There are only about a dozen members of the newly formed League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) chapter in Hawaiian Gardens, but those members say they are preparing for a major push to get Latinos in the city registered to vote.
The group met at the Hawaiian Gardens City Hall last week to discuss the target of its recent efforts--the ABC Unified School District, which has no Latinos or residents of Hawaiian Gardens among its board members.
"Of the seven board members, not one is from Hawaiian Gardens," said Hawaiian Gardens Mayor Kathleen Navejas and a member of that city's LULAC chapter. "With a general election coming up in November, it is important we get organized now."
The Hawaiian Gardens LULAC, which was reactivated in February after disbanding 10 years ago, plans to meet this week with representatives from the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project--a Texas-based group that specializes in getting Latinos to vote. LULAC is a nationwide Latino organization.
In a city of 12,000 residents where more than half are Latino, Hawaiian Gardens is politically a "sleeping giant," said George Medina, a Cerritos resident who plans to run in November for one of four seats that will be open on the school board.
"Everyone has forgotten about Hawaiian Gardens, but the people here are finally realizing the answer is in the ballot box," Medina said.
Registration Is Low
There are 3,276 registered voters in Hawaiian Gardens, according to county figures.
"I am certain without a doubt that we don't have 8,000 illegals," said Fred Coca, director of Jobs for Progress Inc. in Hawaiian Gardens and a member of the local LULAC chapter. "Somehow we have got to reach those people and get them to vote."
Hawaiian Gardens is one of several Southeast cities targeted by Southwest Voters as part of a statewide push to get Latinos involved in the political process, said Richard Martinez, one of the organization's four field representatives who plans to meet with LULAC leaders for the first time this week.
"We have several ways to bring about changes in the Latino community that have worked well in other cities, but until I meet with Hawaiian Gardens and see what their needs are, I don't really feel comfortable discussing it," Martinez said.
Deprived of Services
The main thrust of LULAC's argument is that schools in Hawaiian Gardens are getting short-changed on programs and services that are provided to other schools in the district. The district serves Cerritos, Artesia and portions of Lakewood, Long Beach and Norwalk.
"Up until recently the only adult school classes offered in Hawaiian Gardens were in watercolors," Navejas told the members. "With all the facilities we have there is no reason why we shouldn't have many more classes. Things are getting better, but we need to do more."
Supt. Kenneth L. Moffett acknowledges that there is a need for more adult school classes in Hawaiian Gardens. "We do need to add more classes," Moffett said. "It's obvious that we haven't meet all the needs of Hawaiian Gardens, but we are really trying to help."
Moffett said that since August, he and other district officials have been meeting each month with representatives from the Hawaiian Gardens Social Services Agency to discuss programs and services needed in the city.