Latinos Launch Drive to Establish Westside Chapter of Activist Group

Times Staff Writer

In a move to gain more political influence for Westside Latinos, a group of activists is launching a membership drive for a new chapter of the Mexican-American Political Assn.

The new chapter would be the first on the Westside, organizers say. Latinos will be invited to sign up during a public forum in Santa Monica on Feb. 7.

Organized political activity by Westside Latinos has been spotty, often allowing local leaders to ignore or take Westside Latinos for granted, said Antonio Vazquez, director of the Latino Resource Organization in Santa Monica.

Vazquez is one of a handful of people, most graduates of Santa Monica College, trying to form the MAPA chapter. They hope eventually to target about 100 members in Santa Monica, West Hollywood, Culver City and West Los Angeles, Vazquez said.

Seeking Political Clout

He said he hopes the organization will help give Westside Latinos the political muscle they have been lacking.

"MAPA is the key," Vazquez said. "Once it gets rolling, it will be the backbone. We're hoping MAPA will pull things together."

Not everyone agrees that association is the way to go. Some Latinos say the organization formed in California 30 years ago has lost much of its influence and power and has failed to address the more urgent issues of the day. They point to other groups, such as the Assn. of Mexican-American Educators, as a better vehicle.

But they agree that political activism by Westside Latinos needs to be stimulated and channeled in a way to make their voices heard, especially in an election year.

"We are trying to find something to connect to. I don't necessarily think MAPA is the only avenue," said Yolanda Becerra Jones, an aid to Los Angeles Councilwoman Ruth Galanter and former director of the Latino Resource Organization.

"There is a real strong need on the part of a lot of Latinos on the Westside to come together and discuss issues," she said.

Delayed Action

Nearly a year has passed between the time the MAPA plan was first announced. Vazquez blamed restructuring going on inside the association and said that interest on the Westside remained strong.

Vazquez said one of the goals of the MAPA chapter would be to sponsor nonpartisan voter registration and education efforts and to serve as a body to hold politicians accountable to Latino voters.

"In the past, we've been contacted on an individual basis (by candidates looking) for support, but then there was no accountability," Vazquez said.

"Now, if they look for Latino support, at least we can have a forum so they can present their platform to Latinos, we can present our agenda, and then we have an organized body to hold them accountable. There hasn't been a mechanism to confront them."

Latinos point to a lack of unity and leadership in the Westside Latino community as one of the obstacles to better organizing.

Identity Problems

"You say 'Eastside' and people can identify. That has hindered Westside political influence in the Latino community," said Haydee Galindo, outreach coordinator of the Westside Independent Services for the Elderly. "Everything gravitates toward the Eastside."

Galindo, who has since left the Westside, said that because many Latino families have to work doubly hard to maintain an often more costly household on the Westside, little time and energy is left for political activity.

Vazquez said the time is ripe for Latinos on the Westside to become more politically active.

While much of the Westside Latino population continues to be made up of illegals and day laborers, Vazquez said, there is an increasing number of professionals who are better-educated and more interested in politics.

In a related development, the City of Santa Monica is planning a series of workshops for its own staff to improve ways city employees can reach the Latino community, an official said.

Task Force Recommendations

The workshops are the latest in a series of steps taken by the city following recommendations from a 15-member Latino task force set up in 1983. The group, which disbanded after issuing its report in 1984, was formed after city-commissioned surveys showed Latinos felt left out of city services.

Rey Espana, a senior administrative analyst for the city, said the city has taken "incremental steps" to address several of the problems raised by the task force, but some areas, especially the hiring of Latinos, still need work.

"There has been progress," Espana said. "But there is still quite a ways to go."

One of the most significant of the task force's recommendations was to change the "rule of three" hiring procedure that allows a city, under affirmative action guidelines, to choose from the top three candidates for any job opening. The task force recommended the pool of three be expanded to give Latinos a better shot at jobs.

Such a change however would require voter approval, Espana said.

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