Chapter 10: "Si Se Puede!"1Chicana/o Activism in San Diego 1965-2000
14. What opposition was there to Proposition 187 among San Diego Chicanos?
In resistance to Proposition 187, in July 1994, activists associated with the Chicano Federation and other activists who shared a liberal ideological orientation, formed San Diegans Against 187 (SDAG 187) and initiated a campaign against the proposition. In its campaign, SDAG 187 appealed to reason and to self-interest on the part of Chicanos and other Latinos by emphasizing the initiative’s threat to their civil rights. In so doing, the SDAG 187 also contested the notion that Proposition 187 was not anti-immigrant and race related, as some of the initiative’s supporters claimed.
During July and August, members of SDAG 187 sent representatives to forums on 187 and meetings of organizations, such as the Anti-Defamation League, developed information summaries on development related to 187 and mailed them to Latina/os in San Diego County, and held briefings on 187 by organizations such as the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund. In early September the organization held a rally in downtown San Diego. And, they launched voter registration drives. SDAG 187 opposition and the opposition of other organizations was further stimulated on October 1, by the launching of a new initiative by the Immigration and Naturalization Service under the leadership of the U.S. Attorney General for the border region, Alan Bersin. Dubbed "Operation Gatekeeper," the initiative built upon the concept of that illegal entry south of San Diego could be reduced through the flooding of the westernmost section of the border with Border Patrol agents. SDAG 187 and other Chicano immigrant advocates declared that the initiative was actually aimed at reducing the visibility of border crossings in the San Diego area and would only shift the movement of undocumented immigrants eastward where hazardous environmental conditions would exact a fatal cost on the immigrants.
In addition to implementing their campaign, San Diegans Against 187 also attempted to influence and channel the response of high school and college students who were angered by the rise of the proposition. In late October and November, the youth publicly articulated their anger in a series of walkouts and marches in opposition to the ballot measure. On November, for example, 7 students walked out of Gompers Secondary School and Memorial Junior High School in San Diego and marched to Chicano Park where they held a rally against Proposition 187.
As they marched, many waved Mexican flags to demonstrate pride in a heritage that they perceived to be under attack via the proposition. Like their counterparts, these students waged their protests in the fact of repeated efforts to channel their anger in ways that kept them on the campuses by administrators and to discouragement from San Diegans Against 187. A student leader of the protests declared:
Still other students joined chapters of MEChA or formed new chapters of the organization, in an anticipation of the advent of additional anti-immigrant and anti-Latino developments in the future. As a result extant chapters of MEChA were invigorated and ten new chapters of the organization emerged on secondary campuses.
The youthful resistance was endorsed and welcomed by La Unión del Barrio and the Raza Rights Coalition. They exhorted the youth to engage in protests. The student protests were consistent with their effort to raise consciousness and promote mobilization as part of the campaign to build a liberation movement. Once it became clear that the initiative would be on the ballot, the organizations attempted "
to expose 187 as part of a major campaign against Mexicans and other oppressed people." In contrast to analysis that treated the proposition as the result solely of demagoguery on the part of Governor Wilson and the handiwork of a few nativists, La Unión under the leadership of Ernesto Bustillos, linked the proposition to recent global political developments, in particular the rise of neoliberalism. La Unión declared that Proposition 187 was "
part of the New World Order to keep Mexicans colonized." The analysis carried the potential to move political thinking beyond the city, region, and state and enhance understanding of the consequences of globalization and the rise of neo-liberalism.
As predicted by the findings of voter surveys, voters approved Proposition 187 in late November. Shortly thereafter the proposition’s constitutionality was successfully challenged. Buoyed by the action, SDAG 187 began to disseminate information about the status of the proposition, the rights of undocumented immigrants and possible actions of law enforcement authorities. They also continued to encourage students to become involved in electoral politics and encouraged naturalization. The latter evoked a responsive chord among many Mexican immigrants for whom the advent and passage of the proposition became a political turning point. Immediately after the passage of the proposition, many such eligible immigrants began the process to achieve naturalization and subsequently electoral registration. In a rebuke of Governor Pete Wilson, who had ridden the initiative to re-election, and the Republican Party, many embraced the portrayal of Wilson and the Republican Party as foes and declared a Democratic partisan identification. The logic of the alienation from the Republican Party was affirmed shortly thereafter by a new development.
Sí, se puede" is Spanish for "
Yes, it is possible" or, roughly, "
Yes, it can be done."