Chapter 10: "Si Se Puede!"1Chicana/o Activism in San Diego 1965-2000
12. How did Chicanos extend the Chicano movement to local electoral politics?
In the 1970s, at the state level, Governor Edmund "
Jerry" Brown had decided to "
tilt" toward Mexican Americans in California. He appointed Mexican Americans to various positions in the executive branch of the state government. The new appointees included Celia Ballesteros, a San Diego attorney, who was appointed to the California State University Board of Trustees, making her the first Chicana to serve on this policy-making body in the history of California. Besides enabling Ballesteros to make history, the appointment enabled Ballesteros to begin to develop credentials for holding elected office in a community where the absence of representation by Chicana/os in government had been explained by some observers as a function of the lack of individuals with appropriate qualifications and demographic limits.
In 1983 she declared her candidacy for the District 8 seat, placing her in opposition to Martinez who had chosen to seek re-election. The Chicano voters in the primary election supported Ballesteros. However, Martinez was elected by voter’s city wide in the citywide runoff, much to the dismay of Chicano activists, who desired advocacy and promotion of Chicano interests.
In 1986, Ballesteros became a member of the city council, when Martinez was removed after being convicted of misusing his city-issued credit card. Ballesteros’ appointment was on the condition that she pledged not to run for re-election, however, making the maintenance of representation for Chicana/os problematic. Although limited by the terms of her appointment, Ballesteros strove to advance the interests of Chicana/os. But, in November 1987, the representation ended when Robert Filner defeated Michael Aguirre, a candidate supported by the Chicano Federation, in the District 8 runoff election.
Aguirre’s defeat again highlighted the barrier posed by the city’s at–large election system for Chicano candidates. As Ballesteros had learned earlier, the election system, among other things, imposed a financial burden of running a political campaign, which few Chicano candidates could bear. Aguirre’s defeat underscored that "
playing by the rules" would not translate into actual representation. Therefore, Chicana/os decided to abandon adherence to the rules. One of the major legacies of the Chicano movement, the Chicano Federation, spearheaded the challenge to the rules. First, it joined with several organizations to form Neighborhoods for District Elections (NDE) and began to wage a campaign to establish a district election system. Next, it sought to capitalize on a historic development six years earlier, the passage of the 1982 Voting Rights Act.
On January 25, 1988, the Chicano Federation filed a class action lawsuit, Chicano Federation and Mirna Perez v. City of San Diego, alleging that the city’s use of at-large elections and the division of councilmen’s districts had disenfranchised Chicano and other Latino voters, leaving them from meaningful participation in the political process. According to the Federation, the city’s electoral practices violated the Voting Rights Acts of 1965 and 1982 by "
diluting" the impact of the Chicano vote to the point where it had not effect. The Federation also claimed that San Diego City officials had engaged in intentional discrimination against Latino voters by "
fracturing" their communities through the redistricting process.
Sí, se puede" is Spanish for "
Yes, it is possible" or, roughly, "
Yes, it can be done."