Latinx panel looks at transformation of American politics

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A line of students have a meet and greet with the panel from the "Power Shift" discussion.
(Hosam Elattar / Daily Titan)

Historical California Latinx politicians sat on a panel  to discuss how their community has changed national politics at the Titan Student Union on March 12.

The event was a collaboration between  Associated Students, University Advancement and Student Affairs, said Michael Karg, senior director of development.

Inez Gonzalez, moderator and director of the Latino Communications institute (LCI), formulated and asked questions to George Pla and David Ayón, authors of the book “Power Shift: How Latinos in California Transformed Politics in America.”

“My biggest takeaway is that regular people can become great leaders and do great things and so that’s how I ended the event, encouraging students to read the book and be inspired by regular people that were bold and decided to run for office,” Gonzalez said.

Pla and Ayón’s book recounts the story of 10 Los Angeles Latinx leaders who the authors said were critical in forming social change in politics as well as reforming the U.S. labor movement and U.S.-Mexico relations.

free copy of the book was handed out after the event and could be signed by panel members. The book is entitled “Power Shift” because Ayón and Pla recognized a change in California politics. Ayón said the title speaks to the political power shift to Latinos who were not historically included in infrastructure decisions that were often destructive to their community.

Ayón said he saw this power change with the building of the Gold Line extension of the metro system that runs through Boyle Heights and all the way to East LA, an issue the Latinx community mobilized to make happen in 2009.

“This was such a radical change from the building of the freeways that were done without any consultation, without any consideration. You could see the arch of the development of the community and it’s politics, it’s leadership, it’s mobilization, it’s participation there alone,” said Ayón.

Ayón said the concept of the book was challenged by the  2016 presidential election. He went on to say the election fell into this pattern of social and political advancement followed by social and political backlash, adding that every time the community grew and had greater visibility, they would receive  pushback

Hispanic and Latinx students made up  41.5 percent of the students enrolled in fall 2018 making them the largest demographic at CSUF.

As of July 2017, there are about 59 million Latinos in the United States, more than 15 million of which live in California, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Despite the Latinx community making up more than 18 percent of the United States population Pla said that even in 2019 the community is “practically invisible”.

“David in his comments in the book said we’re even disposable in some cases, not to mention stereotyped from birth and by some even demonized,” Pla said. “There’s a character in D.C. who should spend more time reading his history books and less time on Twitter. I think you know who I’m talking about.”

Some of the leaders discussed in the book were on the panel, including  Richard Alatorre, former LA council member, and Gloria Molina, the first Chicana member of the California State Assembly.

Molina highlighted that she struggled running for office in the 1980s because she experienced pressures to conform for being a woman.

“In 1982 we kicked opened that door,” said Molina. “It set kind of a whole different pattern as to the way women were looked upon and given that opportunity.”

Molina said she was lucky to be succeeded by strong and courageous female leaders.

“We’ve proven to be effective as leaders.  We’ve been proven to be good advocates on behalf of the community and I knew being the first, you have to set the example. If you did something wrong it would speak volumes,” said Molina.

Recently appointed Fullerton Mayor Jesus Silva attended the event and said the power shift has occurred in Northern Fullerton and  Orange County over the last few years.

“It started when my wife got elected onto the assembly. I think it’s continuing. I got elected in 2016 —Jesus Silva — you can’t get anymore Latino then that, and then when Gil Cisneros was elected as congressmen so there is a shift,” said Silva.

Silva said he was unsure if the 2020 elections would see the first Latinx president in the oval office.

“Anything is possible. When President Obama got elected I think there was a lot of doubters and skeptics and it happened. So right now, I don’t know. Anything could happen. I know this shift will continue to happen in Orange County. How far it carries I think that is to be seen,” said Silva.

Alatorre said the Latinx community cannot wait for a national leader to emerge.

“Cesar Chavez is one in a lifetime. If we wait for that to happen, we’re not going to see anything,” said Alatorre. “I think in this room there are leaders. There are people that care. There are people who want change and the like. We’re going to look to you.”

Melina Cabrera, public relations major and Mesa Cooperativa representative  said she came to the event because of her own interest in politics.

“I kind of wanted to see some Latinos like me that are in politics and what their perspective is and hear what they have to say,” said Cabrera.

Ana Aldazabal, ASI President, said that many Latinx students are already taking up leadership roles by pushing  for civil rights on campus.

“DREAM CO-OP is a really big advocate for immigrant rights. I know that they meet with legislators to talk about undocumented students and how to help them,” said Aldazabal.

Pla said he and Ayón wrote their book because young people should recognize the major contributions people like Alatorre and Molina have made.

“I want to be clear that it’s not one group over another. It’s bringing a large segment in our society front and center,” said Pla. “In 2019, it’s time that we have these stories before you (so) that our young people know their history and can look up to role models that look like you and me.”

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