By Anna Sophie Loewenberg
Los Angeles Mayor James Hahn met with members of California's ethnic media earlier this month in an unprecedented gathering of more than 50 organizations representing multi-lingual and multi-cultural residents of California.
The Feb. 5 forum, organized by New California Media,
was held at Cal State Northridge to address the possible
secession of the San Fernando Valley from the greater Los
When the forum began, it wasn't clear if Mayor Hahn delayed at City Hall defending his position of not supporting the reappointment of Police Chief Bernard Parks was going to make it. Some forum reporters were outspoken about feeling slighted by the mayor.
The biggest gripe of ethnic communities is that they are not given priority, said Asim Mughal, editor of Pakistan News Service (Paknews.com). "We are always treated as second or third. Now we can understand how the San Fernando Valley feels, he said.
When the mayor arrived in the valley, he explained his position in favor of a unified Los Angeles. Hahn put down the secession movement as a "bad idea" that is a "symptom of frustration." He said that secession was promoted by "failed candidates for elected office who want to create a new chance for themselves."
Still, La Opinion reporter Pilar Marrero thinks that much of her Spanish-speaking readership may vote for secession. "Despite the fact that a lot of the leadership of the secession movement are white middle class folks who want to separate from the rest, there are lots of Latinos that feel undeserved who could support it." In San Fernando City, she added, Latinos make up a significant part of the population. Many believe that mayor of the new city could very easily be Latino.
Marrero asked Hahn how the city planned to right the inequality of services provided to the many communities of Los Angeles. He said that because the valley is so spread out geographically, there is a much longer response time for emergency services. "We need to make sure the money goes where it needs to be," he said. He also championed the idea of community-based government as a system that would address community frustrations without splitting the city.
Tom Hogen-Esch, a political science lecturer who is researching the secession movement, says fears of division are widespread in ethnic communities of the San Fernando Valley. "There is a lot of suspicion among communities of color in the valley, particularly in the African American and Latino communities, that secession would restore the white majority," he said.
According to Hogen-Esch, the San Fernando Valley needs the vote of those communities to secede, but "people of color are worried that they will be at the mercy of a slightly more conservative valley electorate."
The topic of secession aside, many reporters seized the opportunity to network. Organizations that typically have small circulation and cater to specific communities, such as Siam Media, Korea Times and Thoi Luan Newspaper, made contact with their equally diverse counterparts like Beirut Times, El Oaxanqueno and California Hungarians. As the forum progressed, it became clear that participants have a great deal in common and could benefit from sharing resources.
"This many ethnic groups together is something I have never seen before, and there is strength in numbers," said Robert Soto, a reporter for El Informador, a Spanish weekly serving L.A. County.
Hahn requested more meetings with the ethnic media on a range of issues, and overall, the reporters who attended felt that the conference succeeded in establishing a bridge for communication with City Hall. Bernard Lloyd, a reporter from the L.A. Sentinal - a newspaper serving Central Los Angeles since 1933 felt that "the forum established something the ethnic media will continue to build on for decades. Lloyd is sure that now in the back of Hahn's mind he is saying, `Damn, there are people to deal with here.'"