Newsletter: The Times’ 49th Pulitzer Prize spurs a look back at award-winning ‘Latinos’ series

A group of people on the steps of a building at Columbia University
Bottom row, from left: David Reyes, Virginia Escalante and Louis Sahagún. Back row, from left: George Ramos, Noel Greenwood, Frank Sotomayor, Frank del Olmo, José Galvez and Robert Montemayor at the Pulitzer ceremony at Columbia University.
(Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Friday, May 13. I’m Robert J. Lopez, writing from Los Angeles.

The stellar journalism of the Los Angeles Times was honored this week when my colleague Marcus Yam won the Pulitzer Prize for breaking news photography for his powerful and moving images of the fall of Kabul to the Taliban last summer. The Times was also named a finalist in the breaking news category for its coverage of the accidental shooting death of a cinematographer on the set of the low-budget western “Rust.”

Yam’s award was the 49th Pulitzer Prize for The Times since 1942, including six gold medals for public service, which is journalism’s highest calling.

When the Pulitzers were announced Monday, I thought of the 1984 gold medal series produced by a team of Latino journalists, editors and photographers at The Times. It was a groundbreaking series of articles. The stories defied simplistic storylines and stereotypes that were often in reports about Mexican American and emerging Central American communities in Southern California. The series was published in digital form in 2020.

For me, the series underscores the value of having a newsroom that reflects the diversity of the communities it covers and the importance of giving back to the community. Two of the editors who led the landmark project, Frank Sotomayor and George Ramos, were my mentors and friends. Ramos died in 2011, and Sotomayor has been retired from The Times for a number of years.

Sotomayor wrote a book about the series and the 17 journalists who collaborated on the project. He was a pioneer who helped found organizations such as the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education and CCNMA: Latino Journalists of California, both of which helped open the door for a generation of reporters like me. He and I still keep in touch, and during my time in the news business, I’ve tried to help younger reporters in the same way that Ramos, Sotomayor and others helped me.


And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

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Laguna Niguel residents return to ruins after wind-driven Coastal fire devastates community near the Pacific Ocean. Residents returned to the charred rubble that was once their homes Thursday as investigators tried to determine the cause of the blaze that tore through the upscale neighborhood. The fire, whipped by fierce ocean winds, destroyed at least 20 homes and forced hundreds of residents to flee as flames swooped down on the canyon community. Officials said the investigation is still in its early stages, but Southern California Edison issued an initial report Thursday to state regulators saying that “our information reflects circuit activity occurring close in time to the reported time of the fire.” Los Angeles Times

Buscaino drops out of L.A. mayor’s race, endorses Caruso. Los Angeles City Councilman Joe Buscaino announced Thursday that he was dropping out of the race for mayor and backing billionaire developer Rick Caruso. The announcement, just weeks before the June 7 primary, could be a boost for Caruso’s candidacy, allowing him to consolidate support from voters who feel the city has been too lax in preventing the proliferation of homeless encampments on public property. Buscaino, a former LAPD officer, saw his messages on homelessness and public safety seized by Caruso after he entered the race. Los Angeles Times

L.A. pilot program providing legal services for immigrants is here to stay. The Los Angeles City Council has approved a program to provide legal representation at no charge to immigrants facing deportation. Under the program, priority will be given to unaccompanied children, immigrants who are experiencing homelessness or are at risk, people under Temporary Protected Status, asylum seekers and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients. Advocates say the program illustrates the city’s commitment to social justice and due process. LAist

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California’s minimum wage to rise to $15.50, triggered by rising inflation. Advisors to Gov. Gavin Newsom said Thursday that the minimum wage for all employers will rise to $15.50 an hour in January. It was the first time that rising inflation has triggered a provision of a 6-year-old state law governing automatic pay increases. The governor’s budget director said the wage increase will help low-income families struggling with the rapid rise in prices for a wide variety of items. Los Angeles Times

