The rent strike by Latino residents protesting the shabby condition of their apartments in Santa Ana is a turning point in that community’s effort to come of age as an urban center.
First, it took courage and conviction for the renters to band together and stand up for themselves and their rights. The Latino community in Santa Ana has not done that often enough. It is, in fact, rare in any community where many Latino tenants may be in the country illegally.
The strike is encouraging, because it holds out the hope that the minority community, sparked by the renters’ strike, will continue to be a united force in seeking action from local government.
Another good sign is that local government in Santa Ana has been cracking down on landlords who maintain substandard housing in violation of city health, safety and building codes.
City officials have recognized the rights of all residents to seek redress of their grievances. The city has understood, correctly, that all people have the fundamental human right to seek a decent place in which to live.
The strike has changed attitudes and images.
The Latino community in Santa Ana seems united at last. And it should have learned that unless it stays that way, many poor people paying high rents for rundown apartments will continue to be exploited.
The public has a new view of Latino residents, many of whom entered the country illegally but have lived here for years, worked hard, paid taxes and are raising children born here.
The illegal residents have a new and prouder image of themselves. They have roots, no matter how threatened at times. They have homes, no matter how substandard they may be. And they have shown that they will risk even deportation to begin standing up for human rights.
Finally, even some landlords are talking about making the long-needed repairs.
We don’t know how the renters’ strike will be resolved. The tenants continue to pay their rent to a trust fund established by the Legal Aid Society of Orange County, and another court hearing is set for Monday. But what has been accomplished thus far is certain to strengthen not only several Latino neighborhoods in Santa Ana, but the entire community.