Hundreds of community members kept alive the memory of Amin David, Anaheim's longtime Latino activist who passed away in May, with a special celebration at Anaheim's Cook Auditorium yesterday afternoon. They filled the seats and listened to testimonies from people who worked alongside the charismatic, guayabera-wearing leader whose name became synonymous with Los Amigos de Orange County, an Anaheim advocacy group founded in 1978 after the Little People's Park Riot.
Before dying of cancer at 83, David lived a long life that began in Chihuahua, Mexico and ended in Anaheim, where he ran a successful business distributing plumbing supplies. Born to a Lebanese father and Mexican mother, David served in the Army, became a U.S. citizen, and studied business in college. He married his wife Irene and started a family that proudly sat front row at the event.
The focus of yesterday's celebration touched on his personal life but flashed the biggest spotlight on his local political influence. “He always had a word of encouragement and empowerment,” said longtime friend and Rhythmo Mariachi Academy founder Gabriel Zavala in opening comments. “He was always on the side of the poor and the oppressed.” Young mariachi musicians donning blue charro suits performed the national anthem after the audience recited the pledge of allegiance.
From then on, Jose F. Moreno, Cal State Long Beach Chicano Studies professor and David's successor as President of Los Amigos, served as emcee for the rest of the afternoon, describing his mentor as “our Cesar Chavez, our Dolores Huerta.” A big portrait of David (plucked from the Weekly's archives when I interviewed him for a 2009 cover story) served as backdrop while speaker after speaker extolled his activism. Anaheim Union High School Superintendent Michael Matsuda, Orange County Labor Federation Executive Director Julio Perez, and Unite Here Local 11 Secretary-Treasurer Ada Briceno all shared their personal stories about David from going to Los Amigos meetings to getting arrested for hotel worker rights.
“Good afternoon!” former Santa Ana mayoral candidate Alfredo Amezcua boomed. “We are celebrating the life of one of my heroes,” he said. “He was one of the best—in my opinion as an attorney—interrogators!” Amezcua mentioned how he sought David's advice on almost a daily basis, but expressed confidence that Moreno would carry on the Los Amigos tradition of “Nos gusta ayudar” and “If you plead it, you lead it.” The group continues to faithfully meet every Wednesday morning at Jagerhaus restaurant in Anaheim.
Next came time for a roll call where some of the more than 30 community organizations that co-sponsored the event had members briefly speak on David's legacy. Before helping to start Los Amigos, David became the first-ever chair of the OC Human Relations Commission in 1971, hiring Rusty Kennedy five years later who's become its longtime Executive Director. He also served on the boards of the Orange County Community Housing Corporation and Orange County Communities Organized for Responsible Development.
During the roll call, David Lopez of the Chief's Advisory Board in Anaheim, which David previously served on, commented briefly before turning the microphone over to police chief Raul Quezada. “We're a much better police department as a result of Amin David,” Quezada said while out of uniform. Moreno then deemed Anaheim's first-ever Latino police chief's appointment in 2014 as a “proud moment” for the community. But the Anaheim Riots of 2012, easily the most seismic political event in the city's recent history, went without a whisper.
Aside from reminisces, the audience gathered in memory of David also got treated to a special ballet folklorico performance courtesy of Santa Ana's 40-year-old powerhouse Relampago del Cielo. Like the Rhythmo Mariachi Academy, David had been a supporter of their important cultural work in the community.
Nearing the end of two-and-a-half hours honoring David's life and work, the time came for closing remarks. Moreno asked people in the auditorium to join Los Amigos and build on the legacy David left behind. “As Amin reminded, there's no problem that 50 smart people in a room cannot solve,” he said, describing Los Amigos as an “uncompromised” organization.
The celebration struck a good tone for much of the afternoon, avoiding appearing like an egregious election-season politically rally for Moreno, who faces a tough battle against Anaheim council incumbent (and Fire Marshall Bill deadringer) Jordan Brandman for District 3. David was described as a friend to labor, a fighter for civil rights, an advocate for Latino education and the undocumented; a progressive caudillo of OC through which all channels of social justice seemingly flowed through. More people from the civic and nonprofit world spoke in memory of David than elected officials, or aspiring ones. Anaheim mayor Tom Tait notably didn't take to the podium.
But Moreno couldn't help himself at the end. He invoked David's last and biggest political fight when the late activist lent his name to an ACLU lawsuit in 2012 that helped lead to district elections in Anaheim this fall. “I was told [by others], 'Don't be political, Jose.'” Moreno mentioned of the celebration. “We must be political!”
The act of mild defiance won applause. But hey: that was David's legacy, too.