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Anarchy and Order Take a Taco Break

Harsh words and actions stayed outside when police and protesters rubbed elbows at Fernando's.

August 18, 2000|HECTOR TOBAR

In the movie "Casablanca," everyone went to "Rick's."

At "America 2000: the Democratic National Convention," everyone went to "Fernando's."

Fernando Ojeda owns a taco stand directly across the street from the official "protest pit" set up for this week.

Just outside his front door, the forces of order and the forces of rebellion fell into daily battles and standoffs. Rubber bullets flew. Epithets filled the air. But inside Fernando's everyone mixed together without any problems. Sure they disagreed about politics--but in Fernando's they were united by the irresistible lure of a good burrito.

"Delegates, protesters, police, city workers--you name it, a little bit of everything," Ojeda said, describing his customers. "Every day was something new."

Last Saturday, when the convention was still something you talked about in future tense, Ojeda had been worried. Flames danced in his head. Would there be another melee, like the one that followed the Lakers' victory in the NBA finals?

On that June night police cars burned and the streets filled with roving youths bent on destruction. This week, however, has been something entirely different.

"Things went just a little crazy," he said on Thursday afternoon, the last day of the convention. "Nothing was damaged. They were burning some things out there. But it was nothing compared with the Lakers' championship. That was crazy."


Protesters came in with their signs and politely leaned them against the wall before ordering vegetarian combo plates. Police officers picked up beef tacos by the dozen for their buddies out on the front lines. While they were in Fernando's, there were no arguments. Just requests for more salsa.

"That was really good, as usual," one youngish protester said Thursday after returning to pick up a napkin. Nearby, a group of traffic policeman in Day-Glo green vests sat at a table and hunched over plates covered with beans and rice.

What happened at Fernando's taco stand and at the other stores in the mini-mall on the corner of Figueroa Street and Olympic Boulevard was a microcosm of Los Angeles as a whole during this week when politicos and anarchists had the run of our city. Ojeda and his neighbors were a little inconvenienced, but not especially so. Some were a bit taken aback by how "strange-looking" many of the protesters were. But all in all, they'd describe the experience as a good one.

"We didn't get rich," said Ojeda, a 43-year-old native of Zacatecas, Mexico. "But it was fun."

A few doors down, at Elvi's One Hour Photo, Elvia Mujica had a darker view of the demonstrators who had marched past her establishment for five straight days. No, they didn't cause any problems--except for the one time a bunch of them fell asleep in front of her door and she shooed them away. She simply didn't understand why they are so angry.

"They looked like they were from another world," Mujica said in Spanish. "They were so weird and different. I don't know why they're making such a scandal. . . . They're not in their right minds."

When her husband, Jorge, overheard these comments, he was quick to disagree.

"A lot of it is really important," he said. "Like the environmentalists protesting against the companies that pollute. Or the one that's going to happen today, the one for immigrant rights. Or the one against police brutality. Those are things that affect all of us."


All politics aside, the week of the convention and protests was a boon to the Mujica family. They sold drinks and photo supplies to a steady stream of delegates, reporters and demonstrators. Jorge estimates that during the week of the convention he processed 1,000 rolls of film, about five times the usual number.

On Thursday, the machine in the back of the store spat out dozens of shots delegates had taken of Joseph I. Lieberman and Al Gore, along with all the rolls the protesters brought in--pictures of marches seen from the inside, and of long rows of grim police officers in riot gear.

Like much of the rest of the city, Ojeda and the Mujicas had seen the politics and the protests from the outside, as spectators.

What was their final assessment of the convention week? Their answers could stand for those of many other Angelenos who saw the events unfold from more distant perspectives.

Ojeda was grateful that "the police kept us safe."

Jorge Mujica was impressed at how well-organized the protesters were, that there were only a few people who were "looking for confrontations."

And Elvia Mujica was still a bit confused about why all those people were out there in the first place.

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