December 31, 2003

Paving Our Way Into Election Year 2004

Year End Review Continued

By Raymond R. Beltrán

It could be said that with all that has been happening in just the last six months, moving into the New Year might become less of an extraordinary festivity. San Diego, not to mention the rest of California, has witnessed drastic changes that lead one to believe that the New Year started with the recall of former Governor Gray Davis. But we still have a few more hours before the ball drops in New York, and before thousands of San Diego club goers pour millions of dollars into the newly constructed Historic Gaslamp District, we should sit back and take a look at what 2003 has laid out for us, while we move ahead into election year 2004.

July

Having previously vetoed the initiative Senate Bill 60 (SB60) to allow migrant workers the right to driver’s licenses, our now former California Governor Gray Davis spent time reconsidering his veto decision when talks of a recall began to disseminate throughout the state. Arnold Schwarzenegger had yet to take a stand and state his position as a gubernatorial candidate, and the Latino community began to discuss whether or not California would possibly see the day when a Mexican American would become governor … Cruz Bustamante. In Pilar Marrero’s July 3rd synopses of the recall “On Latino Minds,” there were many avenues in deciding whether or not California, not to mention the Latino community, needed to risk having a Republican governor or having the established state government that began seeing the errors of its’ ways when considering the “Latino vote” and the recall. Little did anyone know that Hollywood status could play a major part in the way the state is run and that the ever surging influx of migrant workers would never see that license to drive.

On a more local and lighter note, a story by E. A. Berrera called Chicano Coffee House Survives City Harassment tells the story of one of the oldest barrios in the country, Barrio Logan, winning a small victory in the war against gentrification when Rene Guzman and his partner Ildifonso Garrillo opened the prominent, community based café shop in the middle of Sherman Heights titled Chicano Perk. For many living in the barrios of San Diego, protecting the history of the neighborhood, as well as the resident’s affinity to the land, has been a battle with the City of San Diego as the cost of homes increased and the closing construction of Petco Park became the impetus for a threat of gentrification. As fliers circulated throughout the Mexican community, prior to its opening, about an upcoming coffee house catering to barrio residents, the community awaited the place that would become home and meeting headquarters for many activists and art organizations.

In mid-July, the National City Police Department and City Council thought they’d slip by the South Bay community’s suspected case of amnesia and appoint an officer, Craig Short, who in 1975 was charged with the murder of National City youth Luis “Tato” Rivera, to acting chief of police. The issue played as an insult to the Latino community in that one of their sons was shot in the back by Short with a .357 Magnum revolver, without cause. Short wasn’t reprimanded but rewarded years later with this appointment. The insult brought about National City issues, such as the on going police brutality of community members and the lack of an oversight board. One of the more prominent issues that resurrected from the insult was the fact that in 2002 the National City residents voted in favor of a citizen’s police review board (Proposition L), which would handle the oversight of police procedures and community complaints about officers. Even though the vote was a landslide, Prop L was swept under Mayor Inzunza’s carpet for almost a year until the sudden appointment of Officer Short, when the South Bay community once again had to ask if decisions were being made based upon the needs of the community. Apparently not, Police Chief Skip DiCerchio’s decision to appoint Short was overruled by Mayor Inzunza, due to the community’s insult and Penu Pauu was appointed instead.

In a late July story “Hispanic Tuesday: The Hispanic Vote and the 2004 Democratic Primaries,” Adam J. Segal introduced Arizona and New Mexico as the first two states with a prominent Latino population that will hold primaries or caucuses on the same date in the first multi-state round of Democratic presidential contests, February 3, 2004. This is something that is on the mind of many democrats when contemplating their campaign strategy. With Al Gore having campaigned in 2000 with television commercials in Spanish, 2003, as in the past, has definitely been one more year that our local and national governments have turned to the growing Latino community for nothing other than what every other politician wants, the “Latino Vote” … something to keep an open eye on during the coming election year.

