Five Latinos We Really Like

TOM FUENTES

is a Latino, which we're sure he won't mind us mentioning as long as we don't dwell on it. See, Fuentes doesn't choose to be defined by his ethnicity, not if it means being confined to a straitjacket of preconceived positions and opinions. Fuentes makes up his own mind, and as chairman of the Orange County Republican Party for longer than we can remember, his job is to try to make up other people's minds, too. This doesn't always make him popular. The shortlist of Fuentes' greatest contributions to OC politics: supporting Proposition 187, the pro-non-immigrant ballot measure; hiring burly courtesy workers to help Hispanic nonvoters avoid polling places, and backing Bob Dornan's effort to protect American democracy from supporters of Loretta Sanchez. Obviously, with a résumé like that, lots of people would like to see Fuentes deposed as OC Republican Party chairman. Recently, a lot of them have been Republicans, who believe the party would have a better chance of winning elections with a less extreme approach. But Fuentes knows you've got to break a few huevos to make a political ranchero.

JOHN MARTIN

is not a Latino. He's John, not Juan, and the last name is not pronounced "Mar-teen." But if we all agree that the old approach to race relations hasn't been working, what with barriers of language, custom and skin tone, then it's obvious that we need a different approach—one that replaces "old" with "familiar." And as former CEO of Irvine-based Taco Bell, John Martin's approach to Mexican culture has been very familiar, which is different in that it is refreshingly comfortable. Because nearly all of us abhor the era, not all that long ago, when Mexican culture was summarized for most Americans with a few exaggerated stereotypes—mostly involving extreme laziness or extremely hot sauce. And jumping beans. Always the jumping beans. As a kid, I remember going to Michigan to visit relatives, and my cousins there had never even heard of a taco or a burrito. Or a Chihuahua. But thanks to John Martin, that has all changed. During his tenure as el jefe de Taco Bell, people throughout the country and around the world got to know what a taco is. Ditto for burritos. And a whole bunch of other things nobody anywhere had ever heard of before: enchiritos, cinnamon crispas, Mexican pizzas, Bellbeefers, and seven-layer something-or-others. Mexican culture has been lifted from its ghettoized stereotypes and placed into the fast-moving mainstream. How mainstream? Well, through Martin's efforts, Taco Bell made Mexican food a symbol for what can be accomplished by capitalizing on minimum-wage labor to produce the cheapest food ever served in America, and then parlaying the money saved on wages and benefits into a killer ad campaign whose commercials have broadened, deepened and invented new spins on stereotypes about Hispanic culture through the use of a talking Chihuahua. Taco Bell commercials even have a bit of pidgin Spanglish on everybody's lips; there isn't anyone who doesn't like saying, "Yo quiero Taco Bell!"


HARALD MARTIN

—pronounced "Martin," as in "John Martin"—isn't Latino either. But the former president of the Anaheim school board proves that white men don't have to make tacos to earn a place on our list of Latinos We Like. Don't forget: not all Latinos are Mexican. Still, most of them seem to be, and Martin is so concerned about the welfare of those who—to quote a former Taco Bell slogan—made "a run for the border" that he wants the Immigration and Naturalization Service to count how many kids who smuggled themselves here from Mexico are currently being taught in the Anaheim school district. In an act of advocacy and to set an example of accountability, Martin also wants to sue Mexico for the cost of educating undocumented children. He also says he supports the Zapatista rebels in Chiapas. Viva la revolucion!

GADDI VASQUEZ

is actually a Latino, which wouldn't normally surprise us, considering his name and everything, except that he used to be a rising star in the county's Republican Party. Now he makes a six-figure salary with Southern California Edison, which makes him a role model, and the way Southern California Edison recognizes this and employs him as a public-relations corporate figurehead is the kind of real-world evidence that maintains civic faith in the capitalist system. You know: people are put in their proper place. Beyond that, however, Vasquez's success is proof that he is more than just a racial token. He landed in the Edison position in a very mainstream way: after retiring from politics. As one of five members of the Orange County Board of Supervisors, Vasquez presided over OC's bankruptcy five years ago. But despite the high positions he's held and the high salary he earns, Vasquez has not forgotten his roots. He has returned to his previous job as a patrol officer in Orange, where he quickly earned the distinction of being the only cop on the force to drive a Porsche.

 
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