September 5, 2003

To Young People Like Me, This Recall Is Real

By Hector Gonzales


SAN JOSE—To many voting Californians, the gubernatorial recall election is being taken as a joke — an unexpected and entertaining twist to the usually boring political scene. But for me and my community, this recall is a very important.

This recall is about me, even if I can’t even register. As a 20-year-old immigrant from El Salvador who is now living in San Jose, this recall is as real as it gets. Many people are losing their jobs, students have to pay ridiculous tuition to get an education even at community college and youth-serving organizations are losing funding.

I am not a citizen of the United States, so I can’t vote. It’s frustrating to have lived in San Jose for more than 14 years, and yet I can’t play my part in electing the officials who affect my community.

Even though I can’t vote, I am politically involved. Most of my time is spent working with my community to help out youth that come from the East Side San Jose streets that I was raised on. I work with “high-risk” students, mostly Latino and Asians, at the high schools in East San Jose. These are the same schools that are going to be facing even harder times this fall given the budget cuts. In some ways I feel like I’m playing a bigger role in my community than elected officials themselves.

That’s why this recall is my issue. All of my community work, the well-being of myself and my family, can be affected by who the next governor is. Although Arnold Schwarzenegger is an immigrant from Austria, us Latino immigrants can’t trust him. When I listen to him, he doesn’t seem to say anything that is relevant. He seems more Republican than anything else, and my people have had some bad experiences with Republican governors. Pete Wilson was our last one, and he proposed Proposition 187 — the initiative which would have made it illegal for some immigrants to have access to health care and education. I was 10 at the time, and I can remember my dad telling me I may not be able to go to school anymore.

Given today’s bad economic times, immigrants may again be the target if someone is looking for a scapegoat.

If I could vote, I would go against the recall. Even though he hasn’t done a great job, I would rather have Gray Davis as governor while there is a budget crisis than having a Republican handling the situation. Gray Davis is considering drivers licenses for undocumented workers. Although this proposal was made to him long ago, for a Republican to bring up the issue would be virtually impossible.

If someone must replace Davis, it should be Bustamante. He is already getting support from Latinos across California. Many Latino immigrants can relate to because he used to work in the fields of the Central Valley. I just hope Latinos don’t just vote for him because of his Mexican name. Here in San Jose, we learned that strategy doesn’t always work out.

Back in 1998, Ron Gonzalez, a Mexican-American, was voted in as Mayor. I remember Latinos voting for him because he was “one of us.” Five years later, many Latinos in San Jose still work at less than minimum wage jobs with no benefits, go to the worst schools in the city and are facing police brutality that got worse on Gonzalez’s watch. While Latinos hoped that we would have the support from the mayor, instead we had just another politician who did nothing to help or support the Latino people. I hope the state learns that getting a Latino politician into office does not necessarily mean a victory for the Latino people.

Whether it be Bustamante, Gray, or even Gary Coleman, all I can do on Oct. 7 is hope that the next governor will be someone who cares about immigrants, jobs and education.

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