By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
By Charles Lam
The Man Who Isn’t There
After one year as Orange County’s Mexican consul, Carlos Rodriguez y Quezada has done an excellent job of sparking protests, burning bridges and making people miss his predecessor
Beneath the unforgiving glare of fluorescent conference-room lights, Manuela Herrada tells state Senator Lou Correa about the time the Mexican consul in Santa Ana insulted her.
Herrada, president of a local club representing the Mexican state of Coahuila, recalls that, before their appointment to register the club with the consul in September 2008, she and other members were told to make sure they came bathed and well-dressed. Herrada, wearing a button-down blouse and sporting a chic bob, says that once the group was in the office of consul Carlos Rodriguez y Quezada, “[The consul] looked around at us and started asking questions right away: ‘How many years have you been here? How did you get here? . . . How many of you are mojados [wetbacks]?’”
They were stunned, says Jose del Rio, one of the club members there that day. “We were so surprised we didn’t even know what to say. . . . I’ve been here many years. I have my own business. But why does he treat people that way?”
On this recent Friday night at Correa’s Santa Ana district office, Herrada is among a group of some 50 residents, community leaders, and presidents of more than a dozen Mexican-state clubs sharing their troubling experiences with Rodriguez y Quezada, who has served for a little more than a year. (Rodriguez y Quezada denies that he has ever asked anyone about their immigration status. “We never ask for that information,” says consulate press director Augustin Pradillo. “If someone says that happened, it’s a lie.”)
Some of the old women and young mothers in the group hesitate before standing up and reading in Spanish from letters they’ve handwritten or typed. Others read correspondence from friends or neighbors who couldn’t make it. They talk about being humiliated, ignored, turned away. Correa jots down names and frowns. This is the second town hall he’s had regarding the issue.
“I knew the previous two consuls, and this is the first kind of request like this that’s been made to me,” he says. “It’s a unique situation because you’re not dealing with the city council office, with a state office, with the U.S. Senate office—you’re dealing with a foreign-government office in your country.
“You use your diplomatic skills to make sure the constituency and the consul have a productive relationship. But how do you bring back a relationship that was there in the past?” he wonders, no doubt referring to Rodriguez y Quezada’s wildly popular predecessor, Luis Miguel Ortiz Haro. Correa says he informed the consul of the two previous town halls with the community and gave him open invitations to attend, but Rodriguez y Quezada hasn’t come.
The new consul, those in attendance allege, is neglecting and, in many cases, offending and alienating the Mexican citizens in the county he’s being paid handsomely (close to $10,000 per month) to serve. Allegations of nepotism, elitism and favoritism all at the hands of the consul and his deputy consul, Manuel Herrera, have swirled throughout the county and the Spanish-language print and television media since last summer. The situation heated up just before Christmas, when half a dozen longtime employees were fired without warning or reason and banned from setting foot in the consulate office. Three of them in attendance tonight have gone public with their demands of the consul and the Mexican government for an explanation.
“It greatly disturbs me to hear what has happened to all of you,” says Amin David, president of the Los Amigos community group. “We have invited the consul to come to one of our meetings this coming Wednesday because we had heard about many situations like this in the community.”
Correa promises to send the batch of letters he has collected to the Mexican Foreign Ministry and to meet with the group again in a month. He encourages them to attend the Los Amigos gathering.
Several days later, at the Jägerhaus in Anaheim, the 40 or so people who have arrived by 7:30 a.m. in anticipation of Rodriguez y Quezada’s visit to the Los Amigos meeting are soon disappointed; David informs them the consul canceled at the last minute due to business in LA. Rodriguez y Quezada promises to attend the following week, Amin tells the group, but he later learns the consul was in Santa Ana at noon that day meeting with downtown business leaders.
* * *
Alover of fine art and good whiskey, Rodriguez y Quezada spent his college years in Mexico City before launching his diplomatic career in 1969. Since then, he has traveled around the world, including stints as Mexico’s ambassador to Serbia and Montenegro and foreign ministry posts in Lebanon, Colombia, Spain, New York and San Diego. He now runs one of the busiest consulates in the country. Anti-immigrant—or, more properly, anti-Mexican—sentiment runs rampant in the county that gave birth to the Minuteman Project.