"Rebecca's a big promoter, getting people involved in things," Shannon said. "We were so hoping to get them on some boards."
The Shannons asked them to join the Whittier College Board of Trustees. The Zapantas declined. They would get involved in some Whittier events -- but, as the Shannons would find out, the Zapantas represented a new kind of Whittier elite.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday, March 28, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 69 words Type of Material: Correction
Whittier: An article in Saturday's Section A about Whittier becoming a magnet for upscale Latinos said that Whittier College has a student body that is nearly one-third Latino, the highest proportion of Latino students at any private liberal arts college in the United States. At Mount St. Mary's College, with campuses in downtown Los Angeles and Brentwood, about 44% of the student body is Latino, according to 2006 numbers.
Their first commitment was to causes affecting the Mexican American community -- and to another school, USC. Richard and his late brother Edward, a neurosurgeon, were among the founders of USC's Mexican American Alumni Assn. Richard's father was a mechanic; his mother went back to college when she was middle-aged and eventually graduated from Pepperdine University. Rebecca also grew up working-class in East L.A. and recalled playing with chickens in the backyard.
They moved from East L.A. to Hacienda Heights, but 16 years ago they decided they wanted a bigger house. They first thought about Pasadena. A friend who was a Realtor told them he had found a place in Whittier. The Zapantas knew little about the town, but seeing the mansion on the hill convinced them, even if Rebecca Zapanta said the sheer size of the home was intimidating.
The mansion was beautifully imposing. They moved in with their five children, Richard's elderly father and two housekeepers.
In the years since, Rebecca has taken up a new cause: electing a Latino to the council. She has supported Latino candidates before but said they always lose.
Recently, she stopped at the Uptown boutique of a friend, Suzie Cruz. Talk turned to politics. "We need that voice. I just think we haven't done that yet," Cruz said.
"Do you think they're trying keep us out, Suzie?" Zapanta asked in an incredulous tone.
That wasn't it, Cruz said. On election day, just take a look at who votes and who volunteers to work the polls, she said. Latinos in Whittier need to get involved and vote.
A few days later, a Mexican American Realtor told Zapanta she was running for City Council.
The news gave a jolt of energy to Zapanta's quest and got her thinking about ways she could help, now and in the future; maybe putting together a list of friends in Whittier, sending out a mailing and having a fundraiser.
And for that, Rebecca Zapanta could think of no better setting than her old mansion.