Column: To the Chicanos, It Is How Narrowly a Candidate Lost

When you’re as politically impotent as are Mexican-Americans, the extent of the latest election defeat takes on an exaggerated significance.

With characteristic resignation, the Chicano candidate on election night watches for future trends more than immediate victories.

Perhaps the “best defeat” for the Chicano in Tuesday’s election was that of Abe Tapia, candidate in the 45th Assembly District. Looking over the election returns, Tapia was realistically jubilant.

“I got 29% of the vote and the district is 30% Chicano,” Tapia said. “I went out for the Chicano vote and that is what I got. Why should I complain?”

President of the Mexican-American Political Assn., Tapia conducted a strictly Chicano campaign: no Anglo advisors, no emphasis on party labels, no compromises.


The advice he did take was from Cesar Chavez who told him to organize the barrios and not worry about immediate results. Tapia lost the election but won the Chicanos. He’s not too sure what it all means right now but he smiles happily when he talks about all those Chicanos who went to the polls for the first time in their lives.

Another Chicano who has an impressive loss was Oscar Z. Acosta, a militant attorney who received more than 100,000 votes for sheriff. During the campaign, he defended establishment-shaking Catolicos por la Raza, spent a couple of days in jail for contempt of court and vowed if elected do away with the sheriff’s department as it is now constituted.

Acosta, easily recognized in court by his loud ties and flowered attache case with a Chicano Power sticker, didn’t come close to Sheriff Pitchess’ 1,300,000 votes but did beat Everett Holladay, Monterey Park chief of police.

A poet of sorts, Acosta complains about a society which prefers “the soft lights to the glare of nakedness” and castigates “people too weak in character to raise the necessary issues.”

Looking back at his campaign, which was confined mostly to self dramatization, Acosta is most proud of running as a Chicano who “stuck to my guns and never copped out to a thing.”

Why he got 100,000 votes for sheriff will have to be analyzed by political pundits. But in the Chicano community Acosta’s impressive loss was an enigmatic ray of sunshine.

Then there were the Mexican-American candidates who tried to win by more conventional means. The best known, of course, was Dr. Julian Nava who ran for the “non-partisan” office of superintendent of public instruction.

He got 500,000 votes to Max Rafferty’s 2 million votes and Wilson Riles’ one million plus votes. The fact that Nava, a Mexican-American, and Riles, a Negro, ran against each other strained black-brown relationships—unavoidable in the minorities’ desperate scramble for meaningful participation in our society.

To the Chicano, despite many valid arguments to the contrary, Riles’ victory means simply that blacks receive more support and understanding by Californians in general than do Chicanos.

Jess Unruh tried to salve this situation by publicly supporting a Mexican-American for controller, Herman Sillas, but apparently it was too late. Silas lost to fellow Democrat Ronald Cameron and Chicanos, whether fairly or not, blame the Democratic Party. The party, they complain, never goes all out for a Chicano candidate.

The Chicano candidate who many have his last “impressive loss” and will be missed is Richard Calderon who lost the nomination in the 29th Congressional District to State Sen. George E. Danielson by about 2,000 votes.

This is Calderon’s fourth defeat in politics, the last two by very small margins.

Commenting on Tuesday’s results, Rep. Ed Roybal, the only Mexican-American California congressman, lamented that Calderon could have won if he had gotten the votes another Mexican-American, Isaac Ruiz Jr., received in the race. Calderon lost by 2,000 votes and Ruiz received 2,000 votes.

Ah, Chicanos.