Report Card: Should Latinos Get a Pass?

I have often thought that we should handout "Report Cards" to our Mexican American and Latino elected officials

By Rodolfo F. Acu??a
Published on LatinoLA: January 11, 2015

Report Card: Should Latinos Get a Pass?

When growing up, the most dreaded event was "Report Card Day". I really hated it because my parents went berserk when I got a bad one. An "A' in effort or behavior or attendance just did not cut it. What counted was the letter grades in the subject areas such as reading, writing, math and history.

For weeks before the report card came out, I would practice writing my mother's signature. My father was always working and his English was limited. Although my mother's English was good, her handwriting was the easiest to forge. She was self-educated attending less than a year of school.

I often suffered the consequences when my parents learned of my forgery. However, the thought of a reaction to my "Report Card" made me take chances.

I have often thought that we should handout "Report Cards" to our Mexican American and Latino elected officials, posting their grades semi-annually with final grades handed out a month before election day. We really don't have any checks on them once they get elected to office.

During a conversation I asked late Willie Velasquez, founder of the Southwest Voter Registration and Education Project, who most Chicana/o elected officials owe their careers, what was going to happen after the SVREP registered Mexican Americans and got Chicanas/os elected to office? How could we make sure that they would serve the people?

Willie answered that his priority was registering Mexican Americans ÔÇô that was the first step. Willie was an idealist, and I believe down under he thought that Chicana/o nationalism would weld community interests.

At one time where you lived was the defining factor, i.e., from Garfield or Roosevelt, San Fernando or Bowie High depending on the electoral district. As the community grew to incorporate other Spanish-surname members membership in a community was not always the test.

Organizations like the Community Service Organization and the Mexican American Political Association in California worked hard registering Mexican Americans and brokering safe districts. Early on the tendency was to give Mexicans a pass; any Mexican representative was better than none.

For a long time, we fought a black-white syndrome, and it was difficult for non-Mexicans to identify with our needs. We were not part of the American political fabric. We had always been the enemy ÔÇô the people who killed Davy Crockett at the Alamo.

Today, we have a growth problem. The Mexican population alone has grown nationally from about three million in 1970 to about 35 million. The generic Latino population from three and a half million to about 52 million. We no longer know what is in the label and control has evaporated. Unfortunately, some GMO Latinos have crept in.

Politics is about performance, and if you don't have any standards, the outcome is poor. So this is where the report card comes in.

Ask any Mexican who went to school in Mexico what a 10 on a report card is and they'll tell you. A 10 is perfect, a 9 is excellent, 8 good, 7 fair and a 6 is unsatisfactory. Below a 7 you are in trouble. Why not have the same system with elected officials?

The categories such behavior, character and honesty would be graded as would areas such as community participation. In the 80s I remember visiting then Alderman Jesus (Chuy) Garcia in Chicago and was impressed that every Tuesday he sat in a storefront office listening to the problems of residents (with or without documents). No appointment needed. At the time non-citizens whose children attended Chicago public voted in school-council.

Free speech and access should not be limited to donors and corporations. In fact they should not have the right to give as much money as they please to political campaigns. A Richard Riordan or an Eli Broad should not have more access to politicos than those who live in an electoral district.

The source of funding should be a category. If a rep receives 100 percent of her or his funding from within the district, she or he should get a 10. There are cases in LA where city councilmen get 90 percent of their funding from outside the council district. They would get a 1.

Some city council districts have more people than most congressional districts. The LA City Council has more people than some states with two senators and a congressperson to boot. The reason why Chuy was able to meet with the people is that in Chicago 50 aldermen represent 50 wards. Chicago is smaller than LA. In contrast, LA has 15 council. Reps that make $181,292 a year plus large staffs, perks and generous pensions. They preside over fiefdoms.

Term limits are labeled as a major reform. It certainly has elected more Latinos, minorities and women; however, is that always better? In 2013, Independent spending surpassed $1 million for State Sen. Curren Price, an African American for the 9th District City Council seat. Only 12 percent of voters voted in the primary. His opponent was Ana Cubas, a Latina was a former City Council chief of staff. Price was elected.

Although some would dispute the costs of this election, you can bet that most of the money was not raised in the 9th ÔÇô a poor South Central Los Angeles community that is predominately Latino.
I am not discounting the necessity to elect race and gender specific candidates. Circa 1985, many of my colleagues questioned me as to why I supported Richard Alatorre for the LA City Council. I pointed to the need for role models but mainly referred to the under-representation of Mexican Americans in the City's workforce. I believed he was the best qualified person to reverse this statistic.

According to the LA Times:

The 1984-85 year-end figures also show that more women and minorities worked for the city than ever before, although white men still held a disproportionate share of all municipal jobs, especially the best-paid positions. Of 163 top administrative slots, white men had 66%.

Latinos, who make up 22% of the regional work force, held 7.6%, or 302, of the 3,999 city jobs on June 30, compared with 7.1% and 282 jobs a year before, according to the city's annual affirmative action report. The increase was the sharpest since 1973, when affirmative action figures were first kept here.

Therefore, race and ethnicity should be a category to be graded from 1-10, but it should not be the overriding factor. It should be just one category of the Report Card.

When I raised this issue criticizing the candidacy of a Latina for the LA Community College Trustees, some people went berserk saying I was anti-Latina. I knew of no instance where she advocated for Latino students or Chicana/o Studies on the California State University campus. Indeed, in a controversy with the CCSUN president she sided with the administration.

One would think that if we wanted to elect a person who would bring about change in the L.A. Community Colleges instead of using it as a stepping stone to higher office, we should have a screening process for new candidates. The Report Card might help. Certainly grade point averages would help with to profile the candidates. We do it when selecting a surgeon or even a graduate school candidate. So should it be to serve the people.

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