Photo by Gustavo Arellano To Santa Ana Republicans, it might have looked like Night of the Living Dead. In the twilight hours of March 25, about 100 parents from Edison Elementary marched from their school to the Santa Ana Unified School District (SAUSD) offices, passing out fliers that read, "Stop racism. Stop the anti-Latino attack." Hours later, 300 jammed the chambers. During the period of public comment, they accused the board in English and Spanish of anti-Latino bias based on a district plan to reassign or fire four elementary- and middle-school principals. To the board's shock, the parents named names: Ricardo Mojarro from Kennedy Elementary, Angel Gallardo from Carr Intermediate, Mary Ellen Storm from Willard Intermediate, Rosa Sánchez from Spurgeon Intermediate and Mary Marquez from Edison Elementary.
"No one was even supposed to know that these principals were going be fired, let alone their names," grumbled one anonymous district employee. "There were still a lot of issues to be dealt with before the names were going to be made public. But Nativo had to mess things up as always."
"Nativo" is Nativo López, the ex-SAUSD trustee recalled by nearly 70 percent of Santa Ana voters on Feb. 4 and replaced by Republican activist Rob Richardson. And the SAUSD employee was correct: López had indeed inspired the March 25 protest, not through any official capacity, but as a journalist.
The week before the board meeting, López wrote a column in Santa Ana's Spanish-language weekly Contacto, alerting readers to the imminent Latino administrative pogrom.
"The anti-Latino Republican strategy is beginning to appear and be felt in all its rancor in the SAUSD ever since the recall elections this past February," López wrote in a column titled "The Sweet Republican Revenge."
"They didn't delay in implementing their diabolical plan of uprooting the new Latino leadership [in the SAUSD]."
The column and subsequent reaction represent a victory of sorts for López. With no current political influence other than his job as president of the immigrant-rights association Hermandad Mexicana Nacional, López has embarked on a new career as a columnist. Through his op-ed pieces, López intends to do what he did in his six years on the SAUSD board of trustees: rankle a status quo he says seeks to oppress Latinos.
"Why don't Latino parents have the right to know who the right-wing majority is going after?" Nativo asked in reference to his choice to reveal the names of the principals. "It's all part of their political manipulation to prevent a political reaction to their vindictiveness. I intend to do more of that with my columns."
López has actually been writing columns intermittently for years. But the long-time activist decided to start writing more regularly after what he decried as biased media coverage of him during the effort to remove him from office.
"There's a pretty iron-clad monopoly in the media regarding the issues of working people and immigrants," López claims. "They're invisible. Even the Spanish-language media doesn't write about them. That's why I'm not writing in English. It's important that immigrants have articles written about them in their language."
The Spanish-language weeklies Contacto, Azteca Weekly and the Hermandad-published Unión Hispana, publish López's column titled "Sin Pelos en la Lengua," a Spanish expression for a straight-talker. He has also approached The Orange County Register-owned Excelsior with his columns, but they've refused, saying they don't publish columns. López figures there's a different reason: "They don't want the answer to their English-language editorials published in Spanish," he says. "Therein lies my complaint about the monopoly."
Or maybe it's the fact that his columns have so far dealt primarily with Nativo pet annoyances. His inaugural effort did little more than charge SAUSD Superintendent Al Mijares with treason against him for writing a Feb. 1 Register editorial that accused López of "horrific ethical violations."
"You will eventually understand that [the editorial] was a poor use of words on your behalf," López ominously wrote.
[Editors' argument ensues over use of "ominously." Schoenkopf: "I've never read anything more un-ominous. Gustavo is totally ax-grindy!" Swaim: "Sounds ominous to me." Schou: "If you inserted 'Pablo Escobar' for 'López,' that would bereally ominous." Coker: "Now Nativo's going to say we're racist for comparing him to a Colombian drug dealer. How about bin Laden?"]
His second column criticized the Register, Los Angeles Times and unnamed Spanish-language papers for ruining his reputation and that of Hermandad over the years. An April 3 column noted that two prominent opponents of the controversial Loren Griset School project, Dave Hoen and Darren Shippen, were "a gay couple."
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Then there was López's May 8 column "The Foolish Remarks of Gustavo Arellano," which examined the logic behind my own essay "Gringo de Mayo" (May 2). My "mocking and badly informed commentaries" regarding Cinco de Mayo, Nativo noted, appeared in the "OC Weekly, an alternative newspaper directed primarily to Anglo-Saxon youth and people with alternative lifestyles."
"Poor Arellano's ignorance can be pardoned," he wrote, but not my "denigrating and arrogant attitude towards Mexican civic symbology and race." He accused me of committing "cultural hara-kiri" and concluded with a flourish: "To read denigrating anti-Mexican columns, we don't need Arellano. We could just read any English-language newspaper any day of the week."
López admits he's not a professional writer. But he also thinks that due to his inexperience, he'll be able to write more effectively than the dailies on issues that pertain to immigrants such as visa problems, anti-immigrant legislation and representation problems.
"I'm not claiming to be the voice of the voiceless," López states. "But one cry in the wilderness is better than nothing at all."