory – though brilliantly orchestrated by Texas-born Gen. Ignacio Zaragosa – over the French. The battle itself had little effect on the course of Mexican history. Its importance is largely symbolic.

Mexicans in the United States have celebrated Cinco de Mayo since the late 19th century, when Mexican patriotic associations, mutual-aid societies and other organizations sponsored the festivities. More often than not the speakers came from the ranks of the local Mexican elite. A strong strain of nationalism dominated the proceedings. The virtues of Mexican culture were extolled.

After World War I, the focus of the celebrations gradually changed. With the growth of Mexican-American middle-class organizations, composed largely of second-generation Mexicans, assimilation into American society became a dominant theme at Cinco de Mayo events. Scholarships were awarded; beauty contests held. By World War II, this cycle was almost complete. The American flag was often seen flying alongside Mexico’s.

In the 1960s, a nationwide revival of Chicano nationalism again changed the emphasis at Cinco de Mayo celebrations. Chicano activists and their struggle for civil rights were praised. Cesar Chavez and his farm workers became heroes. In response to the demands of Chicano students, universities and colleges picked up the speaking tabs of such activists as Corky Gonzales and Jose Angel Gutierrez.

Shortly after the end of the Vietnam War, social activism declined, and, as a result, Cinco de Mayo again changed its colors. Enter the beer companies. Recognizing that Latinos comprised the biggest beer-drinking market in California, they developed a plan to expand their sales even more. According to Jim Hernandez, director of the California Hispanic Commission on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, the brewers adopted what is now known as the “Budweiser strategy”: Make alcohol a staple of Latino social life.

“Historical” calendars, which depicted Mexican-American yuppies as the new Chicanos, were published and widely distributed by the brewers. Beer ads in the form of plaques, signs and placemats turned up in Mexican restaurants and bars. Fund-raising organizations received free beer; Latino conferences were underwritten by breweries. Menudo without beer became unthinkable.

The situation reached a new low two years ago when leading Mexican-American national organizations – the National Council of La Raza, the American G.I. Forum and later the League of United Latin American Citizens – signed an agreement with the Coors Brewing Company. In return for calling off a national boycott, Coors promised to give more than $350 million to Latino organizations and to the community. Coors suddenly had become a good corporate citizen.

But there was no guarantee that Latinos would ever see a cent of the pledged money. That Latinos would consume large quantities of Coors was a certainty. Critics of the agreement devised a new motto for the Chicano movement: “Drink a Coors for La Raza!”

Even more insidious than the Coors pact is the mindset of the middle-class organizations that signed on the dotted line. The leaders of La Raza, for example, no longer live next door to the poor who pick up the tab. By agreeing to take Coors’ word at face value, they unconsciously undermined the very values and institutions they pledged to preserve.

Alcoholism is a major problem in the Latino community. Pathetically outdated studies show that it is a greater health hazard there than in either the black or white communities. It destroys families, despoils the culture. The arrest rate for drunkenness is disproportionately high among Mexican-Americans. It is a myth that Mexicans are not drunks but just good drinkers.

To be sure, it would be difficult to tell Latinos not to drink free beer. It would be equally difficult to persuade under-funded grassroots organizations that it is not in their interest to accept help from the beer companies. They need the money to continue their work in the barrio. But the price is too high.

On the weekend before this month’s Cinco de Mayo festivities, Latinos could drive out to Lincoln Park and listen to Tierra, El Chicano and War, as well as other popular performers. They could forget about their personal problems, forget that Cinco de Mayo coincided with the start of the flawed Simpson-Rodino amnesty program. They only had to listen to a drop-in politico tell them how great it was. And there was no charge.

Occasionally, there was the faint cry of “Viva el Cinco de Mayo” and “Viva la Raza!” More often, it was Miller time. Next year, the Latino organizations and politicians who sponsor and participate in Cinco de Mayo events should look harder for other sources of funding. That would be a real victory to celebrate.

