March 24, 2006

Commentary:

Why Things are Falling Apart in Costa Mesa

Por Humberto Caspa

Costa Mesa is a microcosm of California. This costal city has become the epicenter of an immigration issue that threatens to divide our local communities and the nation. Costa Mesa also depicts a vivid portrayal of how radical anti-immigrant groups politicize local governments.

For many years, Costa Mesa was a cradle for Caucasian families and people of European ancestry. However, during the last two decades, it has attracted other ethnic groups, who have settled along the west and the northern parts of the city, making it more ethnically diverse.

In 1980, Whites comprised close to 90 percent of the total population, whereas Hispanics/Latinos of all races were 10 percent, Asians 5 percent and Blacks 1 percent. The 2000 Census revealed a dramatic shift: whites now are 57 percent; Latinos, 32 percent; Asians, 7 percent; and others, 4 percent.

Latinos have increased by 22 percent since 1980, or 26,112 people, in 20 twenty years. Census data also show that 60 percent of the city’s Latinos live in the Westside, an area where most of the ethnic tensions developed lately.

There are no conclusive studies about the exact background of the people living on the Westside, but empirical evidence shows that most of them belong to Latino families. A good number of them are first and second American generations, others are immigrants from the nearby cities, and a tiny percentage of Latinos can be categorized as recently arrived immigrants from other countries.

Most people have adjusted well to the new demographic changes in Costa Mesa, but not everybody is happy. A radical anti-immigrant group led by Martin H. Millard, a featured writer on a white supremacist website known as New Nation News, has used the anti-immigrant rhetoric to influence elected officials. In his writings, Millard has compared Latinos with cockroaches, and has also laid out a plan to gain access to institutions of power. And from there make radical changes.

Millard is the tip of the iceberg of the immigration crisis in Costa Mesa. Despite proven evidence of his rage against minority groups, a majority in the City Council allowed Millard a seat in the Redevelopment and Residential Rehabilitation committee. This committee makes recommendations to government officials on the distribution of funds to charities in town. Millard also served the West Revitalization Oversight Committee.

In October 2002, Mayor Mansoor, then member of the Human Relations Committee, publicly agreed with Millard and his group, at least in principal, on how to tackle socioeconomic problems. “…If he wants the streets cleaned up, then I agree with him on that,” Mansoor said. In this context, Millard had written that the Westside “will never be truly improved until and unless the demographics are improved; period.” To me this only means to get Latinos out of Costa Mesa.

A majority of the City Council, Mansoor Eric Bever and Gary Monahan, has gradually pushed an agenda to curve the ethnic composition of the Westside, as well as the entire city. In March 15, 2005, they decided to shut down the Job Center without giving a reasonable notice for debate in both the community and at City Hall.

Second, Allan Mansoor succeeded in having the Human Relations Committee eliminated, again without previous notice.

Third, they prohibited adult soccer on public school fields. As we know, soccer is a favorite pastime sport among Latino families.

Fourth, following Millard’s footsteps, Councilmen Eric Bever, his closest ally in the City Council, charged against councilwoman Katrina Foley for supporting nonprofit organizations. Millard has been an ardent foe of charities helping minority groups. A year ago, while being at the 3R committee, he accused the Boys and Girls Club and Soy, two of the most dynamic nonprofit groups in the Westside, for “…recruiting and staging station for gangs and criminal activity.” Moreover, Bever supported Millard in attempting to have signs posted in Paularino Park banning the kicking of soccer ball, or playing any team sports.

Finally, on December 7, 2005, during a council meeting, Allan Mansoor presented an out-of-balanced immigration plan, which would have allowed every Costa Mesa policemen and women to act virtually as immigration agents. However, after an ambiguous discussion, Mansoor, Monahan and Bever opted for an apparently less-bumpy immigration proposal to conceal the intolerant nature of their plan. So far their tactic has not worked, as many people in the community have already stressed the inequities of their proposal and have questioned Millard’s role behind the latest government undertakings.

Mansoor says the police would only target immigrant felons. Nonetheless, the effects of it will inevitably reach law-abiding residents, particularly ethnic minorities.

It is time for Costa Mesans to wake up. The people involved in the recent immigration stunt are no mainstream conservatives, but a small and cohesive radical group seeking its own selfish and undemocratic interests.

Humberto Caspa, Ph.D., Adjunct professor at California State University, Long Beach

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