By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
He reached out to Rodriguez y Quezada before he left, he says. “I left him a message and sent him a confidential e-mail, offering my help and to introduce him to people in the community if he’d like, but I never received any response from him.”
One of the very few people who seemed pleased with Ortiz Haro’s departure was deputy consul Manuel Herrera, a career diplomat who regularly and openly clashed with Ortiz Haro over the latter’s rule-bending, populist approach. Herrera was assigned to the deputy-consul post after Ortiz Haro had arrived in the county; his wife had been assigned to a consulate post in Los Angeles.
Herrera kept his upstairs office during Ortiz Haro’s tenure and looked forward to the new consul’s arrival. “In the entire history of this office, no one has come here with as much experience, nor with the distinction of having served as an ambassador,” Herrera told the LA Times last year about Rodriguez y Quezada. “A person with such experience has a greater capacity for negotiating with local officials and for diplomacy.” Requests for an interview with Herrera for this story were declined by the consulate office.
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Although Ortiz Haro’s departure is still lamented, local leaders say Rodriguez y Quezada was nevertheless welcomed by the community with the hope that he’d build community in his own style. “We gave him a bienvenida on Valentine’s Day and threw a big dinner and party for him at my restaurant,” says activist Mike Gonzalez. “We wanted to work with him.” Gonzalez and the feisty local owners of Rumores newspaper, Betty and Abel Torres, used to pal around with the consul, says Betty. There was a falling out over the Fiestas Patrias,the Mexican Independence Day celebrations, last fall, and the three business owners are now among those in the community calling for the consul’s reassignment.
Rodriguez y Quezada did indeed have his own style. He moved his office back upstairs, discontinued Miercoles Paisano, and installed metal detectors, microphones and more security guards in the downstairs waiting room. The consulate’s closing time changed from a flexible ?4(-ish) p.m. under Ortiz Haro to a prompt, security-guard-backed shutting of the doors at 2 p.m.
“We were prohibited from talking with community members and leaders who had been visiting us for years,” says former staffer Mildret Avila of some of the new rules that went into effect with Rodriguez y Quezada’s arrival. “But he was the consul. We respected his wishes, and we wanted to do a good job. I’ve worked with three other consuls, so I know there are always going to be some changes.”
But some of those changes made for a difficult work situation, say Avila and other former staff members, including Silvia Jimenez, who resigned last fall, and Socorro Sarmiento, a consulate fixture for six years until last spring. During her tenure as community-affairs director, Sarmiento had become “the face of the consulate,” says Julio Perez. The increasing number of restrictions placed on her outreach work were weakening programs that had taken years to build, Sarmiento says.
With the help of staffers such as Sarmiento and Avila, clubs representing all 32 Mexican states were formed and asked to get involved in the first-ever float-driven Mexican Independence Day parade in Santa Ana five years ago (an idea proposed by Ortiz Haro). A trickle of a parade had once graced Santa Ana’s streets in the 1970s, and since that time, the celebrations had always involved the participation of merchants up and down Fourth Street.
“It was a way for us to bring everyone together, and it was incredible how involved and excited people became,” Avila says. It was also, she says, the way they were able to get people involved in an innovative money-matching program sponsored by the Mexican government intended to fund public-works programs in people’s hometowns back in Mexico.
Representatives from various clubs and, soon, federations (collections of clubs) became recognized leaders to the consul and the staff. They could walk in with people from their communities who needed help; they and their community members were invited to participate in mini-forums and literacy-teacher training, and they would suggest ideas for how to reach out to some of the most far-flung, hard-to-reach pockets in the county.
Under Rodriguez y Quezada’s tenure, some of that cohesion began to suffer, some say. Programs such as the mobile consulates and the Ventanilla de Salud, a popular program that brings in nonprofits to discuss cancer, Alzheimer’s and other health-related issues, were changed or scaled back.
This year, there are 12 mobile consulates scheduled throughout the county, compared to the 20 or so that used to go out.
Although the health window has been expanded to include new organizations, according to Rodriguez y Quezada, there’s no real explanation for why popular organizations such as Latino Health Access were eliminated. “It was a decision on their part,” says Patricia Paez, a program director with Latino Health Access.
“Their time here ended,” Rodriguez y Quezada tells the Weekly. The consulate, he says, was interested in bringing in organizations who would be present during their allotted time slots.