August

In August, Davis finally vetoed his veto, and migrants, especially those that the U.S. industries depend on from Mexico, were especially excited about their chance to be eligible to legally drive in the United States. Under pressure with the now full-fledged recall campaign threatening a Democratic governor’s seat, Davis began courting the Latino community, approaching them with open arms like a soon-to-be divorced husband to a neglected wife. At the time, 51% of the voters favored a recall without knowledge of who was running to succeed Davis.

A follow up to her previous story, Pilar Marrero highlighted August attitudes toward the recall by reminding us that we had slight beliefs that Davis’ seat as governor would be lost to a Republican runner up. Arnold was seen as politically challenged, and Richard Riordan’s gubernatorial campaign had previously been run over by the Democratic power of the Davis campaign. Who knew, at this time, voters were going to ride on the reputation of a Hollywood celebrity and the supposed innocence of a man who hadn’t been corrupted by politics, yet, … and an immigrant at that? Not Bustamante, but while this is going on, Cruz steadily showed his support for Davis by not running against him and acted as a back up candidate in case Davis’ recall became inevitable, “No on the Recall, Yes on Bustamante.” With the talk of Bustamante becoming a back up for Democrats, Republicans began to digging up the dirt on the Lieutenant Governor. He ultimately ruined his own credibility, previously, while having made a speech in 2001 to a group of African American trade unionists slipping in the use of the N-word. Like any politician, he learned that people just don’t forget. Then, right-wingers label him as a Mexican radical and racist as he becomes smeared for his affiliation with student group MEChA (Movimiento Estu-diantil Chicano de Aztlan) during his college years. In an article by Earl Ofari Hutchinson, the possibility of a Mexican American governor was non-existent and the rise in Arnold’s popularity was metastasizing throughout California.


Smiley Rodriguez (left) with her life partner.

August was also a month dedicated to raising awareness about the HIV / AIDS pandemic. While President Bush decided to send approximately $15 billion to aid the Caribbean in its war with AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) and while Brazil used its lenient media laws to run sexually humoristic commercials raising AIDS awareness, Puerto Rico native Smiley Rodriguez tells her story to La Prensa San Diego in order to highlight the struggling life of underprivileged immigrants who get involved in the sex trade industry of urban ghettoes and acquire HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus), ultimately leading to AIDS. Having lived through an abusive youth, bravely admitting that she is a victim of rape crimes, and surviving near death experiences while working as a prostitute in South Bronxe, New York City, Smiley joined the Comite Luchando por Vidas, an organization struggling to help women living on the streets. Today, after a long battle with drug abuse, prostitution, and AIDS, Smiley is now living in the East San Diego area battling the disease, while advocating for the understanding of the lesbian lifestyle and AIDS awareness. Smiley volunteers at the Gay Pride Parade in Hillcrest, which takes place in August, and she is currently considering working on an autobiography of her life.

“In proposing the graduate program, the UCSB [University of California, Santa Barbara] committee noted that of the 35 million Americans of Latino heritage, about 21 million identify themselves as being of Mexican descent. Such a large group certainly merits a doctoral program to study its culture and history” (La Prensa San Diego, August 15). For the first time, and nowhere else in the academic field, Chicano Chicana Studies (CCS) has become a doctoral program in California at UCSB. The CCS Department is said to serve 150 students that were currently enrolled at UCSB in August and has on hand 12 professors that are awaiting the fall 2004 enrollment of future CCS graduates.


John Ruiz was the first Hispanic Heavyweight Champion for awhile, until he decided to face Roy Jones, Jr, a light-heavyweight.

In a story by Mariana Martinez, the struggle for Mexican families to reunite in the U.S. is always a death defying trick, fit for any born again Whodini magician. As Michael James Murphy, a U.S. citizen, was pulled over at the U.S. / Mexico border in San Ysidro, Border Patrol Agents found a 34-year-old woman hidden in a secret compartment inside the back of Murphy’s van. After impounding the car, 34 hours later, customs agents found yet another person, 13-year-old Floriberta Jiménez Tomas who’d been hidden in another secret compartment. Tomas, a native of Oaxaca, had began her trip a year prior when, along with her mother, she made the journey all the way to Tijuana in order to reunite with her father, who had been living in the United States since the 80s. According to Anthropologist Guillermo Meneses Alonso, “[d]uring the last few years, there have been significant changes in border crossing flows; historically, mostly men crossed the border, they came back to México during the holidays, because the border situation allowed them to come and go, but about four or five years ago this kind of emigration pattern began to shift and a new one started to brew; men are starting to stay longer in the US and are finding ways to bring their families.”

