Balancing the Scales of Dominance
In LA, Latinos aren't merely an after thought when implementing vital city policies
One of the reasons I am not a big fan of the Oscar winning film Crash is due to the fact that they portrayed the Los Angeles City Attorney as being Anglo and that the Hispanic characters that were in the movie were simply relegated to submissive, stereotypical roles. Latinos may not be as wealthy as your Hollywood types but they are by no means powerless in the City of Angels.
Published on LatinoLA: April 7, 2006
Awhile back, the LA Times ran a front-page photo that included the City Attorney, the Sheriff, and the Mayor. I don?t quite remember what the story was about but I do recall thinking that this was a historic photograph. You see, the City Attorney is Rocky Delgadillo, the Sheriff is Lee Baca, and the Mayor is the honorable Antonio Villaraisgosa; three Latinos holding the most important posts in the second largest city in the country. Hispanics, specifically Mejicanos, have come a long way in this town.
Unlike eastern cities with immigrant traditions, Los Angeles has historically been a bastion of Anglo power. In Chicago for instance, Latinos have, for decades, lived alongside Italians, Irish, and other European immigrants striving for the same blue-collar lifestyle. But in LA there has never really been a white ethnic labor movement per say, so working-class Latinos have basically always been on their own.
And recently, the economic disparity between the various cultural groups has become much more evident here than in most other American metropolitan areas as well. The fact that real estate prices are so high in Los Angeles makes it nearly impossible for working-class people (which is generally Latino), and even middle-class folks, to purchase homes or start small businesses. So while the Los Angeles White power structure has seen its wealth rise to astronomical proportions as of late, the Hispanic community has found itself falling further behind in this sphere. But astutely enough though, in conjunction with the labor movement, they have developed an energetic, strong, and productive political machine that seems to somewhat balance the scales of dominance. The rise of Antonio Villaraisgosa is the culmination of this opus that began with the Chicano Movement in the late 1960s.
Villaraigosa started his career as a community activist, then became a union advocate, and proceeded to jump into the world of politics. And at every step of the way blue collar/working-class Latinos were always in his corner. They clearly understood that the only way of getting through the front door was to force it open by banding together, and pushing one of their own through it. With this strong foundation, his charisma, and a broad coalition Antonio Villaraigosa was able to become the first Hispanic mayor of Los Angeles in over 150 years. Giving the community pride yes, but more importantly giving a voice to those who demanded to be heard.
Like the Irish in Boston, Chicago, and New York, Latinos here are using politics to try and spread the wealth around a bit more evenly. Folks like Antonio, Baca, and Rocky are sitting at the same table with the likes of Jerrold Perrenchio, Eli Broad, and Richard Riordan making sure that Latinos are not merely an after thought when implementing vital city policies.
Alejandro Diaz is a writer who writes what's on his mind at the moment.