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Latino Heritage Event Mixes Music, Politics

As thousands gather in Hollywood for a concert, state Sen. Gil Cedillo vows to fight a movement to repeal the new driver's license law.

October 13, 2003|Daniel Hernandez | Times Staff Writer

State Sen. Gil Cedillo (D-Los Angeles) vowed on Sunday to defend against any assault from Gov.-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger a bill he successfully sponsored that allows illegal immigrants to get driver's licenses.

"The immigrants are not terrorists; we are workers, and this is why we have the right to live here with dignity and respect," Cedillo said upon receiving the Benito Juarez Public Service Award from Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn at a Hollywood outdoor musical concert.

"The campaign starts today to defend that right," Cedillo said.

Audience members in cowboy hats and visors responded with cheers of "Si, se puede" (Yes, it can be done) and "Si, se pudo" (Yes, it was done).

But afterward, Cedillo said he would be willing to work with Schwarzenegger to avoid a confrontation between supporters of the new law and opponents who have already begun organizing a repeal effort.

Schwarzenegger last week repeated his intent to repeal the law, which Gov. Gray Davis signed Sept. 5, shortly after the recall qualified for the ballot.

The law allows people to apply for a driver's license without a valid Social Security number. Critics say it sanctions illegal immigration and poses a national security threat, but Cedillo and others say the law is intended to increase public safety.

Cedillo noted that when Schwarzenegger takes the oath of office he will swear to uphold the state Constitution, adding that SB 60, the driver's license law, is already on the books.

The stage is set for a politicized battle reminiscent of the fight over Proposition 187, the 1994 ballot initiative that sought to restrict services to illegal immigrants, said City Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa, who attended the event.

"I'm hoping that cooler heads will prevail," he said.

Hahn presented Cedillo and local Latino artists and activists with plaques during the closing ceremonies of the city's Latino Heritage Month events, which featured live music along a busy stretch of Hollywood Boulevard.

The event capped a month of citywide exhibits and performances highlighting the city's Latino heritage.

Hahn also honored playwright Josefina Lopez, Homeboy Industries founder Father Gregory J. Boyle, comedian Ernie G., and William "Blinky" Rodriguez, who became a San Fernando Valley anti-gang activist after losing a son in a drive-by shooting.

Despite the political talk, some who spent the day at the festival said they just came out to enjoy a fine autumn day with a cultural twist.

Edith Hernandez, 48, who watched the awards ceremony near the stage with her husband, said she spent most of the day lounging in the shade of a gift shop, listening to the cumbia and salsa music.

She said she was there for the festival and "for laws that favor us."

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