Los Angeles Herald Examiner (July 5, 1987)

From – Los Angeles Herald Examiner (July 5, 1987)

Title – “The limits of working in the system”

Many Latinos were recently surprised to learn of Dr. Julian Nava’s emotional appearance before the Los Angeles Unified School Board of Education on the question of who should have been chosen to run the district. In particular, he was angry at the board’s selection of an outsider, Dr. Leonard Britton, superintendent of the Dade County system in Miami, over Latino candidate William Anton, deputy superintendent of the L.A. district. When I spoke to him the other day in his home, he was still upset.

Regrettably, Nava’s display of anger and his public criticism of “the system” went unreported in the press, for it marked a significant departure for the onetime school-board member. His reputation as a soft-spoken negotiator and peacemaker has been built on the view that the issue is never one of whether the system is good or bad but of “learning how to make it work for us.” He new seems to be questioning that approach.

Nava, currently a professor at Cal State Northridge, was first elected to the school board in 1967. A year later, 10,000 Chicano students walked out of five East Side high schools in protest of, among other things, the lack of Mexican-American teachers, counselors and administrators and the 50 percent dropout rate among Mexican-American students. Although Nava sympathized with many of the students’ grievances, he refused to be pressured into leading an assault on the system.

At the time, according to Nava, the district employed three principals of Mexican extraction and “making it that far was more a matter of connections than brains.” A thousandth of a point on the written exam often separated candidates, so oral exams and performance evaluations, clearly more subjective measures, counted heavily in the selection process.

Through negotiation, Nava changed the rules. He persuaded the district to exhaust its pervious candidate list when filling an opening before compiling a new one. That way, Nava said, “No. 25 could get a job.” As a result, he broke up the all-white old boys network. In 1979, his last year on the board, 105 Latino administrators were working for the district. In Nava’s eyes, the appointment of Anton would have vindicated his “work-within-the-system” philosophy and benefited the district as well.

“How could reasonable men and women not comprehend the importance of a Latino appointment [for school superintendent] at this juncture?” an exasperated Nava asked me. After all, within 10 years, two-thirds of the system’s students will be Latino (currently they represent 56 percent). By the turn of the century, a majority of Los Angeles may be Latino. Nava’s own answers to his question are reflective of a man who is unusually irritated with the system he has fought to preserve as the starting point for all discussion.

First, his faith in the constructive power of coalitions of blacks, Jews and liberal Democrats has been shaken in recent years by the failure of these groups to support Latinos or Latino issues aggressively. As he asserted in his presentation to the board: “Among Latinos, we find the clear impression that a majority of the board want to deny the position of superintendent to a qualified Latino for fear that the growing number of Latinos would be translated into power that might upset some established political interests.”

History supports Nava’s impression. The powers that be in Los Angeles, whatever their political philosophy, are largely indifferent to the needs of Latinos. For instance, no non-Latino city leader has forcefully come forth (Mayor Tom Bradley has been conspicuously silent) to help Latinos fight Gov. George Deukmejian’s proposed East Side prison. Neither is City Hall officially concerned about the disappearing industry on the East Side, which means thousands of lost jobs. Nor are City Council chambers ringing with debate on what to do with the numerous toxic dumps in the community.

Politically, even moderate Latino candidates often find it difficult to attract liberal support. When Nava decided to run for state superintendent of schools in 1970, liberals refused to support his candidacy. Until Richard Alatorre was elected, no Latino had served on the City Council for 23 years. Statewide, Latino assemblymen and senators rarely served more than one term before the early ‘70s. The emergence of an East Side political machine can be traced in part to this lack of support for Latinos in politics.

Second, Nava blames the process of electing board members by district for the board’s lack of sensitivity toward Latinos. Since the voters established election by districts in 1979, Nava said, “each of the board members has become a little Caesar who dominates [his or her] own district, caring less for the entire system.” In contrast to at-large elections, school-board candidates running for district office don’t have to rely on the Latino vote to get elected, so “they don’t care about it.” The end result, Nava claims, has been the rise of “rotten boroughs.”

(Generally, though, Latinos support election by district since it was almost impossible to elect Latinos in at-large elections. Nava was an exception. Successful suits to bring about district elections has dramatically increased the number of Latino elected officials throughout the Southwest.)

