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Shedding Some Light on Bustamante’s Dark Activist Past

Pssst!

Guess what.

Cruz Bustamante doesn’t just want to be governor of California.

Have you heard?

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He’s got ties to an allegedly racist, separatist Latino group called MEChA. Sure, he might act and look like a governor once he takes office. But that would just be a front.

Behind the scenes, Cruz “Bandolero” Bustamante would wage war on the gringo, carrying out a bold plot to return California and six other Western states to Mexico.

He might seem kind of bland, moderate and unexcitable. You wouldn’t confuse him with Che Guevara. But that’s part of the scam. Bustamante is the Latino version of the Manchurian Candidate. Once he gets in, we’ll all be speaking Spanish.

How do I know this?

Because readers keep telling me about Bustamante’s dark past. They indignantly ask why I don’t expose the lieutenant governor for his membership in MEChA back when he was at Fresno State in the 1970s.

“Are you also a member of MEChA?” one reader demanded, assuming that because of my last name, I might be in on the revolution.

Actually, I’m not a member of MEChA. But more and more, I do like the idea of creating a separate state.

What I’d like to do is take all the yahoos who have nothing better to do than circulate paranoid e-mails and regurgitate every hysterical inanity they hear on talk radio, load these folks onto buses, and create a hideaway for them somewhere in Death Valley, or preferably Idaho.

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Yes, it’s true that when MEChA took root on college campuses in the 1960s, its ambitious literature referred to the “brutal gringo invasion of our territories.” That would be an offensive charge, I suppose, except that it’s accurate.

In the wild and crazy idealism of the era, MEChA also endorsed “revolutionary acts” of nationalism. But there was no war, and Bustamante got involved after the rhetorical fires died out. MEChA had gone soft by then, and was primarily a campus social club for Latinos.

“It was about recruiting more Latinos to school and selling burritos to pay for graduation,” says David Ayon, who started a Latino group similar to MEChA at Princeton University around the same time. Later, when Ayon was at Stanford University, nobody dredged up the early rabble-rousing of MEChA.

“It was way too absurd to even talk about it,” says the Loyola University senior research associate.

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Bustamante has said pretty much the same thing about his 10 minutes as an alleged activist. But it hasn’t prevented shrill demands for him to confess his sins.

“I believe that Cruz Bustamante has a great deal of explaining to do, if he still supports the aims of that organization,” Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom McClintock told a conservative weekly publication. On a radio show, McClintock equated MEChA with the Ku Klux Klan.

You gotta admit, the sombrero is a handy place to hang a sheet. But just who are the bigots here? Bustamante, or the Republicans who started playing dirty when he unexpectedly took the early lead?

The idea of Bustamante as an extremist, or even a Chicano activist, is seen as laughable to many in the Latino community. Ayon calls the lieutenant governor a practiced, calculating moderate, his tax hike plan notwithstanding. In the Central Valley, for instance, he’s at least as comfortable hanging out with white growers as brown pickers.

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That’s one reason why, when I scoured East L.A. and Boyle Heights looking for people who were chatting up Bustamante, I couldn’t find any. In an L.A. Times poll two Sundays ago, only 51% of Latinos said they would vote for Bustamante.

“The Latino vote is not monolithic,” Luis Rodriguez told me one night at his Sylmar bookstore, Tia Chucha’s Cafe Cultural. Some of his customers said they don’t trust politicians, period, whether they’re Latino or not.

And yet for some people, the Latino community is monolithic, and the specter of a Bustamante victory is their worst nightmare.

I’m talking about people who get through the day on fear and anger, and find comfort in their own misery.

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People for whom the problem isn’t Bustamante’s few days in MEChA, but the chance that he could become governor and symbolize the continued browning of California.

I hate to be the one to break the news, but the retaking of the Southwest has already happened. California, in particular, has Latinos of every political persuasion in every socioeconomic class, and it’s going to have more.

And you’re right, I am in on it, along with everybody else whose last name ends with the letter Z.

Just to give you a head’s up, on Gobernador Bustamante’s first week in office, we’re moving the state capital to Tijuana.

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Steve Lopez writes Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. Reach him at steve.lopez@latimes.com


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