‘It’s popular to say things are worse . . . but that’s a cheap shot. Things are a lot better.’
Julian Nava bounded down the stairs of his Northridge home carrying a yellow-and-white bulletin board covered with hurried scribbles--among them “Muronaka Farms,” “Twin Eagles,” “Assn. of Hispanic Americans,” “El Excelsior” and “Inca Cola.”
Nava, 61, is a former Los Angeles school board member who served during the tumultuous years of battling over mandatory busing and then became ambassador to Mexico in the Jimmy Carter Administration. The bulletin board, carried from his home office to show a visiting reporter, makes it apparent that now is no time for resting on laurels.
He has become a purveyor of vegetables; an editorial writer for El Excelsior, a major daily newspaper in Mexico, and a co-founder of a nonprofit foundation to help Latinos trace their roots, the Assn. of Hispanic Americans. He is trying to entice movie productions to Mexico. And he is constantly embarking on new entrepreneurial adventures.
In between, the educator-cum-diplomat continues to teach a few classes a year in the history of Mexico and the southwestern United States at Cal State Northridge, where he has been a faculty member since 1957.
“It’s climbing to the top of the hill, solving the problem,” that keeps him active and involved, Nava said recently during an interview at the home he shares with his wife, three college-age children, four dogs and a horse named Prince.
For instance, the chances are “probably better than 50-50,” he says, that some of the green onions, broccoli, radishes or cilantro sold in Southern California markets come from the 1,000 acres he has helped poor farmers in Ensenada and Mexicali cultivate through a joint venture between Muronaka Farms, a Japanese-American owned firm, and CalProMex, owned by Nava and a few associates. The two companies together sell the produce directly to local markets.
The business makes money but, Nava says, the altruism behind it is just as important.
“What is satisfying about this is not just the financial rewards,” Nava said, “but the fact that for the first time some poor Mexican farmers have bank accounts. That makes me feel good.”
On a pro bono basis, Nava also is helping to modernize the ejidos , rural cooperatives in Baja California, by providing them with the administrative and technical know-how to go into oyster farming. That project, he said, “is very dear to my heart.”
Although nearly a decade has passed since Nava left the school board, he occasionally plunges back into district politics.
Last year he made an angry speech to the board after it failed to appoint a Latino to lead the 57% Latino district. (The position went to former Miami school superintendent Leonard Britton, who is white.) Nava, the first Mexican-American elected to the seven-member board, is equally disheartened by the fact that it still has only one Latino, Leticia Quezada.
Nonetheless, he believes that schools have gained sensitivity to the needs of minority youngsters.
“It’s popular to say things are worse . . . but that’s a cheap shot. Things are a lot better. The district awakened to the legitimate needs of culturally different children. So now you just don’t find the kind of overt prejudice that was rather common before.”
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