The Talk of the Town : KMPC’s Xavier Hermosillo Finally Smashed Through Los Angeles Radio’s Ethnic Barrier in 1994
Weeknights at 7 p.m. on radio station KMPC (AM 710), talk show host Xavier Hermosillo takes to the airwaves, and depending on one’s point of view, spends the next two hours entertaining or infuriating his audience , which draws heavily from Central Los Angeles listeners. A longtime Latino activist and state chairman of the Republican Party’s National Hispanic Assembly, the 44-year-old Hermosillo was interviewed by Mark Sachs.
With the passage of Proposition 187 and the low voter turnout among Latinos, last year will not go down as a shining chapter in the group’s history. What do you think ’95 will bring, for Latinos and Southern California as a whole?
I was the only member of the Republican hierarchy in California to oppose Prop. 187, and I did it because it was poorly written and poorly positioned to solve the immigration problem. The hate that has been unleashed, especially toward Mexicans, is proof that it was the wrong thing to do.
I think if ever a set of unfortunate circumstances came together in an ugly fashion, it was the recession, the refusal of Congress to deal with the immigration issue, the refusal by some in the Latino community to take the immigration problem seriously, and the frustration people felt about do-nothing politicians. All those circumstances will be with us for the foreseeable future. But the Latino leadership also must realize that it has failed not only other Latinos, but society in general by choosing to excuse the refusal of some people to learn the language, assimilate and become full participants in the American Dream. Most immigrants who have come here--legal or illegal--come to be Americans and live that Dream. But the small segment of both immigrants and native-born Americans of all ethnic backgrounds who choose not to speak English, not to vote, not to work and prefer to be part of the criminal element are dragging everyone else down.
Your statement of a couple of years ago that Latinos were “going to take back California house by house, block by block,” and admonishment for non-Latinos to “wake up and smell the refried beans” was revived during the Proposition 187 debate as a warning of sorts by the pro-measure forces. Do you wish you hadn’t made the comment?
I would never take that back. It was my way of pointing out that the roots of people of Spanish and Mexican descent go deep, that we are not Johnny-come-latelies. There are reasons that Spanish and Mexican architecture predominates in Southern California. Our city is named Los Angeles. Our streets are named Figueroa and Sepulveda. We are being used as scapegoats. The 41% of the county’s population that is Latino is not leaving. Those racists and xenophobes and even those who are genuinely frustrated about illegal immigration should not look to some Utopian removal of Latinos as the answer, but rather they should wake up and smell the refried beans, because we are here, we belong here, and we are here to stay--and they are just going to have to deal with it.
Why are Latinos continuing to experience problems becoming a force at the ballot box?
This is the result of our failure as Latinos to let go of our homeland, of wanting to live with one foot in the U.S. and the other foot in Mexico or Nicaragua or Chile, as the case may be. We have found it hard to accept that the same U.S. government that broke Native American treaties has also ignored and broken ours, like the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which contains provisions that should allow Mexican citizens to go back and forth across the border as if they were California citizens. But the reality is that we need to become U.S. citizens, register to vote and participate in the process. You can argue all day about whether that is fair. The reality is, that is the law today, and we either use it to our advantage or continue a shallow argument we can never win.
How have you been able to resolve being an anti-Proposition 187 Republican after the strongly pro-187 rhetoric espoused by the party’s candidates in California?
The Republicans were not alone in their boosterism of 187. Certainly, while there were some Democrats who opposed it, there were many who supported it. Kathleen Brown, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer did not hesitate to parade along the border with Janet Reno, so those who suggest Democrats had clean hands on the issue and Latino-bashing are only fooling themselves. Both parties have a lot to show Latinos.
A significant percentage of your calls on the radio show seem to come from South-Central, the Eastside and the greater Downtown area. Why do you think that is?
Well, as the first Mexican American on talk radio in Los Angeles and as someone who had never done this for a living, I find it easiest to talk about everyday life, my own experiences and current events. I am very much a simple man, a family man, a workingman, just like everybody else. And having been born in poverty in the Rancho San Pedro housing projects, from a broken home, I can relate to people who face those kinds of issues. I may be opinionated, at times too conservative for some, at times too liberal for others, but I have never forgotten what I came from. Some people respond to that.
Do you feel a responsibility on the airwaves to defend Latino causes, or do you think your role is to remain impartial?
I do feel a responsibility because of the years I have spent looking at life through a Latino prism, which has provided a sensitivity others don’t have. Therefore, when the occasion calls for it, I must allow that sensitivity to prevail. I am not first and foremost a Latino talk show host. I happen to be a talk show host who is Latino.
You were a negotiator for Irwindale’s bid to land the L.A. Raiders several years ago. What do you think of the rumor du jour, which has the team moving from the Coliseum to a new stadium adjacent to Hollywood Park?
(Laughing) As one of the few who really understands the complexities of putting a stadium deal together, and knowing how preoccupied L.A. is with other issues, unless the NFL itself comes up with a big chunk of money, I don’t see the Raiders moving anywhere else in L.A.