Amin David, Legendary OC Latino-Rights Activist, Passes Away

David, in 2009
David, in 2009
Photo by John Gilhooley

Amin David, a towering presence in Orange County's Latino community and long-time progressive activist, passed away last night after a long battle with cancer. He was 83. 

If there's ever a OC Latino or Progressive Hall of Fame (and there absolutely should be), David would be a first-ballot inductee on both. The legacy of the Chihuahua native in bettering life for Orange County's damned simply can't be overstated. He was the first-ever chair of the Orange County Human Relations Commission, founded in 1971 to tackle race relations in OC after Santa Ana police beat up African-American and Mexican-American youth following the murder of a police officer. More famously, he and former Anaheim Mayor Bill Thom founded Los Amigos, a weekly breakfast meeting, after the Little People's Park Riot of 1979. It's through Los Amigos that David became most renowned—not so much for his titular leadership, or his jocular personality, but for the sheer radical nature of the group: all-volunteer, no hierarchy, and all about helping anyone who needed it, no matter how big or small the need, how famous or nondescript the afflicted person. Week after week, people would come to Los Amigos and ask for or offer help: money to pay a utility bill, volunteers for a political campaign, legal support for any number of issues. All one needed to do was put your name on a bulletin board, introduce yourself, and away you went.

Anyone who did any sort of progressive activism in Orange County over the past 35 years went to at least one Los Amigos meeting. And through Los Amigos, the biggest issues to affect Latino OC found its foot soldiers: tenant strikes in Santa Ana during the mid-1980s, the fight against Proposition 187 in 1994, Bob Dornan in 1996 and the persecution of Nativo Lopez afterward, and too many more to list. Ronnie Carmona found her legal representation after pleading her innocent son's case there. When no politician would stand with undocumented students, David and Los Amigos did. Politicians, Republicans and Democrats alike, would show up and get grilled, knowing it was necessary to do so lest they face the righteous wrath of David at the next public hearing, backed by activists who weren't going to take any insults for Latinos in Orange County any more. Long before criticizing police abuse became popular, David and other Los Amigos members successfully won a lawsuit against the Anaheim Police Department after they discovered the boys in blue had long spied on them just because Los Amigos dared speak out against brutal cops.

And when Los Amigos wasn't on, David nevertheless showed up to lend his moral or financial support for everything from rallies to things as low-key as scholarship nights for area high schools or even reading a part for a play—and this is just the public charity we know about.

I first encountered David in 1999, when I was a Chapman University student sprung into activism after an Anaheim Union High School District trustee tried to sue Mexico for $50 million for educating the children of illegal immigrants. But the Weekly had a long relationship with David dating back to our founding in 1995. Indeed, it was a rite of passage to have the newest progressively minded writer or intern attend a Los Amigos meeting and find stories a'plenty. He was someone whose resolve we always respected, even if we didn't always agree with some of his blind spots.

David, with Pringle during the Gigante days.
David, with Pringle during the Gigante days.
Photo by Gustavo Arellano

We'd be remiss in our duties as the Weekly if we made this obituary pure hagiography. If David had a sin, it's that he sometimes allied with the wrong people for reasons known only to him, especially when he'd try to get Los Amigos involved in specific political campaigns. He supported Los Amigos member Don Garcia in his successful campaign to join the Anaheim City School District even though the doctor lived in Corona del Mar. When then-Los Amigos member Duane Roberts exposed this
carpetbagging, David and his acolytes began a smear campaign against him that continues to this day. David stuck with Lopez far too long, and became a shill for Mexican supermarket chain Gigante in 2002, contradicting his very own activism. It was during that fight that he infamously made a pact with the devil named Curt Pringle, telling Latino activists across la naranja to stand down against his Anaheim mayoral campaign even though those same activists had bitterly fought him over an infamous poll-guard incident 14 years earlier and were prepared to stop him from becoming Anaheim's mayor. All the problems Anaheim has to this day can directly be tied back to Pringle's leadership; when David had the chance to stop Pringle, not only did he choose not to, but he praised Pringle during the Devil's reelection campaign in 2006

But, hey: Babe Ruth was a drunk, Ty Cobb was an asshole, and Honus Wagner wouldn't chew tobacco. David at least spent the last years of his public life trying to atone for his Pringle sin, becoming chairman emeritus of Orange County Communities Organized for Responsible Development (OCCORD), the nonprofit most furiously fighting Pringle's legacy. And David was one of the lead plaintiffs in the lawsuit that instituted district elections to effectively break Pringle's grip on Anaheim; the new system takes effect this election. If Anaheim does become a progressive paradise, it will be the perfect cap to David's life. And then there's this: Los Amigos continues to this day meeting every Wednesday at Jägerhaus in Anaheim under the leadership of David's designated successor, former Anaheim City School District trustee Jose Moreno. 

No services are planned for David at this time, but you can always follow his family's Facebook page for updates. In lieu of this, the best way to honor David's legacy is to do what he always urged folks to do: help someone.


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