As bad as board insensitivity to Latinos, Nava said, is the political maneuvering of some board members. For example, he accuses Roberta Weintraub, who was elected to the board for her stand against busing, of leading the crusade against home-grown candidates. He said reliable insiders had told him that Weintraub “let it be known that she did not want the new superintendent to come from the ranks of the L.A. district.” Nava feels that Weintraub still carries a vendetta against most district administrators because of their alleged role in implementing court-mandated busing. “They [the administrators] got the message when the Bus Stop board fired (former Superintendent William) Johnson.”

Third, under the likes of Weintraub, improving the quality of education is a difficult task. According to Nava, “board decisions are not based on what is good for the district at large, but mainly on those things that affect the board members. For education, this is disastrous, since the effects of education are general.”

Nava dismisses the school board’s contention that it went outside the system because it wanted a nationally recognized educator as a “sham.” Former L.A. school Superintendent Harry Handler had a national reputation, he says, and “his hands were still tied” insofar as he had to “count votes on the board before initiating new programs in the schools.” But because Handler was a product of the L.A. system – 30 years in the district, five as chief – Nava believes he and his staff were able to move educational mountains. In selecting Britton, the first superintendent to be brought in since 1948, Nava thus sees the board consciously moving to increase its own power at the expense of the superintendent.

The real question is whether Britton’s experience as chief of the Dade County system will help him run the one here. The two districts share some characteristics: a steady influx of non-English-speaking immigrants, an increasing minority population (mostly Latino) and escalating school enrollment.

But Nava said that Britton faces difficult problems in managing the L.A. school system. For one, he will walk into the job with only the most basic knowledge of how it works. More important, Britton lacks a “corps of loyalists to protect him from an impatient board.” Unless he quickly moves to develop political allies in Sacramento and the community, which he can use as leverage, Nava fears the new superintendent will be powerless.

Much has been made of Britton’s successful implementation of a comprehensive bilingual program in the Dade County school system. Indeed, some school board members who voted for him cited this achievement as a crucial factor. But, as Nava points out, Cubans have real political muscle in Florida, with many of them middle-class and professional. In short, the political atmosphere there is much more friendly toward such programs and others that seek to upgrade education.

In contrast, a sizeable number of the Latino students in the L.A. system comes from poor Mexican-American families. Many of the parents are economic refugees from Central America. Others are undocumented. Indisputably, these people do not have the money or the know-how to organize and force the school board to address their needs. Nava believes that Anton, as a district veteran, would have been in a far better position to rally support for their cause.

When asked what we should do about the failure of the board to appoint Anton, Nava hesitated. “Maybe Anton should sue the system,” he said. Then, ever reluctant to part with his “work-within-the-system” philosophy, he mused: “Perhaps the school district is too large and should be divided into workable units.”

As for me, I stopped believing in fairy tales and miracles a long time ago.

Los Angeles Herald Examiner (September 11, 1987)

From – Los Angeles Herald Examiner (September 11, 1987)

Title – “Juan Pablo won’t see”

In an August article in The Tidings, the newspaper of the Los Angeles Archdiocese, it was reported that Juan Pablo II’s itinerary for his visit to America targets cities with large Latino populations, the vast majority of whom are Catholic. In Miami, San Antonio and Los Angeles, the pope plans to make a special appeal to Latinos in Spanish.

Unfortunately, Juan Pablo will see little of the Latino community while here. The reason: Papal security. Law enforcement has designated St. Vibiana’s Cathedral where the pope will stay, a foreign embassy, which means the police can legally remove anyone within 500 feet of the cathedral. The homeless at the Union Rescue Mission next door also have been moved out of sight and out of mind, for security as well as cosmetic reasons.

The tight security arrangements disappoint many Latinos, who would like Juan Pablo to see their problems close up. Some, disillusioned with the promises of the “decade of the Hispanic,” want the pope to celebrate more than their numbers. They would like him to know that they would appreciate receiving the same kind of support he has given the Solidarity movement in Poland.

