Orange County is far from sleepy when it comes to grassroots Latino activism. Chicanos Unidos challenges gang injunctions. Orange County Immigrant Youth United (OCIYU) and Resilience OC are reshaping SanTana immigration policies from the bottom up. And El Centro Cultural de Mexico has a new building in the city to continue its activist legacy. But even with all the advocacy, organizations don’t always intersect like the causes do.
Chispa, a new organization and website, wants to change all that by bringing the movimiento in OC under one big tent. “Within the last couple of years, we’ve seen a very successful and bold approach that has achieved a lot in the local immigrant rights movement,” says Hairo Cortes, Chispa co-founder and former OCIYU program coordinator. “But that’s not the case in other areas.”
The new organization advocates for a working-class Latino community in OC that is both undocumented and U.S.-born. They want to be active on many fronts including immigration, police brutality, gentrification and economic justice. “Demographic changes aren’t going to solve anything by themselves” Cortes adds. “You need a very strong organizational push across the different issues that affect this community.”
In the past six months, activists won significant battles in SanTana from forcing Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to end its decade-long jail contract with the city to pressuring council members to create a deportation defense fund, bolstering its “Sanctuary City” status. But the victories raised many questions along the way. “What does it matter if Santa Ana has a sanctuary policy and a universal representation program if immigrant residents are being priced out of their homes?” Cortes asks. “With this idea of Chispa, we’ve been envisioning a focus on Latinx organizing and being able to have a broader scope of work,” Cortes says.
Chispa, which means “spark” in Spanish, announced its arrival this month with a sleek new website and blog. The first story it ran highlighted “El Mercadito Carrusel,” a community market hosted at El Centro Cultural de Mexico last weekend. The bilingual blog post was co-authored by Santa Ana Building Healthy Communities’ Ana Urzua and El Centro co-founder Laura Pantoja. “With the blog on our website, we want to give that platform to organizers here doing amazing work,” Cortes says. “If we’re able to build this audience online, it’s also easier to mobilize people on the ground.
Even though Chispa relied on two longtime activists to get the word out about local cooperatives in SanTana, Cortes wants to bring in people that have never organized before with diverse skill sets from video production to graphic design, taking a page from Mijente’s playbook. For the moment, the organization counts a small nucleus of organizers from Orange, Santa Ana and Anaheim. But, as the saying goes, never doubt the ability of the few to change fortunes of the many.
“A truly intersectional approach to addressing systemic problems hasn’t really existed,” Cortes says. “We need to do it without separating the causes.”