Salinas City Councilman Jose Casteneda, left, greets Monterey County… (David Butow, For The Times )
Re "Political guns blazing," Column One, June 18
I have nothing but praise and admiration for Salinas City Councilman Jose Castaneda and his hero Tiburcio Vasquez, a relic of the Mexican- American War.
Before the 1990s, Los Angeles' large Mexican American community was often called a sleeping giant, and rightfully so. Although we numbered in the millions, we had no political power or influence in city and county government.
Much has changed since then. L.A.'s Latinos are no longer an afterthought, as evidenced by Antonio Villaraigosa's election as mayor in 2005 and that of his successor, Eric Garcetti.
Yet in some parts of California, including Salinas, the giant still sleeps. But thanks to outspoken politicians like Castaneda and the ghost of Vasquez, the giant is slowly awakening.
As Castaneda did in Salinas, maybe someday we in L.A. will name a school for Vasquez, the Mexican Robin Hood.
Even if young Vasquez experienced racism by Americans, the fact that his first conviction, in Los Angeles in 1857, was for a robbery against a fellow Latino, Luis Francisco, illustrates just one of several problems with the "Robin Hood" myth.
Vasquez generally robbed small shopkeepers, farmers and ranchers, and there is little evidence he distributed much of his proceeds to the poor and dispossessed Spanish-speaking Californians. And nearly all his victims, including the three killed in 1873, the crime for which Vasquez was executed, were strangers who had done nothing to him.
Under serious scrutiny, the "social bandit" theory simply withers away. Still, none of this matters when myth provides such a powerful political propaganda tool.
Salinas' Alisal Union School District has schools named Chavez, King, Fremont, Steinbeck and now Vasquez. Maybe the next one should be named for the native Ohlone Indians.
A gang-ridden area of Salinas names a local school for an outlaw of Hispanic descent.
When a bullet ricochets in the next drive-by shooting and kills a young girl on the street and the shooter goes to prison for life; when someone else robs the neighborhood store for the fourth time, causing the owner to give up and move to a better location; or when a child overdoses on illegal drugs, the city should remember it honored a murdering, thieving outlaw.
The very area of Salinas most scarred by crime honors a criminal. And kids have their role model.
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