Nativo Lopez: The president of the Mexican American Political Association organized a Latino community boycott that had thousands walking out of jobs and schools on Dec. 12
~ By DENNIS ROMERO ~
When Nativo Lopez was a member of the Santa Ana Unified School District board, he made it his mission to find loopholes so that most Latino parents could continue to have their children learn subjects in Spanish, despite the successful “English only” state initiative of Ron Unz. Proposition 227, passed in 1998, was the brainchild of Unz, a Silicon Valley millionaire who inked the blueprint for wealthy patrons (read: Darrell Issa) to wield a huge stick in state politics, recall-style. Unhappy with Lopez’s success in letting bilingual education occur in Santa Ana, Unz spent more than $100,000 to successfully unseat him.
The 52-year-old veteran of state politics came back in a big way. Elected president of the 40-chapter Mexican American Political Association (MAPA) in August, Lopez aimed directly for newly elected Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger when he organized a “economic strike” last Friday. The main motive for thousands of Latinos who skipped work, school, and shopping was to protest the repeal of a law (SB 60) that would have allowed illegal immigrants to obtain drivers licenses once again. Nativo got the media spotlight as right-wing pundits harangued him as “the Hispanic Al Sharpton,” and a “reconquista” (someone who wants to have the American Southwest returned to Mexico). He shakes off the criticism, saying, “This is just the beginning of using non-participation and nonviolent tactics to change the rules of the game – the existing paradigm of how our needs should be addressed.”
CityBeat: How did the strike go?
Nativo Lopez: This past Sunday, we met with 15 organizations that supported this throughout the state. In the Los Angeles Unified School District, they reported nearly 30 percent absenteeism out of about 746,000 students. That’s significant, and it can’t be attributed to a flu bug. Many districts reported similar numbers. Fresno was 35 percent down in attendance. There were marches throughout the state. Telemundo reported close to 7,000 people marching in San Francisco’s Mission District.
We also launched a national boycott against Clear Channel and its station KFI (640 AM) in Los Angeles and their shock jocks John & Ken for spreading hate against Latinos and immigrants. We’re communicating with the companies that advertise on that show and asking them to remove all advertising from the station. There are similar shock jocks on Clear Channel stations in Sacramento and San Diego. They use ‘illegals’ as a code word for the Latino community. John & Ken were organizing and calling on people to sign the petition to repeal SB 60.
What’s your next move?
A coordinating council, Concejo Popular Mexicano, was just formed to continue actions into 2004. It will include marches in Los Angeles and San Francisco in October. There’s a looming son of Prop. 187 [the ballot measure, struck down by courts, that would have denied state education and resources to undocumented immigrants] by Ron Prince, the original author. He will begin circulating a petition for signatures to qualify for the November 2004 ballot. It will essentially deny health and social services to non-legal immigrants. It will obligate public employees to notify authorities if they suspect anyone in their midst is illegal. We’re seeing the nastiness of the mid-1990s resurfacing.
You recently met with the owner of a Los Angeles-area restaurant after he allegedly fired eight workers who refused to work in observance of the strike. Why?
We’re still in the process of meeting with the general manager. We’re committed to responding to any cases of reprisal. Twelve others were terminated at a company in Los Angeles, a silk-screening company. We talked to that owner and he allowed them to come back.
How did you go from a local school board to being a statewide leader?
Ron Unz did me a favor by kicking in all that money for my opponents in the school board election. I plead guilty to the charge of advocating for bilingual education. I fought my opponents and I lost. But these are issues I’ve been involved in for many, many years. When Gil Cedillo ran for the assembly in 1997, we asked him to carry this drivers license legislation. I’ve been working on this since that time. I have a history with immigration issues through my organization, Hermandad Mexicana, then I was elected president of MAPA last August. It gives me the time to move around the state – to go to different cities and coordinate different organizations.
How would you describe MAPA?
It was founded in 1963 with the mission of seeking political empowerment for the Mexican American community. More specifically, it was involved in voter registration campaigns and in recruiting candidates to run for local office. There’s not enough pull in Sacramento for MAPA. A lot of the founders and leaders of MAPA, for example, eventually ended up running for political office. With the onset of term limits, we observed a rush of local elected officials to state political office. That became a priority in the Latino political community, electing these officials to state office, rather than organizing around grassroots issues. The building of a permanent political organization is required to hold its own elected officials and other political officials accountable.
Why is allowing the undocumented to obtain licenses so important to you?
Everyone driving on highways in California should learn the rules of the road and take the written test and driving exam and be insured. SB 60 would have ensured road safety for all Californians. That has nothing to do with immigration status or color. The repeal of SB 60 was a poor and premeditated meshing of transportation policy and immigration policy based on anti-immigrant prejudice. We can’t seem to separate the two, one being good transportation policy based on public safety, the other being immigration policy, a federal concern.
Why do you say the recall and Schwarzenegger have ushered in an era of immigrant bashing?
The drivers license issue was almost like a code word for Prop. 187, similar to what Pete Wilson did, bashing immigrants and resurrecting his tenure as governor. Arnold did the same thing with the drivers licenses. He beat the drum in the way that Pete Wilson beat the drum of 187. That just gave more fuel to the extreme right wing of the Republican Party, which has always been dead set against immigrants. Arnold’s candidacy created an opening for the right wing to reassert itself.
Do you believe Schwarzenegger when he says that, as an immigrant, he’s a natural ally to Latinos?
I don’t think he’s a friend of Latinos. Not just on this issue, but on fiscal issues. The deficit issue is going to be solved on the backs of the working poor and immigrants. Latinos will be the community most denied services. How can we feel good about that, despite his posturing that he’s a friend of Latinos?
Why is immigration always a simmering part of California politics?
It has much to do with the demographic growth of the Latino and Asian Pacific communities. That demographic growth leads to increasing political representation for these communities, encroaching on special interests and political and economic monopolies held by white Anglo-Americans. A certain segment of that population refuses to accept the inevitable, that power must be shared. This is clearly represented in the extreme right wing of the Republican Party.
Some on the right have called you the Hispanic Al Sharpton. How do you respond?
They’re demonizing Al Sharpton and applying it to me, but I’m not offended by it. Sharpton has done what he does, advocating for the people.
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