The Muchachos of Summer

There are few people lounging on the lawn at Corona del Mar State Beach today, but that's not a big surprise. It's a weekday, early—around 10 in the morning—and chilly winds whip across this picturesque strip of sand and quaint, million-dollar homes overlooking the beach. The sky will remain overcast until noon—and even then, the people don't come. Especially Mexicans.

This is disputed territory. Early in the summer of 2003, then-Newport Beach Councilman Dick Nichols told Daily Pilot reporter June Casagrande he was opposed to expanding these areas because, “with grass, we usually get Mexicans coming in there early in the morning, and they claim it as theirs, and it becomes their personal, private grounds all day.”

The comment caused a furor in Orange County, the latest volley launched in the eternal war between Mexicans and gabachos. Nichols, who represented the Corona del Mar area, refused to apologize for his comments, and a good number of Newport Beach residents wrote supportive letters to area newspapers.

But the comment cost Nichols his career: The Orange County Republican Party refused to endorse Nichols in 2006; GOP stalwart Mike Schroeder described the councilman's comments as “embarrassing.” Nichols subsequently lost his re-election to Nancy Gardner and returned to the 1950s. He hasn't been heard from since.

The contested grass consists of one big lawn—about 150 feet long, on the western section of the beach near the jetties—and three smaller expanses scattered around the beach. During the summer, families of all ethnicities lay out and enjoy the prickly, moist blades. Kids run around; parents rest. But today, only a few hardy folks brave the gloomy weather.

One of them is a Mexican. Ricardo (no last name given; yep, he's illegal) is taking a break from landscaping a nearby home. He and a brother live in Tustin and come to Corona del Mar often to work, but this is only his third time at Corona del Mar State Beach.

“It's a pretty beach, but I like Huntington Beach more,” Ricardo says. “It has more shops and restaurants. And Mexicans.” Asked about his feelings regarding the Nichols fiasco, Ricardo shrugs. “Of course he'd say that. He's a politician. That's how you get popular here.”

A few more families arrive. None are Mexican. “They do come here a lot,” says one man. “But so do I. First come, first served.”

Another couple, tourists from Georgia, can't believe anyone would care what kind of people flock to beaches. “It's a beach, for Christ's sake,” says Nellie Johnson. “Whenever you go to beaches, it's going to be crowded with people. If you want to grab a spot in Florida beaches, for instance, you have to show up at the crack of dawn sometimes.”

The morning turns to afternoon. Nellie and the nameless gabacho leave. So does Ricardo. Others take their spot. None looks Mexican. But wait! Getting out of a truck! With kids! It's a Mexican!

Juan Gonzalez and his three children set down some blankets. It's about 3 p.m. The Santa Ana family likes to come here because it's devoid of “too many surfers and other bad people,” Gonzalez says.

I ask him about Nichols' comments. He laughs. “Yeah, a lot of Mexicans sit on the grass here, but so what?” Gonzalez, who was born and raised in Santa Ana, replies. “We work, we pay taxes—why don't we deserve to rest?

“Besides,” he adds, “better to leave us Mexicans here than to have us invade Newport Beach or South Coast Plaza to cool down during the summer. Thenthe gringos would get really mad.”


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