New fund launched to help Native Americans preserve their history. The Decolonizing Wealth Project, a racial equity organization, announced it will distribute $500,000 to Indigenous California communities to support storytelling and healing. The group hopes to raise more than $5 million to provide grants to Indigenous communities across the state. Among other things, the funds would pay for digitizing tribal oral histories and documenting tribal land loss. The project is a collaboration with the California Truth and Healing Council, which was established by Newsom to examine the historic relationship between the state and Native American communities and to promote truth and healing. CalMatters


More bad news for the Golden Globes. A longstanding member of the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn., which is behind the Golden Globes, has filed a lawsuit alleging sexual harassment, discrimination and breech of contract. The lawsuit was filed Thursday in Los Angeles County Superior Court by Husam “Sam” Asi and comes three months after he was put on probation by the association following allegations of sexual misconduct, prompting a third-party investigation into his actions. Asi alleges that the association is “weaponizing false sexual misconduct allegations” against him in retaliation for “his attempts to hold it accountable,” according to court records. The lawsuit comes as the association attempts to move beyond a controversy sparked by a Times investigation in February 2021 that raised questions of ethical and financial lapses, and revealed that the then-87-member association did not have any Black members. Los Angeles Times

3-year-old girl allegedly killed in ‘exorcism’ at San Jose church. The child died in September after family members performed a ceremony to “liberate her of her evil spirits,” according to media reports. Claudia Hernandez, mother of Arely Naomi Proctor, was arrested and charged with assault on a child resulting in death, the Mercury News reported. Court records show that Hernandez was charged in February. The incident occurred at the Iglesia Apostoles y Profetas, a tiny Pentecostal church that operates out of a basement in a San Jose home. Los Angeles Times

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Climate-driven wildfires and heat waves threaten summer youth camps across California and the West. Climate change is threatening the existence of summer camps, some of which have already lost income from the COVID-19 pandemic and rising food and energy prices. Since 2013, wildfires in California have destroyed historic summer camps from Malibu to Tahoe. Urban camps are facing uncertainty as heat waves and toxic smoke from faraway fires upend their business. “When there’s a fire, you’re looking at heat maps and wondering if this place you love is still there,” says Andy Moeschberger, director of Gold Arrow Camp in the Sierra Nevada south of Yosemite National Park. Bloomberg


National Parks Service report names top tourist destination in California (hint: it’s not Yosemite). Golden Gate National Recreation Area in Marin County was the third-most visited park in the nation in 2021, according to a report by the National Park Service. With 13.7 million visits, the Bay Area park beat out popular attractions such as Arizona’s Grand Canyon National Park and Washington’s Lincoln Memorial. Yosemite was No. 21 on the list with about 3 million visits last year. Sacramento Bee


San Francisco’s famed Ghirardelli Square aims for a new vibe. The landmark location is trying to shed its image as a tourist destination by featuring fine restaurants that attract a local clientele. “If you build a place for tourists, locals won’t come,” said Michael Phillips, president of developer Jamestown, which bought the retail portion of the square near Fisherman’s Wharf in 2013. Among the new restaurants in the historic square are the San Francisco Brewery Co., the Cheese School and Palette Tea House. San Francisco Chronicle

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Los Angeles: Sunny and 86. San Diego: Sunny and 75. San Francisco: Partly cloudy and 70. San Jose: Partly cloudy and 79. Fresno: Sunny and 87. Sacramento: Sunny and 84.


Today’s California memory is from Lenore Swan:

Lake Erie runs through my veins, still. I moved to California in 1999 following the loss of my husband a year earlier. Over dinner in Reno, the reality that I was too far west to turn around weighed heavily on me. I remember thinking, “Why am I doing this? This place is so ugly. Everything is brown.” About three years in, as I was driving south from San Jose to L.A. in the late summer, I observed the different shades of pale yellow, amber, gold and brown, and then, finally, I appreciated why California is nicknamed the Golden State.

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

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