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Immigrant parents' experiences helped shape lawmakers' views

17 members of the California Legislature have parents born outside the U.S.

July 27, 2013|By Patrick McGreevy
  • The parents of Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal (D-Long Beach) were brought to New York as children by families escaping pogroms against Jews in Russia.
The parents of Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal (D-Long Beach) were brought… (Don Bartletti / Los Angeles…)

SACRAMENTO — Seventeen members of the California Legislature have parents who came to the U.S. from other countries. Many say their family histories inform their actions as lawmakers.

The parents of Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal (D-Long Beach) were brought to New York as children by families escaping pogroms against Jews in Russia. One of her grandfathers had survived under a pile of dead bodies during a massacre near Minsk.

Lowenthal authored a law last year intended to protect immigrant warehouse workers by requiring their employers to provide pay stubs showing wages and hours worked, after many complained they were being shortchanged.

The mother of Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Alameda) came to the United States on a student visa from the Philippines, to escape civil unrest there, just months before martial law was declared.

Cynthia Bonta said she spent her early years in the United States working for a church, accepting poverty-level wages to care for the children of farmworkers, many of them undocumented.

"My mom came here for the opportunity," said her son — and it paid off. "I went to Yale Law School and Oxford."

After his election last November, Bonta co-authored a resolution supporting a path to citizenship for the 11 million people in the country without papers. Assemblyman K.H. "Katcho" Achadjian (R-San Luis Obispo) broke from his party's line and supported the measure.

Achadjian lost grandparents in the Armenian genocide. His parents survived and moved to Lebanon. He came to the United States on a student visa; his mother emigrated later to escape the bloodshed of Lebanon's civil war.

The parents of state Sen. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance) had little money when they emigrated from Taiwan with 2-year-old Ted. He recalls helping them sell trinkets at Ohio flea markets in the early days, to put food on the table. Eventually, the family business included a chain of six jewelry and gift stores.

Lieu said he spoke Mandarin before learning English as a child. He introduced a bill this year to make sure health insurers are accurately translating their conditions of coverage so non-English speakers are not misled. It has passed the Senate and is awaiting an Assembly vote.

patrick.mcgreevy@latimes.com

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