A decade ago, Santa Ana, El Monte and Oxnard had zero Latino mayors.
Now they all do.
That's one reflection of a Census Bureau report, released today, that listed the three cities and unincorporated East Los Angeles among America's 10 leading Latino hubs.
East L.A.--96.8% Latino, according to Census 2000--had the highest concentration of Latinos of any American community with 100,000 or more people. Santa Ana (76.1%), El Monte (72.4%) and Oxnard (66.2%) ranked seventh through ninth.
Santa Ana, El Monte and Oxnard have had substantial Latino populations for decades. But the new report--part of a national examination of Latino growth--underscores the move to a dominant majority.
FOR THE RECORD
Los Angeles Times Friday May 18, 2001 Home Edition Part A Part A Page 2 A2 Desk 2 inches; 49 words Type of Material: Correction
Latino mayor--A story in the May 10 editions that described Rachel Montes as El Monte's first Latino mayor in 89 years should have described her as the city's first elected Latino mayor in that span. Another Latino, Councilman Art Salcido, served as mayor from 1975 to 1976, at a time when members of the council appointed a council member to serve as mayor.
Thirty years ago, the white-supremacist National Socialist (Nazi) Party had a headquarters in El Monte. Today, Rachel Montes is the city's first Latino mayor in 89 years.
"From having a father who couldn't buy a home in El Monte in 1945 [because of his ethnicity], to becoming the mayor--it was a challenge that for me, took 56 years," said Montes, who was elected in 1998.
Oxnard's Latino population climbed by more than half in the last two decades. El Monte, the San Gabriel Valley's second-largest city, has crept up during that time from 60% Latino to 72%. The most dramatic change occurred in Santa Ana, which rose from 43.5% Latino in 1980 to 76% in 2000.
Santa Ana recently elected its first Latino-majority school board and City Council. Oxnard, whose power brokers were traditionally white, has a Latino police chief, city manager and elementary school district superintendent. It also has two Latinos on the City Council and two each on the elementary school board and high school board.
"Latinos are now involved in every aspect of civic affairs in Oxnard," said Mayor Manuel Lopez, who was elected mayor in 1992 and remains Ventura County's highest-ranking Latino politician.
"Numbers don't always immediately equate to political power, but the handwriting's on the wall," said Harry Pachon, president of the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute, an independent think tank in Claremont.
Oxnard, founded as a farm town at the turn of the century, has long been home to a sizable Mexican work force. Laborers were lured by a vast plain of sugar beets and lima beans, and settled in big numbers on the city's east side in an area known today as La Colonia.
The barrio remains home to Oxnard's heaviest Latino concentration, at 93%. And it has been a starting point over the years for a number of struggles aimed at boosting Latino influence and political power.
It was La Colonia parents who sued the Oxnard School District in 1970 over a perceived policy of segregation. A federal judge eventually found that the district had created unequal educational opportunity for Latino students in La Colonia and instituted mandatory busing.
Hundreds of Latino-owned enterprises now do business in Oxnard, and the local arts scene has flourished, buoyed by such groups as Teatro Inlakech, a theater and dance troupe founded more than a decade ago.
As El Monte Police Chief Bill Ankeny talked about the new census figures, he remembered his arrival in the 1960s and his discovery that busy Valley Boulevard was home to National Socialist Party headquarters. Nearby Garvey Avenue featured a Nazi bookstore, Ankeny said. The leader of the supremacist group was murdered by one of his own compatriots in the 1970s. It was a time when Latinos made up less than a third of El Monte's population, according to 1970 census figures.
Now, a person strolling on the busy Valley Mall, with Latino-flavored eateries and clothing stores and pulsing Norteno music from passing cars, may find the contrast between the not-too-distant past and present hard to believe.
"I really hate to say it, but there was a certain redneck mentality," Ankeny, a 33-year veteran of the El Monte police, said.
"You can never rule out the old guard coming back . . . but if [the Nazi sympathizers] tried to come back now, they'd sure have a tough row to hoe in El Monte."
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Places of 100,000 or more population with the highest percentages of Latinos:
Place Latino % of total population East Los Angeles* 97% Laredo, Texas 94% Brownsville, Texas 91% Hialeah, Fla. 90% McAllen, Texas 80% El Paso, Texas 77% Santa Ana 76% El Monte 72% Oxnard 66% Miami 66%
* East Los Angeles is a census-designated place but is not an incorporated city.
Source: U.S. census