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Councilman Visits Archie Bunker Dimension to Justify Comments

June 20, 2003|Steve Lopez

At the risk of being deported, I bought a beach chair Wednesday at a drugstore on Coast Highway in Newport Beach, then went to the home of a councilman who made barbed remarks about all the Mexicans at Corona del Mar State Beach.

Dick Nichols wasn't home. He's in the hospital with a leg infection. But I called on my cell phone to let him know a guy named Lopez was camped out on his front lawn.

I thought it might send him into shock, but Nichols chuckled and said I could stay in his yard if I liked. He chatted for half an hour or so, and from my end, it got more and more like an episode of "The Twilight Zone."

Nichols claimed his comments in the Daily Pilot were taken out of context, which the reporter denied to me in great detail. The story said he opposed expanding grassy areas at the beach because: "With grass we usually get Mexicans coming in there early in the morning and they claim it as theirs and it becomes their personal, private ground all day."

But in defending himself to me, Nichols kept pulling Archie Bunkers.

He repeatedly referred to all Latinos as "Mexicans" or "non-locals." He asked if I was born "in this country or in Mexico." He claimed he had witnessed a car accident staged by a couple of "Mexicans" running an insurance scam. And he lamented the "political correctness" that got U.S. Sen. Trent Lott in hot water for lauding Strom Thurmond's days as a segregationist.

I was worried he might ask me to mow his knee-high grass while I was there, and maybe wash his car.

Nichols had an American flag in the yard and a banner that said, "Let Freedom Ring." Speaking of freedom, I respect everyone's right to speak their mind. If not for the likes of Nichols letting loose now and then, we'd have to constantly remind ourselves why we have civil rights attorneys.

But in a town that has former NBA star Dennis Rodman running around like a goofball, I don't understand why anyone would have a problem with "Mexicans" at the beach.

By coincidence, Nichols made his comments to me on the same day the Census Bureau announced that Latinos had surpassed African Americans to become the largest minority group in the U.S. The total number of Latinos hit 38.8 million last year, and could reach 60 million by the year 2020.

There's no telling what percentage of that population will end up crowding Dick Nichols at Corona del Mar State Beach, because California is way ahead of the national curve. Many moons ago, Latinos became the largest minority in this state, and they account for nearly a third of the population today.

Some people, obviously, don't like it, which is their prerogative. But if you fall into that group, you might want to consider moving to another state.

In my chat with Nichols, I explained that there happen to be Latino countries other than Mexico, and a guy named Lopez might conceivably trace his roots to Spain. Not that Spaniard Americans are any less likely to end up on "his" beach.

The councilman gave me a clue as to where he was coming from. He wanted to know if I thought illegal aliens ought to be able to pour across the border and be automatically guaranteed every right enjoyed by those of us who were born here.

As a matter of fact, no. I've written about the ravages of overpopulation and the need for stricter immigration control, and I've taken some heat for it.

But Latinos don't come to California to freeload. They come here to better their lives. Most of them work harder than I ever have. They make a contribution, and they become citizens too. And when they take a day off and go swimming at a state beach maintained with their tax dollars, they don't need some flat-footed coot asking their business.

Nichols told me to go see for myself all the "Mexicans" and "non-locals" who flock to the beach he's been going to for 30 years. I'm not sure how you can be a "non-local" at a state beach. But I did as he suggested, walked up to the very first Latino family I saw and introduced myself.

Otilia Hurtado was making sandwiches for her husband, Valente, 48, his brother, and their two families. They told me to please help myself at a neat little spread of lunch meats and fixins.

Otilia and Valente used to live in Costa Mesa, but moved to Palm Springs 14 years ago, where he works as banquet captain at the Hilton. Still, they've come to this same beach once or twice a year for two decades.

"It's a family tradition," Valente said. "We've been coming here since my son Cesar there was 2. He's 25 now."

Cesar looked at the headline in the local paper: "Corona del Mar's Dick Nichols says he doesn't want Mexicans using those areas all day."

Cesar seemed to think it was a joke. When he found out otherwise, he said, "That's messed up." Valente Hurtado said they've never had a problem at the beach, but now he wonders if people have been looking at them as if they don't belong.

Only one that we know of.

When lunch was ready, several of the Hurtado children and grandchildren were playing nearby with Boogie boards and beach balls. You've never seen "Mexicans" look more all-American.

*

Steve Lopez writes Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. Reach him at steve.lopez@latimes.com

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