September

“The cost of running for office weeds out all except a very few, and for those who forge ahead with the intent of not selling their vote, of not possessing the knack of asking complete strangers for money, of taking the moral, ethical high road, means they have no chance of winning. To win it means you have to raise a lot of money, and to raise a lot of money you have to skirt that fine line between doing what is right and what is wrong, and too often that line is crossed and re-crossed” (La Prensa San Diego, September 5). Late August and early September turned out to be a political nightmare for San Diego City Councilmen Ralph Inzunza, Charles Lewis and Michael Zucchet. They were charged with wire fraud and extortion, selling their votes/influence to the owners of nude entertainment businesses. The issue having just surfaced without any resolve highlighted the fact that no matter what level of government a politician aspires to be on, they must always play the dollars game, and those without the dollars turn out to be those without the votes.

In March, a Marine Lance Corporal Jesus Alberto Suarez del Solar Navarro stepped on an unexploded cluster bomb in the ground. After the explosion, Jesus’ body was left for two hours by fellow Marines because superiors ordered them not to re-enter the area. Although a tragic ending to a young Latino’s life, a man stepped up to act as a genuine voice of reason against the War on Iraq. Jesus’ father, Fernando Suarez del Solar, is that voice.

UCSD Chicano Chicana Studies Coordinator Jorge Mariscal contributed a story on Fernando del Solar to honor him in his activism against the war. Having military and political knowledge from schooling in Mexico City, del Solar decided to journey to Tijuana with his family of five, and he ultimately became an activist and advocate for the poor. When they eventually moved to San Diego, he began to study the military propaganda imposed on society and more importantly his children. With his son’s death and a war, which Fernando was opposed to, he became an outspoken advocate for peace. “To be a patriot for most people is to support the president no matter whom he is and to put a flag on your car or house,” says del Solar. “In Mexico, on the other hand, patriotism is part of every action taken by a citizen. It can be assuming a critical stance toward the government’s policies or simply fighting to survive economically… It can be calling the government to account when its actions trample on basic rights.” Speaking out against Iraq and the constant recruitment of the youth, del Solar has gained national attention, good and bad, eventually leading to a trip to Iraq, without U.S. protection, in order to visit the sight where his son was killed.

In honoring those Mexican Americans who’ve paid the ultimate sacrifice for the United States during Hispanic Heritage Month, Violeta Dominguez contributed an article honoring Mexicans that have come to the United States during World War II as “Soldiers of Agriculture.” 300,000 migrants came to the U.S. in 1942 to work the beet fields, railroads, and vegetable packaging industries. Testimonies of life stories were taken from actual migrants, like Maximo Butanda, Mariana Chores, Concepción Trejo, and J. Pablo Miramontes. They shared their fears of leaving their native country to come north and work in what was then, and is today, considered third world countries as a land of promise. The testimonies taken in the story “The Other Soldiers” were used as Dominguez’s bachelor’s thesis as a student at Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México.

October

While all the controversy of who should be in office, the declining of faith in Bustamante, the blame of California’s economic crisis on the lap of Davis, and Hollywood acting as Mecca to all apolitical voters having faith in the media’s words, California woke on October 7 to what has been coined by the Mexican community as “The Mexterminator,” or Arnold Schwarzenegger as governor elect. Being a significant moment in California, a part of the Mexican community was, and is, worried about the affiliation and relationship between Arnold and former Governor Pete Wilson, initiator of 1994s Proposition 187. What was most shocking about the recall and the appointment of Arnold is that 31% of all voters were Latinos, who by the way, must have forgotten the Prop 187 scare almost a decade ago, but as October 10’s Editorial indicates, “He who forgets history is bound to repeat it.” Political talks towards the end of October linger with the idea that SB60 will not survive, and the new governor elect formally and openly opposes the idea of 2 million immigrants getting drivers licenses.

