Puta Politics

In 2004, about 50 people stood outside the campaign offices of Claudia Alvarez, the Santa Ana councilmember who was then running against Tom Umberg for a State Assembly seat. They were furious that Alvarez had accepted a $1,000 donation from Safeway during the brutal 2003 grocery strike.

Activists crowded the narrow sidewalk, holding signs denouncing Alvarez as a vendida—a sell-out, one of the worst insults critics can hurl against a Latino politician. When I asked one of this county's most prominent Latino activists (who shall remain nameless) why his supporters despised Alvarez so much, the cordial man claimed she didn't care about the "community." And then he said it: "Claudia is nothing more than a puta." A whore.

It's wise to keep this anecdote in mind when discussing the Loretta Sanchez-whore incident. Last month, the representative for Orange County's 47th Congressional District resigned from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus because she believed chairman Joe Baca (D-Rialto) disrespected the group's Latina members. Not only that, Sanchez claimed, but Baca referred to Sanchez as a "whore" last year before a meeting of California Latino politicians. Baca denied the charge, and Sanchez's only proof was a second-hand account by California Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuez, who told reporters he didn't remember the incident. Nevertheless, the accusation became the talk of the political chattering class for a couple of days before they returned to Obama.

We might never know the truth, but one thing is certain: for all Latinas seeking political office, you willbe labeled a puta at some point in your career.

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The "whore" slur carries more weight amongst Latinos than it does Anglos, but not for the stereotypical Catholic reasons. Mexican culture has distrusted women in power ever since Hernn Corts used an Indian women known as la Malinche to serve as his translator and, eventually, mistress. The term malinchistaentered the Mexican vernacular as a synonym for traitor, and remains the best way to sully the reputation of status-seeking Mexicans.

Sanchez's Republican enemies—forever vengeful after she upset nine-term congressman Bob "B-1 Baboso" Dornan in 1996—are probably too gabacho to know this historical context. But they do believe that Latinos in central Orange County are conservative, working class people and thus assume they would care about a politician's private life. And so accusations of coquettishness about Sanchez have swirled around the congresswomen even before she pulled the still-stunning 1996 upset.

At that time, the rumor was Sanchez was in an affair with her political mentor Tom Daly, then the mayor of Anaheim and currently the county's clerk-recorder. Usually behind them was Dornan, who memorably called her a "serial adulterer" at the Republican Party's 1998 Election Night celebration. The slut buzz escalated in 2000 when Sanchez tried holding a fundraiser at the Playboy Mansion during that year's Democratic National Convention—only to be rebuked by Democratic leaders for not espousing "family values."

The snickers continue every winter thanks to Sanchez's annual Christmas cards. For years, they featured Sanchez with her husband and their cat Gretzky. After Sanchez divorced, though, the cards featured her and Gretzky and became became a Beltway obsession—a pajama-wearing Loretta and Gretzky snuggling in bed in 2004, Sanchez and Gretzky in front of a fireplace in 2005, Loretta and Gretzky on the beach in 2006, Sanchez showing mucho leg. The cards consistently spark outrage amongst the county's conservative circles, who cluck their tongues about Sanchez's lack of opprobrium or decency—for instance the county's blog king, Jubal of OCBlog, described her latest offering as "tacky." Part of it is the cards—risqu by Congress' tired standard family-and-country Christmas cards. But the furor concerns Sanchez's winning streak more than a question of her virtues.

Sanchez is no longer commenting on the "whore" scandal, but she doesn't need to. The sexual slurs only win Sanchez more support amongst Latino voters in the 47th District, where she will remain queen until she decides to run for higher office. So go ahead and whisper, Sanchez haters, but remember this: every sexy insinuation made against the five-term congresswoman only ensures her deification amongst the very people you think would care about such stupidity.


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