Photo by Johan VogelLike the Mexican legend of La Llorona, the ghost woman whose story is used to strike fear in the hearts of children, Pete Wilson's name was invoked in mailers, radio commercials and a popular song during the recent election cycle—always to signify something truly horrifying.
After having a visible presence in every California proposition election for the past six years (187 in 1994, 209 in '96, 227 in '98 and 21 this past spring), Wilson's only open support in this election was for Proposition 39, the school-bond-reform initiative.
But Wilson's relatively low profile didn't stop some consultants from invoking his name to terrorize Latinos. In an effort to stampede Latinos into a vote against school vouchers, the No on 38 campaign sent to Latino households a flier depicting a fuzzy, sinister picture of Wilson with the caption (in English and Spanish), "Just when we thought he was gone . . ." Inside is the same black-and-white photo, clearer this time, with a banner screaming, "He's back!" The rest of the bilingual text ties Wilson's support of Proposition 187, the draconian anti-immigrant measure, to his quiet backing of Proposition 38. Like 187, the flier asserts, 38 will devastate the Latino community, further advancing Wilson's goals of persecution. It ends with the slogan, "Say No to Pete Wilson! Vote No 38 Vouchers!"
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The Prop. 38 fliers were targeted to bilingual Latinos, but Wilson's name has also been used to terrify the object of his obsession in the heyday of 187—Mexican immigrants. Radio station KHJ-AM (AM 930) plays traditional ranchera, banda and norteño, appealing directly to recent Mexican immigrants; think of it as the Spanish KRTH. In the weeks leading up to the election, the station played a radio ad sponsored by Service Employees International Union, a heavily Latino labor union, in favor of Gerrie Schipske, a Democratic candidate in the 38th Congressional District, which includes Long Beach. The ad began by claiming that the past eight years under Clinton/Gore have been great for Latinos—despite Steve Horn, the Republican incumbent. According to a nonpartisan Latino group, the ad claimed, Horn voted 91 percent of the time against issues favorable to the Latino community —such as denying nonemergency medical care to undocumented immigrants (a major tenet of Prop. 187) and increasing the powers of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (the ad refers to them by the slang term "la migra"). Finally, the catchphrase, in Spanish: "Pete Wilson and Steve Horn are cut from the same scissors"—the Spanish version of being cut from the same cloth.
Few politicians can claim to have songs written about them, but Wilson had that distinction, too—albeit in a tune that bashes him. The song "Soy Americano" ("IAm American") received heavy airplay on KHJ throughout the summer, around the time of the Democratic and Republican National Conventions. In it, singer Carla de Leon asks Wilson, "Why do you keep mistreating/People who come here looking only for a better life?" She claims Wilson will not be able to drive Mexicans from what was once their land—unless "he wants to pick lemons himself." "Soy Americano" proved so popular that KHJ created an entire promotion around the song and de Leon.
Now living in San Diego with a part-time job on the Irvine Co. board of directors and a fellowship at the conservative Hoover Institute in Palo Alto, Wilson could not be reached for comment. But others say he's the best thing to happen to Latinos—and the Democrats cultivating the Latino vote—since George Bush called George P. Bush and his siblings "little brown ones."
"The propositions associated with Wilson have had an ironically positive effect by encouraging Latinos to involve themselves in the political process and encouraging noncitizens to become citizens and vote," says Dr. Isaac Cardenas, chairman of the Chicano studies department at Cal State Fullerton. "In this and future elections, that will be Wilson's legacy."