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CALIFORNIA COMMENTARY : In 1990s, No More Senor Nice Guy : The Chicanos' political 'great siesta' is over. The 'sleeping giant' is resolving to make a difference in the 1990s.

October 21, 1990|XAVIER HERMOSILLO | Xavier Hermosillo, a West Covina public-relations consultant, has been a Republican Party activist in Southern California's Latino community.

Californians will elect a new governor on Nov. 6, launching an era of change in state politics and giving rise to weeks of political analysis: How did women, minorities, environmentalists and the Simpsons vote, and what does it mean, if anything?

Analysts may also find the subtle emergence of a new trend in Mexican-American politics. Born of a strange marriage of sophistication and frustration, the Latino body politic in 1990 sports a much different look than its predecessors.

First of all, there are some new ground rules. Chicano and Mexican-American are in, Hispanic is out as the term describing the majority of "Latinos." Being lumped together with Cubans, Puerto Ricans, Central and South Americans has weakened everyone's cultural identity and retarded progress for the fastest-growing segments of our society.

Second, the Democratic Party isn't the only "in" party any longer, and the Republican Party isn't totally "out" with Chicanos. Liberal attitudes about government money solving all problems are out. There is a new eye toward business, especially home-grown Chicano business, in planning for a brighter future. Education is still very much in, but quiet, passive wait-and-see patience is out. A new militancy is definitely in.

Whether Pete Wilson or Dianne Feinstein wins, the next chief executive of California faces some hard scrutiny from the Chicano community. The realization that the last 20 years has seen very little progress or change from either political party dictates a new strategy for the 21st Century.

It is too early to redirect some of the legions of hard-core Democrat voters away from the old politics-as-usual way of voting. My parents still espouse the "I vote Democrat, right or wrong" philosophy, eschewing change in favor of the more comfortable status quo. Yet many Mexican-American community leaders who previously shared my parents' sentiments are exploring new territories. We're finally beginning to realize that neither party has done our community any favors. Furthermore, East Los Angeles and its elected representatives no longer have a corner on Chicano politics. The San Gabriel and San Fernando valleys, as well as the Inland Empire, have Latino populations rivaling the East L.A. numbers.

From San Pedro to San Bernardino, from Carson to Corona and throughout the rest of California and the Southwest, brown faces are increasing by record numbers. So are the frustrations of diminished opportunities, inferior education, limited access to political and economic empowerment and increasing incidents of hate crimes and an anti-ethnic attitude by some in the palaces of power.

The gubernatorial election isn't exciting many people in the state, let alone the Chicano commuity. This shouldn't be surprising, since political pundits and pollsters have been telling us that neither Pete Wilson nor Dianne Feinstein has taken the state by storm.

When Mexican-Americans weigh the two candidates' records, they can examine the Wilson and Feinstein histories when they governed as mayors of San Diego and San Francisco.

Neither city has been a hotbed of Latino growth and progress. The Feinstein campaign touts her appointment of San Francisco County Supervisor Jim Gonzalez; Wilson points to his border city's tremendous growth, the state's first mass-transit rail project and continued close working relations with Tijuana and Mexico. Yet San Diego still lacks Latino representation on either the City Council or county Board of Supervisors. In fact, it is now embroiled in its own version of Los Angeles County's struggle to redraw district lines to ensure Latino access to political power.

While it is clear that both candidates have enjoyed cozy relationships with past Hispanic constituencies, today's Chicano community in California and the Southwest has a new agenda.

The two candidates owe the people of California a meaningful dialogue with a broad cross-section of the Chicano community--before Election Day and beyond. Anyone who claims to have the Chicano vote in the bag, or any politician who promises that today, is a fool.

The perceived "great siesta" is over. The "sleeping giant," as the Chicano community has been called, has its feet firmly planted in today's California realities. It is resolving to make a difference in the 1990s, to flex its political and economic muscle from rural Northern California to the Mexican border.

We will see a fierce new brand of Chicano politics: Power is in; the unassuming Senor Nice Guy is definitely out.

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