If Juan Pablo would look east, across the Los Angeles River, he would understand why they feel this way. There, he would find that few Latinos hold stable jobs; that poor workers face serious obstacles when attempting to organize. Only 18 percent of the American workforce today is unionized, and the percentage of minority union members is even lower.

In short, the rules are stacked against unions. For instance, two years ago a National Labor Relations Board dominated by Reagan appointees broke a strike of Morenci, Arizona copper miners, by allowing scabs to vote on whether or not to certify striking locals. And Gov. George Deukmejian has all but sentenced the California Agricultural Relations Board to death in his quest to destroy the United Farm Workers Union.

The pope also would find that Latinos are overwhelmingly clustered in lower paying industries, with large numbers of undocumented workers stuck in a secondary labor market. Labor organizers flatly assert that it is impossible to organize this sector. As a result, many Latino families earn just enough to rent dwellings infested with rats and roaches, often having to choose between paying the rent or feeding their families.

The pope will probably remain ignorant of these conditions, because the planners of the papal tour in Los Angeles seem more intent on not offending their white constituents than in exposing the pope to life in the Latino communities. True, pope advance men indicate a willingness to involve (***cut off word***), gays, women rights groups and middle-class Catholics. But I would be shocked if Latino leaders were asked to discuss either racism in America or the inequities in the U.S. workplace in the presence of the pope.

You can bet that if the subject of racial inequality does come up, our elected officials will accentuate the positive. Juan Pablo will be told of the tremendous strides Los Angeles has made in improving human relations and ameliorating poverty. As proof of their sincerity, they will surely point to a plan to construct a $150 million Statue of Liberty West at the Terminal Annex.

Our elected leaders will omit, of course, California’s plan to build another prison at the doorstep of East Los Angeles, within a two-mile radius of 26 schools. They will pass over the fat that neither the mayor nor the City Council have diligently fought this travesty. Nor will the city’s largest and most powerful Catholic group, the United Neighborhood Organization, be criticized, for laying the burden of the prison battle onto little Resurrection Parish. Finally, no mention will be made of The Tidings’ failure to keep the prison issue at the top of the Catholic agenda.

The irony in all this is that if Catholic Church is to achieve its goal of regenerating the family, it must preserve communities. Unwanted prisons destroy communities. Many Latinos feel that if the pope knew about the prison and its effects, he would be morally obligated to speak out.

Juan Pablo, I wish that the theme of your visit were not such a big secret. Just on moral terms, Latinos are poor and have for too long been ignored by the American Catholic Church. Poland is not the only country that needs a “Solidarity” movement. Bienvenida.

Los Angeles Herald Examiner (October 7, 1988)

From – Los Angeles Herald Examiner (October 7, 1988)

Title – “Latinos must beware of those Spanish-speaking candidates”

The Dukakis-Bentsen presidential campaign brings to mind an old Texas-Mexican saying about politicians: Never trust a Mexican who smokes a cigar or gringo who speaks Spanish.

Latino supporters of Michael Dukakis invariably stress his fluency in Spanish, implying that makes him mindful of Latino interests. Lloyd Bentsen’s Spanish, they say, is so good that English could be his second language. My cigar-chomping friends, however, never explain why the Texas senator is so proficient in Spanish: His family comes from the Lower Rio Grande Valley, where they made their money buying land and working Mexicans cheap.

In defeating Sen. Ralph Yarborough in 1970, Bentsen said his opponent’s liberal philosophy “breeds disunity, disrespect for the laws, moral degradation and overdependence on Washington’s paternalism.” The Texas Observer said Bentsen owed his victory to his “anti-nigger, anti-Mexican, anti-youth” sentiments.

After Bentsen’s successful re-election in 1976, Jim Hightower, now Texas’ agriculture commissioner, wrote that “Lloyd Bentsen was raised rich, and it shows. He has the sort of self-assured, slightly arrogant bearing that characterizes wealthy corporate executives who are certain of their place in the scheme of things.” Indeed, throughout his career, Bentsen has cultivated the rich. In 1981, he was one of 10 senators praised by President Reagan for supporting his tax-cut bill, which heavily favored the well-to-do.

