Photo by Keith MayAt press time, 30 to 40 people, including at least one self-described "working-class indigenous Mexican," were gearing up for what is apparently the only May Day protest planned for Orange County this year. The location: the front steps of Democratic Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez's Garden Grove district headquarters.
What better day than May Day—the old socialist labor holiday—to protest the powerful young Latina congresswoman's "abandonment of the indigenous Mexican working-class people" who helped put her into office?
So says Naui Huitzilopochti, a 24-year-old Costa Mesa resident who helped organize the anti-Sanchez rally.
"I am so damn tired of people saying everything is okay because we have Loretta Sanchez in office fighting for us, which is not true," he said. "Just because Loretta Sanchez is Mexican or a person of color doesn't mean she's looking out for our people. You can be a white person and have better politics than Loretta Sanchez."
A press release Huitzilopochti e-mailed to the Weekly accused Sanchez of supporting the "expansion" of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) into Anaheim. "She doesn't care about workers, just the votes," he said. "If she really cared, she'd be speaking out against police brutality and against INS harassment of immigrants."
Huitzilopochti described himself and his fellow protesters as mostly Latino high school and college students from local campuses, including Costa Mesa High School, Cal State Dominguez Hills and Santa Ana College.
Just don't call them Latinos.
"I don't consider myself Latino or Hispanic," he said. "I changed my Spanish surname six years ago. It was an ethnic correction. I consider myself to be an indigenous Mexican person."
Huitzilopochti said he is a member of the Atlachnolli Front, an indigenous Mexican group that he said is planning protests against Spanish-language cable-television networks Univision and Telemundo. The networks' crime: playing soap operas made in Mexico and Argentina that feature too many light-skinned actors and not enough brown-skinned ones. But Huitzilopochti insisted the Front has nothing to do with the anti-Sanchez rally, which he said was planned three weeks ago during a meeting of young Latino activists involved in the recent Boycott Taco Bell protests.
"We don't have no name or nothing," he explained. "We're just certain individuals. We were talking about having a protest in Santa Ana at the Federal Building, and then somebody said, 'Hey, why don't we protest at Sanchez's office?'"
Carrie Brooks, Sanchez's press secretary, said her boss doesn't consider her constituency only—or even primarily—"indigenous working-class Mexicans," but a "cross-section of people ranging from the very conservative to the very liberal." However, Brooks did acknowledge a key charge made by the protesters: Sanchez did indeed play a crucial role in opening an INS field office in Anaheim.
"That was not for enforcement, but for services," Brooks explained. Previously, Brooks said, families seeking U.S. citizenship were required to make predawn pilgrimages to the INS office in Los Angeles to keep their appointments. Now, thanks in part to Sanchez, they can walk down the street to the new downtown Anaheim office.
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"I think what [the protesters] are really talking about is the INS agent that was placed in the Anaheim jail," Brooks continued. That agent was placed there not by Sanchez, but by Anaheim patrolman Harald Martin, who lobbied his department to do so after fellow officer Tim Garcia was shot and killed by an illegal alien in September 1995.
On that issue, she said, her boss "hasn't been real solid either way. That's really a city issue," Brooks argued. "[Sanchez] wants to mediate rather than take sides. . . . She wants to find a middle ground."
Brooks pointed out that while Sanchez hasn't taken sides on illegal immigration, she does enjoy the solid support of organized labor. In fact, Brooks said, local labor officials alerted Sanchez's office to the upcoming protest. "They have also called our office to ask if there is anything they can do to help," she said.
So far, Sanchez, who will be in Washington, D.C., on the day of the protest, hasn't asked for any assistance. "It will just be a regular business day for us, unless the police tell us otherwise," Brooks added. "But if it's just 30 or 40 people, we'll be just fine."