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
Barrio Cypress, which extends outward from the 400 block of North Cypress Street, not far from Old Towne Orange, is home to generations of Mexican-American families who’ve been working and living in the area since the early part of the 20th century.
“We know our rights,” Elizondo says of her neighborhood. “A lot of people [here] are second, third, fourth generations born here now. So that’s why they said, ‘What can we do? We need to do something.’”
Elizondo is energetic, candid and aggressive, her voice raspy from smoking and her edges frayed just enough to foster trust between herself and the young people with whom she works. As a kid, Elizondo split her time between the Barrio Cypress in Orange and Santa Ana, attended and volunteered at St. Joseph’s Church in Orange, and considered becoming a nun; she attended Cal State Fullerton in the early 1970s, but she had to drop out to help her family financially. She later turned down a chance to go to UC Berkeley because her mom lost her house; instead, she wound up moving to Arizona, where she eventually earned her Bachelor of Arts in Behavioral Science from Western University and worked on an American Indian reservation for several years.
Now, she’s raising three kids alone; sits on the Santa Ana Youth Council; and laughs at the way her mild dyslexia tends to surface when she’s composing her ardent e-mails to lawyers, city officials, media outlets and other activists. Her years of work with disenfranchised Native American teens in Arizona and recovering alcoholics and at-risk teens in Santa Ana and Orange have taught her to live what she preaches: Shrug off what holds you back, and keep going.
To deal with the injunction, Elizondo began holding weekly evening meetings at her offices, which overflowed with worried parents and perplexed defendants. She delegated research tasks; the group created targeted committees that would focus on outreach, research and planning. They named themselves the Orange County Youth Injunction Defense Committee.
“We all met together, about 100 people, and we said, ‘First of all, we’ve got to get this judge off here,’” she says of Superior Court Judge Daniel Didier, who had presided over and approved the five other injunction cases in the county. Committee members went to the California Courts Self Help Center website (www.courtinfo.ca.gov/selfhelp/lowcost/help.htm), where they discovered they could petition for his removal.
The other thing everyone named in the suit needed to do, Elizondo says, was figure out what had to be done legally to object to the allegations and fight the inclusion of their names on the preliminary injunction (the first step in the legal process, which, if approved by a judge, imposes the terms of the injunction on defendants soon after the suit is served). Stopping their inclusion on the preliminary injunction was critical to halting their being named on the permanent one. The first hearing date for the preliminary was set for March 27; their research told them that their petitions had to be filed in the courthouse by March 16.
The group was hungry for legal representation, but no one could afford a lawyer. Elizondo began writing letters to the ACLU and well-known law firms, pleading for pro-bono assistance. “I wrote a letter to Hector [Villagra of the ACLU] straight from the heart, man. That’s all I know,” she says, with one of her room-devouring laughs. But time was short, and they had to move on the court petitions, even if they still had a lot of questions and no counsel.
On the eve of their deadline, 100 community members met at the local American Legion (which donated its space) and got down to work. “We brought typewriters, pens, note pads, staplers, everything,” says Elizondo. The group worked late into the night, helping one another sort through paperwork and get packets together. The next day, the groups of volunteers rotated in and out of the courthouse all day, filing paperwork. By early afternoon, says Lisette Gonzales, a longtime Orange resident who became an active committee member and was helping her son and her niece fight the injunction, the clerk said no more petitions were necessary: The request to have Didier removed had been granted.
“It was like they [the clerks] didn’t know what hit them,” Gonzales says. “We couldn’t believe it. We were like, ‘Are you sure? Are you sure?’”
Those whose petitions of denial were accepted had their court dates rescheduled from March 27 to April 10—which bought them time to find representation without being named to the preliminary injunction. “We were the first ones to ever have a judge removed from the case—a major victory,” Elizondo says. “And we didn’t have any lawyers then, either!”
Around that time, Elizondo contacted the media and sounded the alarm over the community’s anger at the inclusion of acclaimed Orange-born muralist Emigdio Vasquez’s large master’s-thesis mural in the injunction as a work that “promoted and glamorized” gang violence (see Gustavo Arellano’s “A Brush With the Law,” April 8). About a week later, the group held a protest at a park that earned them coverage on local television news and in The Orange County Register. Momentum was building, and Elizondo continued with the weekly meetings. Privately, she was also adjusting to life without her 14- and 22-year-old sons.