By choosing Bentsen as his running mate, Dukakis signaled that he would concentrate on Bentsen’s America at the expense of the minorities and the poor. After all, the Dukakis campaign reasoned, those people weren’t going to vote for George Bush, anyway.

Equally regrettable, when Dukakis decided to play the Spanish-speaking gringo rather than seriously address Latino issues, he made it more difficult for those issues to be part of a serious national debate.

Fundamental to the Latino political agenda is economic democracy. That is their only hope for empowerment – especially after the Reagan Revolution, which abruptly short-circuited many of the Latino gains of the 1960s.

At the beginning of the Reagan-Bush years, the top 1 percent of America owned 19 percent of the nation’s wealth. Today, they hold 34 percent. Put another way, 8 percent of America’s families own outright 26 percent of all private assets and control 70 percent of the rest. Needless to say, Latinos are not well represented in those circles.

For 90 percent of Latinos, the Reagan-Bush team also slammed the door on their hopes of owning a home. The median income of Latino workers in the farm, unskilled-labor and services sectors, where 70 percent of all Latinos toil, is $9,000 annually. In the last eight years, the Latino poverty rate has increased from 20 percent to 28 percent.

(Interestingly, both Dukakis and Bentsen have kept their distance from the Latino farm workers and their call for stiffer regulation of pesticide laws. The Democratic presidential nominee never actively supported Caesar Chavez’ fast for life. As for his running mate, he feels comfortable in the company of California’s big farmers.)

Furthermore, Latino wage earners as a group have not kept pace with their white counterparts. In 1971, Latinos earned, on average, 71 percent of a white’s pay check. Two years ago, the proportion was 65 percent. In 1986, the median income of all Latinos was $19,995, a 5 percent decrease in real income since 1978. Meanwhile, the price of homes in Los Angeles during this period rose 400 percent.

What has Dukakis proposed to reverse these trends? Will he use the tax code to achieve a more equitable distribution of wealth? Is he committed to modernizing basic industries to create jobs paying decent union wages?

Sad to say, Dukakis hasn’t said much of anything about any of those issues that are so important to Latinos. Even where he has offered some proposals, notably in education, Latinos aren’t likely to benefit from them. For example, his plan to help middle-class kids get a college education is irrelevant to the majority of Latinos desperately in need of a high school education. What would Dukakis do to keep more Latino youngsters in school? Would he restore funds to bilingual education programs? He hasn’t said.

The cigar-smoking Mexicans in Dukakis’ entourage also should remind their candidate that extolling the opportunities in America for immigrants doesn’t constitute an immigration policy. When Americans talk about immigrants today they mean Mexicans, not Greeks. And, if we are to believe the results of a poll taken last moth, they not only don’t like them, they also see them as a drag on our economy.

There must be life after Reagan leaves for Rancho del Cielo. I just wish I knew what kind of life it’s going to be. I surely don’t want to become one of Bush’s “little brown ones.” Yet, I am frustrated that I have no choice but to vote for the lesser of evils, especially when the lesser evil thinks his proficiency in Spanish is a suitable stand-in for a discussion of Latino issues.

Los Angeles Herald Examiner (November 20, 1988)

From – Los Angeles Herald Examiner (November 20, 1988)

Title – “Archbishop Mahony’s bad example”

The nearly year-old fight between a labor union seeking to represent gravediggers and the Los Angeles Archdiocese’s resistance to it indicates that Archbishop Roger Mahony’s highly touted activism in the name of social justice has its limits. Indeed, the archbishop’s actions seemingly defy church doctrine.

The Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union is representing the gravediggers at 10 Catholic cemeteries. The largely Latino workforce first demanded the fight to form a union after a colleague died and their life insurance policies were canceled. Allegedly, the cancellations were part of austerity measures to pay for the pope’s September 1987 visit.