With Mayor Nick Inzunza’s determination to shake up National City, the month of October brought about the sense of community inclusion, National City style. Talks and approvals led to the favored proposal of a Filipino Village on Plaza Boulevard. During this month, Inzunza invited community members to take part in a hearing that pertained to the construction of the Village, that’s the inclusion. The catch was that there was going to be a $25 fee to attend the meeting, which would ultimately limit what type, or class, of people could attend. The disappointment… the Filipino Village is paid for by taxpayer dollars.

With constant activism alive and well in San Ysidro, a small community of people, living in the Villa Nueva Apartment complex along Beyer Boulevard, stood up for their former landlord when his 33-year long employment as acting manager was terminated immediately. Felipe Muro, the man being fought for, said that he was being wrongfully charged for rent, when his contract agreement stated that he was to be housed without rent, aside from receiving his standard wages. When Muro discovered his rent was being deducted from his paychecks, he was terminated without reason, and fired having been an “at-will employee.”When word spread throughout the Villa residents, organization began and led to an all out strike amongst the complex. Drivers honked in front of apartment units as residents camped out waving picket signs, barbecuing, and protesting the Reyes Property Management company, refusing to re-enter their units until Muro’s reinstatement. The protest led to inhumane treatment of residents by property owners, such as turning on the sprinklers in the middle of the night and tearing down tents where residents slept during the demonstration. Muro was never reinstated.

American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), amongst other organizations, took a stand in National City City Council meetings to speak out in protest of the neglect of Proposition L, a citizen’s police review board. AFSC member Christian Ramirez and Citizen’s Against Police Brutality member Terry Hanks demand a fair and impartial board of members to oversee police tactics and to handle community complaints against police officers. National City Council members appoint the first eight, out of nine, members of the review board. One Thomas Wilkins, a National City police officer, and another Allen Bailey, a former officer, are appointed, leaving community activist to wonder if the board will be effective in its mission to hold the police department accountable for their actions.

Fires broke out in East County and a multitude of small communities burned down in the middle of it all. Crest resident, Carmen Rico, lost her home in disbelief when her sister and brother-in-law called her while she was running errands. Being a resident of the East County for the past ten years of her life, Carmen had seen fires pass her by like the Alpine Divide Fire of 2000. She’s experienced the Santa Ana winds and other weather conditions that East County mountains are susceptible to. Even though she was optimistic about the chances of her home surviving, she picked up her son and her pets. She left her home soon after, and that would be the last time she would see her home and the Crest community standing. The fires metastasized crawling over the mountains and into her community. It reached her house, and black and white rubble is all that lies there now. Not able to return to her home while firefighters and police officers were battling the blaze, Carmen admits that she felt betrayed by the local government who didn’t emphasize the severity of the fire to Crest residents. In the midst of it all, FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) dispersed as much information as possible in English and Spanish to La Prensa San Diego in order to let all victims of the fire know that there is help for all that had lost their homes and belongings.

October was also a month of recognition for the Mexican community’s Usung Heroes. The Tecate beer industry targeted the San Diego community for their Va Por México: Héroes Auténticos program, which awards grassroots activists for their work in the Mexican community. In honor of the awardees (Liliana Aguilar, Bea Estrada, and Ofelia Escobedo), a brunch was organized by Tecate at the Old Town Mexican Café in Old Town San Diego, where the three women accepted their awards, which included a delivered Certificate of Recognition by Congressman Bob Filner. Liliana Aguilar was recognized for her work with underprivileged teens in the student organization Changing Realities. Bea Estrada was recognized for organizing scholarship programs for elementary, middle and high school students in the South Bay through her activism in the organization LULAC (League of United Latin American Citizens). Ofelia Escobedo was awarded for being the impetus behind the building of Barrio Carlsbad, a place that was threatened with gentrification until she arrived and began to organize the community.

