Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Commentary

They Are Latina Political Stars--Hear Them Roar

March 12, 2001|LISA GARCIA BEDOLLA | Lisa Garcia Bedolla is an assistant professor of political science and liberal studies at Cal State Long Beach

Last Tuesday, Assemblywoman Gloria Romero soundly defeated Assemblyman Martin Gallegos in the race for the San Gabriel Valley state Senate seat formerly held by Democrat Hilda Solis of La Puente. It is estimated that Romero outpolled Gallegos 2-1, a margin of victory greater than even Romero expected. Gallegos reportedly said his defeat caught him totally off guard.

Before the election, Romero (D-Los Angeles) had been criticized for running for the position at all. Gallegos (D-Baldwin Park) was the candidate chosen by the Democratic Party to run for the seat because of term limits. Since Romero had four more years in the Assembly before she would have been ousted by term limits, it was argued that she should step aside because Gallegos was considered next in line for the position and it was bad for the Latino community to have its politicians run against one another. Similar arguments were made when Solis ran against incumbent Rep. Matthew G. "Marty" Martinez in the 31st Congressional District; she defeated Martinez easily in the Democratic primary.

Both of these Latinas have something in common: Each ran against the Latino establishment and each won overwhelmingly, largely because each was able to inspire and mobilize large numbers of student, community and labor activists to work for her campaigns on the ground. Their success raises questions about how Latinos in the Democratic Party decide which candidates they think are able to win.

Historically, the candidates chosen by the party have tended to be men who have either worked for candidates or on campaigns. Often, those given the dedazo (nod of approval) have not had deep political or social ties in the areas they have been chosen to represent. The success of the Romero and Solis campaigns shows the weakness of this model of political organizing, and, hopefully, the dawn of a new era in Latino politics in California--one in which Latin women are seen as a key part of the community's political strategy.

This model has already been successful. When asked how he was able to get elected mayor of San Antonio, Texas, Henry G. Cisneros has said his secret weapon was las viejitas, the elderly women who organized fund-raising dinners and church events and compelled their sons, daughters and grandchildren to work on behalf of his campaign.

A similar kind of organizing worked effectively when Nick Pacheco ran for Los Angeles City Council--his mother brought her friends out to walk precincts, cook food for volunteers and to get the word out that her hijito (little son) was running for office. She used the social networks she had been building for a lifetime to create an effective, locally based political machine. These kinds of networks have been at the heart of the success of the Mothers of East Los Angeles and helped the residents of South Gate organize successfully against the plan to build a power plant in their city.

There has been a tendency on the part of mainstream America to see the Latino community as passive, uninterested in politics and disorganized. I hope the Latino political elite does not make the same mistake. Latinas have highly organized and well-established social networks, ones that can be easily tapped when they feel their communities are at risk.

Perhaps what we need to do is rethink what we picture when we think of the ideal Latino candidate--a viejita perhaps?

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|