Of the 140 gravediggers, 120 signed union authorization cards. The ACTWU then presented the cards to Archbishop Mahony, who refused to recognize the union as the gravediggers’ bargaining agent. The workers then turned to the National Labor Relations Board to certify an election. But archdiocese attorneys successfully argued that the gravediggers were not protected by labor laws because they were “religious workers.”

“The cemetery operations are integral to the Catholic church’s religious mission and rituals,” said Victoria E. Aguayo, the NLRB regional director. “Excessive entanglement by the board would violate First Amendment rights.”

The union subsequently appealed to the archbishop to permit elections under the supervision of a third party. At a Nov. 3 meeting, the archbishop finally agreed to allow state mediators to conduct an election on Jan. 13, 1989.

Throughout, the negotiations between the two sides have been less than cordial. Instead of creating a model for employers of poor Latinos to emulate, the archbishop, according to union sources, has responded to them with the same kind of cynicism he has repeatedly scorned in agribusinessmen. For example, when the ACTWU presented the authorization cards to the archbishop, he remarked that “I’ve been around unions long enough to know how you get people to sign cards. You have a big rally, serve a lot of food and drinks, and get people…to sign cards.” According to some gravediggers, the archbishop has even allowed his director of cemeteries to try to coerce them into joining an employees’ association, better known as a company union.

Catholic dicta, needless to say, do not justify such tactics. Pope John Paul II has vigorously defended the right of Polish workers to unionize. His 1981 encyclical, Laborem Exercens (“On Human Work”) reaffirmed that right.

Furthermore, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops’ 1986 pastoral letter, “Economic Justice For All: Pastoral Letter on Catholic Social Teaching and the U.S. Economy,” not only supports but encourages workers to form unions. Thus, it is difficult to understand why Archbishop Mahony has veered from the church’s recent progressivism in dealing with the gravediggers.

Aguayo’s ruling is no less puzzling. The NLRB has frustrated previous efforts by cemetery workers to organize by denying it has jurisdiction over such cases. And the courts have ruled that employees of religious hospitals fall within the NLRB’s jurisdiction while parochial schoolteachers don’t. Just why gravediggers are more like teachers than nurses was left unexplained.

Archbishop Mahony certainly has every legal right to block the collective bargaining process by citing court precedents. But is morality on his side?

The fundamental moral principle raised in Pope Leo XIII’s May 1891 encyclical, Rerum Novarum, the cornerstone of church policy toward labor, is relevant. In holding that “the employer’s principal obligation is to give a just wage,” the encyclical recognizes that workers need unions to demand “a just wage.” That’s because workers are often not free to accept or reject wages.

A “just wage” then, is not a simple matter of employer charity. It is a moral right. In his encyclical, Leo XIII asserts a link between the deterioration of society and poverty, leading to a loss of religion and the decline of morality.

The archdiocese’s cemetery workers earn from $5.75 an hour to $7.85 an hour. Most of them reportedly make closer to the lower figure. Jose Aranda, after 12 years of digging graves for the archdiocese, was earning $5.75 an hour last July. That would put Aranda and his co-workers near the poverty level of $10,000 a year.

Of course, Archbishop Mahony is no secular leader. But he cannot afford to abandon his commitment to social justice. Religious leaders, through example, must stress the dignity of the human person. If they deny their workers the product of their labor, what can society expect from those to whom Leo XIII referred as “avaricious and greedy men”?

Los Angeles Herald Examiner (March 4, 1988)

From – Los Angeles Herald Examiner (March 4, 1988)

Title – “Teachers without eyes”

After reading last summer that the United Teachers of Los Angeles had voted overwhelmingly to adopt the immersion method to teach English to the limited-English speaking, my first reaction was to write the union off as brain dead. Then I decided that maybe the teachers should move elsewhere, since the reality of the Southwest was so unpalatable to them. Finally, I become irritated. Compelling immigrant students to sink or swim in a sea of English has never worked. The history of Latinos in the United Sates attests to that.

It would have been easier to dismiss the UTLA vote as a curiosity if it were not for the fact that the union’s voice is one of a chorus of complaints about bilingual education. The California law requiring bilingual programs has been dead for nearly nine months, and reviving the law this year will be difficult. Although many school districts continue to offer the programs, others have moved to scale down their help for the limited-English speaking. The Los Angeles school board, fortunately, in all likelihood will reaffirm its support for a new master plan on bilingual education soon.

