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Elections Stir Interest Among Activist Students : Politics: Prop. 187 spurred many teen-agers to vote with their feet in demonstrations. They say they'll march to the ballot box as soon as they are eligible.


Julye Castro used to care little for politics. But that was before Proposition 187.

Galvanized to oppose the measure out of fear that several classmates could be kicked out of school, the Belmont High School sophomore turned student leader, helping to organize hundreds of students who marched to City Hall the week before the election.

But the feeling of empowerment stirred by the boisterous march faded on election night. The 15-year-old watched helplessly as ballot counts poured in and the measure restricting services for illegal immigrants sailed to victory.

"I was furious when I saw it was going to pass," Julye said. "And I was even more furious because I couldn't vote. I can't wait to turn 18 so I can register. I want to be able to vote for what I think is right."

For Julye, who first learned of Proposition 187 through her 22-year-old sister Evelyn, the campaign against the initiative became a political awakening, a step in her coming of age. And according to many students, teachers and school administrators, she is not alone.

"I think that kids are much more informed now than they were before," said Carole Stoner, an assistant principal at Garfield High School. "This has been a very good time for them, in many ways."

In high schools throughout the city where anti-187 activism took place, the disappointment felt by many students and staff after the initiative's passage has been tempered by a new sense of political optimism, as scores of formerly apolitical students now say they eagerly look forward to the day when they can participate in the electoral process.

"The first thing I'll do next year when I turn 18 is register to vote," said Celia Acuna, a 17-year-old junior at Huntington Park High School. "That way, people like Pete Wilson will listen to people like me."

Proponents of the measure say it will save the state millions of dollars and will improve the quality of life in California for legal residents.

The fact that Proposition 187 directly affects children and teens--hundreds of thousands of whom stand to be denied public education if the initiative is upheld in court--is what prompted students to make the connection between themselves and the ballot box, said Jose Hernandez, an English teacher at Roosevelt High School who has often discussed the initiative with his students.

"It hits them close to home," he said. "And when something hits you this close to home, there's no way of skirting around the issue. It's been a real impact, a trigger."

John Fernandez, an English teacher at Roosevelt who helped nearly 200 Garfield students organize an anti-187 protest with Occidental College students, said he is encouraged by the students' newfound desire to become politically active adults.

"We are seeing the re-emergence of a very strong student movement in Southern California, and Proposition 187 was the catalyst," said Fernandez, who co-chairs the Los Angeles Unified School District's Mexican-American Education Committee. "There has been a transformation, to an extent. These students are now finding their identity, their political conscience. They are now very much aware."

As a student coordinator for the Los Angeles Organizing Committee to Defeat Proposition 187, Cristine Soto had the chance to listen to the political concerns voiced by thousands of teens she helped place in campaign phone banks.

"This is going to have a positive impact in a few years, when it's their turn to vote," she said.

According to Jeff Combe, a journalism adviser at Garfield, the students most affected by the campaign were not the student leaders, who have maintained their normally active level of political involvement, but the average students who until recently took little interest in political issues.

"These were the kids who would just go home after school and watch TV," said Garfield senior class president Elisabet Hernandez, 17. "Now you see them talking about the issues. There's a lot more awareness now. You can feel it."

"Most kids just used to think 'yeah, whatever,' " added Angela Jara, an 11th-grader at the school. "Now, they can't wait to vote."

The controversy over Proposition 187 has also affected young people of voting age who are not U.S. citizens.

"I was already planning to apply for citizenship, but this has reinforced my feelings," said Blanca Hernandez, 18, a senior at Garfield who was born in Mexico.

Henry Echeverria, a 17-year-old Belmont junior, had planned on remaining a Guatemalan national, despite several years of legal residence, until he became involved in the anti-187 effort on campus. He now plans to apply for citizenship as soon as he turns 18.

"I used to think I didn't want to become a citizen, but now I think becoming a citizen would be much better for me," he said. "As a citizen, there's a lot more you can do that you can't do as a resident. Being able to vote counts for a lot."

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