November

Having been around for at least a year prior to the November article, Acteal made La Prensa San Diego headlines with their unique sound and community activism, performing for many local, barrio functions, and maintaining a Chicano celebrity status whenever they approach the stage. To differentiate themselves from other “alternative” groups, Acteal has incorporated influences ranging from spiritual/political reggae singer Bob Marley and ska-defining groups like Sublime to influences like local band Revelations and jazz musician Wynton Marsalis in order to synthesize a sound that not even they themselves can classify.

Under the auspices of San Diego Chicano publishing house, Calaca Press, the Red CalacArts Collective (RCAC) was formed. The RCAC is a nascent activist/artist organization comprised of San Diego publishers, writers, activists and artists that have come together to produce various genres of art directly pertaining to themes that ignite a sense of social consciousness in their audience. Since their Communiqué #1 was released on October 7, the Red CalacArts Collective has received overwhelming responses of appreciation from artists and activists throughout the country, including an extended hand of solidarity from New Jersey’s Black Telephone Workers Union. They celebrated their first annual Día de los Muertos Commemoration on November 2, and continue to hold art functions related to their dedication to social justice.

As the War on Iraq dragged on throughout the year, opposition to it appealed to many Latinos who saw history repeating itself with many Mexican Americans joining the armed forces due to a omnipresent pull factors from military propaganda. An article contributed by Rudolfo F. Acuña states that “[a] recent Pew study shows that Latinos are relatively underrepresented in the military when compared with their numbers in the civilian workforce, yet they are overrepresented in combat units, comprising 9.49 percent of the enlisted personnel, but 17.74 percent of those directly handling guns. Of the 60,000 immigrants in the U.S. military, about half are noncitizens. More than 6,000 Marines are noncitizens, with the largest group —1,452— from Mexico. At least five Mexico-born soldiers have been killed in Iraq and several more Latinos have died.” Along with Fernando del Solar’s outspoken opposition to the war, these stories show a prevalent community of Mexican Americans that do not agree with the current administration’s idea of foreign policy.

“In the face of adversity, what do you do? You paint. Gallery on Broadway has teamed up with the respected Monarch School to bring San Diegans a taste of tomorrow’s artistic talent. The exhibit took place on Friday, November 21 and was well attended. The Monarch School was founded in 1988 to serve the needs of homeless children. Originally called P.L.A.C.E., and staffed by one teacher, it has grown into a 10,000-square foot facility serving 150 students. Staffed by dedicated teachers and eager students, the school strives to give each student every opportunity available to succeed in life … One of the subjects taught is Beginning Art, a subject eagerly embraced by the young artists at the exhibit. It took four weeks for the students to finish their work, but it was well worth it judging from the level of enthusiasm generated by the project. ” (Art Exhibit Promotes Homeless Children’s Work by Paola Hornbuckle).

Old Town National City has always been a stomping grounds for ongoing growth in industrial business, although, this year many residents came together with the Environmental Protection Agency in order to raise issues, questions, and demand answers and change in order to regain control of this long time residential / light industrial community. They formed the Saint Anthony’s Organizing Ministry and began to hold talks with National City City Council officials. They voiced their concerns about toxins and their children’s health issues. Almost every Old Town resident lives next door to, or at least two homes away from, an automotive paint shop, a lumberyard, or an auto repair shop. Elected officials say that along with the master plans the mayor has in store for National City, Old Town will be looking forward to serious analysis and testing pertaining to the compatibility between business and residential communities. They say it’s in order to begin finding a resolution with which both parties can survive in a healthy environment. Roger Post, Planning Director for National City’s Planning Commission, has said testing will be complete in April 2005.

On November 14, Antonio Flores Noyola was shopping at JC Penney with his family when store security guards and National City Police Officer Steve Shepard suspected him and his cousin, Alejandro Galeana, of shoplifting. After finding out the two were innocent of the allegations, Officer Shepard would not accept the Mexico-distributed matricula consulares as valid identification from Galeana and ultimately called the Border Patrol. Galeana and his aunt, Narfelix Arzeta, were deported and the incident sparked the question of whether or not the police have the right to detain suspected undocumented immigrants. The CLEAR Act became, and is currently, a hot topic in San Diego following this incident. Human rights activists swarmed city hall during meetings in outrage for the lack of written policy defining police officers authority in immigration issues. It was an incident that called for a community boycott on JC Penney for the use of racial profiling on the Noyola family, and eventually several motions being passes in city council pertaining to local police and their collaboration with the Border Patrol, prohibiting them to take action unless handling criminal cases, which the Noyola incident was not.

