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Many Angered by Prop. 187 Demonstrations

November 04, 1994|LESLIE BERGER and JOCELYN STEWART | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

As a recent transplant from suburban New Jersey, 20-year-old Jarrod Holland knew little of Proposition 187 or the powerful emotions it evokes until he watched several hundred Taft High School protesters march past his drugstore this week.

That's when his anger welled up, the clerk said Thursday, strengthening his support for the measure.

"They were out there waving the Mexican flag," Holland said incredulously, as he waited on customers at the Taft Pharmacy in a shopping center across from the high school campus.

"If they want to be part of this country," he said, "they should carry this country's flag."

As thousands of students throughout Los Angeles continue to protest Proposition 187 in school walkouts of unprecedented size, many viewing the parades of mostly peaceful demonstrators generally shared these views: Stay in class, kids. And stop waving those foreign flags.

Holland's opinion was the overriding sentiment Thursday in the middle-class Woodland Hills neighborhood around Taft. Neatly groomed travel agents running lunchtime errands and the merchants happily serving them were mostly in agreement that the state's taxpayers are being exploited by undocumented immigrants they view as lawbreakers.

While the mostly white West Valley Taft neighbors resented the Mexican nationalistic fervor of the students, Latinos in the East Valley around Pacoima Junior High School worried that the class cutting and scattered violence would reflect poorly on the students.

"They're just losing time by going out there. They should be in school," said Marie Hernandez of Pacoima. "They can't vote anyway, and many of them are destroying things. What do they win with that?"

Monica Machado, another junior high school neighbor, said she vehemently opposes Proposition 187 and supports the student marches. Yet, she too, expressed fear that a handful of troublemakers could hurt the cause.

"They're taking advantage of getting out of school to make trouble, and we don't need that," Machado said.

Similarly, Van Nuys businessmen Gustavo Castillo and John Jackson--who watched this week as hundreds of banner-waving teen-agers converged at the Van Nuys courthouse plaza--defended the students' right to protest, but questioned the timing during school hours.

"It's not right for kids to be protesting on the street when they should be in school studying," said Jackson, co-owner of a glass company on Van Nuys Boulevard, near where hundreds of banner-waving teen-agers congregated at the Van Nuys Civic Center.

"It's wrong for the teachers to help the students do this," echoed Robert Correra, who runs a shoeshine stand at the Van Nuys Municipal Courthouse.

From Woodland Hills to Van Nuys to Pacoima, residents, merchants and workers along the protest routes said the marches have done little to influence their vote.

"My mind was made up. I'm going to vote for it," said the 69-year-old cosmetician at the Taft Pharmacy, who stocked gleaming shelves of perfume as she spoke.

With its clear view of the Taft High School march, the old-fashioned drugstore became a town hall on Thursday, bristling with impromptu debate over Proposition 187.

"When I saw that Mexican flag, I thought to myself, 'I don't need this here,' " shrugged Rubin Snyder, the pharmacist. "I'm voting 'yes' on 187."

Customer Pam DuBois, a nursery school teacher waiting for a prescription, strongly disagreed.

"All of us--our parents, grandparents--got here somehow and that's how we're here," said DuBois, 37. "And there are babies, for God's sake . . . and old people. Because they're from Mexico we're supposed to say, 'You don't deserve (medical) care?'

"It's like Hitlerism, or McCarthyism," said DuBois.

Next door at the dry cleaner's, 48-year-old John Hopper, a state government employee, also pledged to vote against what he called a "racist proposition."

Nonetheless, he questioned whether the student protests were fueled purely by social justice.

"I'm not sure they understood what they were demonstrating for. They seemed to be trying to run away from school and have fun," said Hopper, whose office was closed as a result of civic center protests.

Longtime Pacoima resident Shirley Girard expressed fewer doubts about the students' sincerity, disagreeing mainly with their tactics.

"I think they're going at it wrong," said Girard, 73, who has lived near Pacoima Junior High School since 1949. "I just don't think it's a very adult way of acting."

One person, however, said he found the student protests so distasteful, he had actually changed his position on Proposition 187.

David Matthews of North Hills, who was sipping coffee outside a Van Nuys hotdog stand Thursday, said he had originally opposed the measure because he did not think teachers should become immigration agents and turn in students they believe to be undocumented.

But Matthews said that after watching the students running up and down Van Nuys Boulevard carrying foreign flags, he decided to support the measure.

"I got (angry) seeing these kids carrying Mexican and Colombian flags," he said. "They should be carrying American flags."

Times staff writer Julio Moran contributed to this report.

* RELATED STORIES: B1, B4, B7

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