Sadly, the assault on bilingual education signifies a nativist reaction to the arrival of large numbers of Latinos and Asians during the past two decades. Most UTLA members have apparently forgotten that they are the descendants of illegals who, by force of arms, seized more than 50 percent of Mexico’s territory. As a result, the natural northward immigration of Mexicans and Central Americans was cut off.

According to its critics, notably Secretary of Education William Bennett, bilingual education is chiefly to blame for the 50 percent drop-out rate among Latino students. Others have charged that it retards the assimilation of foreign-born students into mainstream “America” and that the quality of bilingual programs which are mostly run by teacher aides, is below standard.

These arguments are smokescreens for teachers who neglect the needs of the majority of their students and who refuse to learn a foreign language or acquire knowledge about the cultures of their pupils. No wonder American education is in a quality tailspin.

Blaming bilingual education for the Latino drop-out problem is outright nonsense. In 1950, Latino students aver(***cut off section***) 12 for Anglos. In the 1960s, when Los Angeles Latino students comprised 20 percent of the school-district population (it is now 58 percent), the drop-out rate exceeded 50 percent. In 1968, conditions were so deplorable that 20,000 Latinos in school had reached only 9.7 years. All this occurred under the auspices of the immersion program!

Teachers are not solely responsible for this failure. Demographer Donald J. Bogue, in “The Population of the United States: Historical Trends and Future Projections,” concludes that school enrollment and achievement are more strongly tied to family income than to culture. Yet UTLA members and politicians opposed to bilingual education apparently prefer the fantasyland in which the answer to Latino students’ problems is a big push onto the English-only gauntlet.

The argument that bilingual education hinders Latino assimilation into the American mainstream is equally obtuse. Blacks speak English, yet are locked up on the fringes of society. Truth be told, racist attitudes and class consciousness still play roles in shaping educators’ perceptions of Latino students, thus impairing the assimilation process. Integration is a social problem that existed long before bilingual education became reality.

The attack on the quality of bilingual education programs is also wrongly headed. Frankly, they are a notch above the quality of public education in general. A recent study, “On Course: Bilingual Education’s Success in California,” by USC linguist Stephen Krashen and Douglas Biber, concluded that students in “well-designed” bilingual education programs learn English quickly and well. Their study singled out the L.A. school district’s Eastman program and the San Diego Unified School District’s immersion (in Spanish) program as exemplary. Commendably, some L.A. school board members, administrators and a minority of teachers are trying to improve a bilingual programs even as UTLA members would prefer to dunk their immigrant students in English.

Yet the most absurd argument of all is that mere diversity of languages (80*** foreign languages are spoken in the L.A. school district) makes bilingual education impractical. Well, of the 159,250 students identified as having limited English proficiency, 143,546 are Latino. The remainder are mainly Asian.

Although the logic and data supports the continuation of bilingual programs, they, regrettably, aren’t sufficient to sway teachers and politicians who feel more secure manufacturing myths. But unlike Ivan Illich in his 1960s classic “Deschooling Society,” I don’t lay the blame on teachers. I have known and worked with too many dedicated ones. I only wish they would realize that the jobs are in part the result of a lot of brown faces and that educated people can master more than one language.


Los Angeles Herald Examiner (May 6, 1988)

From – Los Angeles Herald Examiner (May 6, 1988)

Title – “Unjust Anywhere”

For minorities, the quality of justice received often depends on where they live. Latinos in Los Angeles are more fortunate than those who dwell in the crevices of society, where national and international media seldom venture. Latinos here, though lacking real power, can count on the news media to spotlight the more flagrant abuses of the legal system.

For millions of Latinos who live in cities such as Tucson and Albuquerque and in semi-rural areas of the Southwest, this is not always the case. The injustices frequently remain a local matter, unheard of and unseen by the rest of America.

