Los Angeles Hispanics in political crossfire
Jonathan T. Lovitt
LOS ANGELES - This city's Hispanic community - the second-largest in the
nation - feels caught in the social and political crossfire of the Rodney King
While Hispanics here were not direct figures in the case - widely portrayed as
white police pitted against a black motorist - parts of their communities were
thrown into riot-spawned turmoil as well.
Gloria Mejia lost everything to looters last April. Rolling out a supply of
women's shirts and jewelry recently in her new store - a corner of a marketplace
near downtown - Mejia fears new trouble.
"I just received my loan from the government in November. I can't go through
this again," Mejia says.
Many of the estimated 1.3 million Hispanics in Los Angeles, second only to New
York City, fled political turmoil at home, and are leery of new domestic violence
"I don't follow that Rodney King stuff," says Martin Arias, 29, a pizza chef. "I
work, I go home, I sleep. I've got a family to take care of."
Many "come from nations where they've had bad experiences with politics," says
Julian Nava, a Los Angeles mayoral candidate and former U.S. ambassador to
Mexico. "To that extent, they tend to shy away from politics in general."
Pilar Marrero, a reporter covering the King trial for La Opinion, the city's largest
Spanish-language daily paper, says: "Most people in the Latino community just
want to go about their daily lives. . . . They hope another riot won't happen
because they know they'll be the first affected."
A USA TODAY study last spring found Hispanics both riot participants and
victims: 43% of the 12,127 people arrested were Hispanics.
"It was really sad seeing these people running down the streets with carts full of
diapers and toilet paper," says Fernando Oaxaca of the Latino Coalition For a
New Los Angeles.
"My read on it is that most of the Latino participants didn't know or care about
the Rodney King trial, they were just behaving opportunistically."
Critics of the police department say a good number of Hispanics arrested were
taken into custody for curfew violations, not any real crimes.
Ted Goldstein of the city attorney's office counters "only a handful of cases . . .
were just curfew violations."
"Herein lies the real tragedy," says Nava, 65. "When the word gets around that
the police are to be feared you get a loss of contact between those that need
protection the most."
Mejia meets weekly with other merchants to forestall unrest. "I have to protect
my store this time. It took me six months to re-open, so this time I'll just stand
here and plead with them to go somewhere else," Mejia says.
"Maybe it would be a different story if it was `Rodney Gonzalez,' " Oaxaca says.
"We have a saying in Spanish for how I think most Latinos feel about all this:
`No tengo vela en ese entierro.' "
Translation: "I carry no candle at this affair."
PHOTO,b/w,Bob Riha Jr.,Gamma-Liaison