December

Having originally been a voice for the Latino community at a time when it needed one the most, La Prensa San Diego understands the importance and severity of having a community press that deals with community issues. On November 18th at the New California Media’s (NCM) annual EXPO and Awards banquet at the Westin St. Francis hotel, La Prensa San Diego was honored with a Special Achievement Award as a “Bridge Builder” for their biweekly column “La Prensa Persa.” Daniel Muñoz, Jr. accepted the award in San Francisco. In the beginning stages of building bridges, Ramini Moshiri, an engineer and president of the Iranian American Professional Association, began to feel like an outsider for the first time due to the racism towards Iranians that the war on Iraq incited here in the United States. Moshiri approached La Prensa Editor Dan Muñoz to divulge the disdainful incidents in the Iranian community recently. Having lived through racist stereotypes in the Mexican community, Muñoz and his father Daniel Muñoz, Sr. thought it would be an excellent idea to work with Moshiri in a biweekly section of the newspaper, titled La Prensa Persa. The section is dedicated to issues of the community of Middle Eastern descent. Recognizing that it takes a significant amount of time to create a newspaper, La Prensa Persa will stand as an independent voice of Middle Eastern people. The biweekly section was awarded by the National California Media this month for the 5th Annual NCM Awards, or cleverly coined the “The Ethnic Pulitzers.”

The first action taken by new California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was that of taking away Senate Bill 60, which had been approved by Gray Davis. Articles, and mostly editorial letters poured in to express outrage and “I told you so’s” from the Chicano community who had previously tried to warn Latinos that Schwarzenegger wasn’t essentially pro-immigrant. December 5 editorial calls it nothing more than a political scapegoat tactic, imposed on the Mexican community since… since forever, but more prominently since Pete Wilson’s Prop 187. Others, like Nat-ivo Vigil Lopez, called for an economic strike on December 12, pleading for the Latino community to not go to work and not spend any money for the day. In doing so, many were trying to highlight the importance of the Mexican American resident in regards to California’s economy.

International Human Rights Day activists took to the streets on Saturday, December 13 in order to oppose the U.S. Border Patrol’s Operation Gatekeeper. Organizations such as the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), Raza Rights Coalition (RRC), and Unión del Barrio marched from Chicano Park all the way to the San Ysidro U.S. / Mexico border crossing. Some also fasted at the entrance into Mexico to attract border crossers from the U.S. about inhumane tactics used by the Border Patrol. They attempted to bring awareness about the 2,600 migrants that have died while trying to cross into the United States in treacherous terrains. At the end of the demonstration, both marchers and fasters reunited at the entrance gates and celebrated their determination for humane treatment of the Mexican community.

“Saddam Hussein the desert fox caught in his lair!” In an editorial immediately preceding the capture of Saddam, we analyze the U.S.’s true purpose in invading Iraq verse their war for “freedom.” Did we find any weapons? No. Did we find a terrorist cell, or did we find a former dictator of Iraq, disheveled and alone in a hole rendered powerless? Without any answers provided since the beginning of the war, nothing found, and nowhere to look ahead to for peace in Iraq, it seems clear that the Bush administration had only been interested in obtaining control over 40% of the world’s oil distributor.

The second half of the year 2003 has been a political roller coaster for the Mexican community, not to mention for all of California. We’ve lost a bad governor, only to gain one that’s worse, but throughout the year, if we’ve learned anything, it’s that the Latino community is growing and having more of an impact than ever before. Politicians, as crooked as they may be, are beginning to consider addressing our issues in order to gain the “Latino Vote” they trip over so much. Not to say that they enact anything in favor of the barrios nationwide, but it might be something the Latino community should learn ... how to politically empower ourselves in 2004, as we grow.

Return to the Frontpage