Consider the case of Demetria Martinez, 27, who lives in Albuquerque. Under any other circumstances, she would be the model minority member, the sort of person President Reagan is fond of showcasing during State of the Union addresses.

Demetria graduated from Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs in 1982. During her senior year, she was a Woodrow Wilson scholar; in 1981, she was an intern in the New York bureau of Time magazine.

After graduating, she returned to her native Albuquerque, where she now works as a freelance reporter, specializing in religion, for the Albuquerque Journal and as a columnist for the National Catholic Reporter. Demetria is also a prize-winning poet.

On Dec. 10, 1987, Demetria Martinez was indicted by the Department of Justice on charges of conspiring to violate United States immigration laws. If convicted, she could face up to 25 years in prison and $1.25 million in fines.

The circumstances leading up to Demetria’s indictment began in late August 1986. Rev. Glen Remer-Thamert, a Lutheran minister, invited her to accompany him to Juarez, Mexico, to report on the plight of two Salvadoran women seeking sanctuary on behalf of their unborn. To Demetria, there were striking parallels between the predicaments of the two women and those faced by Mary and Joseph: The babies were due in December and the mothers were seeking sanctuary for their unborn. What stood in their way was the modern-day equivalent of King Herod – the Justice Department. Demetria decided to gather information for a story.

She interviewed the two women and returned to the United States. The Rev. Remer-Thamert has acknowledged that he helped bring the Salvadorans into the country. (He also has been indicted on conspiracy charges.) Once they were across the border, Demetria subsequently re-interviewed the women. Over a year later, she was accused of inducing the Salvadorans to enter the country illegally and aiding in their transportation.

At the time, there was intense interest in the sanctuary movement. Then-Gov. Toney Anaya had declared New Mexico a sanctuary for Central America refugees. Many religious people supported the so-called Theology of Sanctuary, which has roots in the Old Testament. For example, in time of famine, Jews routinely sought and received refuge and protection in Egypt. During the Middle Ages, churches carried on the custom by becoming sanctuaries to protect the downtrodden from tyrannical civil authorities. Inspired by this tradition, a movement, centered in Tucson, to grant sanctuary to the victims of war and oppression in Central America sprang up in the United States about six years ago. Today, some 450 congregations nationwide participate.

The Justice Department has long sought to break the sanctuary movement. In May, 1986, a federal jury convicted six church workers, including a founder of the movement, of conspiring to smuggle Central American refugees into this country.

Demetria is the first reporter to be indicted on similar charges. In his haste to file the case, U.S. Attorney William Lutz allegedly violated Justice Department guidelines that require express authority from the attorney general before indicting a member of the news media. Federal public defender Tova Indritz has requested that the conspiracy charges against Demetria be dismissed on the ground that her due-process rights were violated. Her case enters the pre-trial stage on June 7.

The Justice Department has principally tried to discredit Demetria’s credentials as a reporter and questioned her statements that she was merely reporting a story.

Commendably, both the Albuquerque Journal and Albuquerque Tribune have editorially supported Demetria, pointing out the potential chilling effect of a successful prosecution of her would on the First Amendment rights of reporters. Labeling the charges a clear case of intimidation, the two papers have editorialized that Demetria is a journalist, that she has a well-established interest in religious issues and that it cannot be doubted that she was gathering news.

Demetria Martinez’s case should concern us all. It represents yet another, though more radical, attempt by the Justice Department to end the sanctuary movement where it began – in the Southwest. By going after a reporter, the department also has signaled its willingness, despite the First Amendment, to undercut the press’ role as a check against government abuse.

One of the pieces of evidence introduced against Demetria is a poem, “Nativity,” composed by her. (The news story never got written.)

Sister I am no saint. Just a woman

who happens to be a reporter.

a reporter who happens to

be a woman.

Watching you vomit morning sickness

a sickness infinite as the war in El Salvador,

a sickness my pen and notebook will not ease,

tell me, Por que estan aqui? (Why are you here ?)


What does this poem prove? Perhaps, that model minorities such as Demetria continue to care. I sure hope that we also care what happens to Demetria before it’s too late.