About 500 Santa Ana tenants who have refused to pay rent until their landlords make needed improvements at their dilapidated dwellings picketed on Saturday at the homes of two apartment owners, drawing the wrath of at least one neighbor in the process.
The protesters, mostly Mexican nationals, first showed up aboard five school buses at the home of Richard Zanelli in Westminster. Zanelli, who owns about 140 apartments in Santa Ana, was not home, but the marchers, many with children in tow, paraded around the block-long cul-de-sac anyway.
They carried placards, chanted and passed out literature to Zanelli's neighbors, asking their support in trying to persuade Zanelli to make repairs at their apartments.
Ten minutes into the demonstration, an angry neighbor, Gordon Lawrence, emerged from his home and began to lash out at the rent protesters with a barrage of profanity and racial slurs. Lawrence picked up a water hose and complained to a police officer that the protesters could not use the sidewalk in front of his house.
Nativo Lopez, the organizer of the rent strike since its inception about five months ago, told the tenants not to fight with Lawrence or anyone else who taunted them.
"We didn't come here to fight, but to win over the good people. He (Lawrence) is a racist. But remember he is not the enemy . . . the enemy is Zanelli," Lopez cautioned the protesters.
The rent strike--under the auspices of Hermandad Mexicana Nacional, an immigrants' rights organization that Lopez heads--has grown to include 500 tenants who are refusing to pay their rents until conditions at their apartments are improved. Such militancy is unusual, if not unprecedented, among illegal residents.
When the five buses arrived at the home of Pablo Sarabia in Santa Ana, the protesters were met by a counter-demonstration. Sarabia, who owns apartments at 829 S. Standard Ave., had gathered about 25 Salvadoran and Mexican tenants in his front yard to verbally counter the protesters.
"Will Lopez clean your toilets?" and "Lopez tricks our own brothers" read some of the signs Sarabia's supporters carried. The two groups taunted each other.
Sarabia, who called the strikers "stupid" for protesting against him, carried a large tape player and tried to drown out the protesters' chants with Mexican music.
"These people don't know what they're doing. They're stupid," he said. "These others (the tenants supporting him) love me."
Lopez said the tenants, who call themselves "Families for Fairness," picketed the neighborhoods to help "educate the neighbors" about their problems.