Many expressed their sense of shame of living in a city that is fearful of Brown people and children.
By Fredi Avalos, Ph.D.
The City of Escondido, California represents a civilization gone with the wind. Well, almost. The shifting political winds were easy to observe at the City’s planning commission meeting July 22. In front of more than 200 people and an estimated 250 who rallied outside City Hall, the commission reaffirmed their previous vote not to allow a foster care facility to operate for refugee children fleeing their countries’ violence and repression in Central America.
The children would have been housed in a vacant elder care facility in a quiet semi-rural neighborhood. The facility has its own parking and would be funded entirely by federal money. It is estimated the facility would bring in at least 100 jobs paying well over minimum wage and would increase revenue for the city a total of $8.5 million a year. Escondido tax payers would pay nothing but would gain a great deal fiscally. So what is the problem?
Since the imposition of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Latino populations have grown exponentially in North County cities. Today the population of Escondido is 52% Latino. The demographic shifts have left the aging white city leadership and many conservative white residents reeling.
These people are desperately searching for ways to turn back the clock to a time when Latinos were meant only to be seen, as domestic and manual laborers, and never heard from in the political process. In contrast to San Diego that has a well-established Latino leadership and political presence; Latinos in North County have only recently begun to develop a more unified political voice.
The lack of vision and humanity of Mayor Sam Abed and the City Council have turned Escondido into a cautionary tale. Other cities proudly claim they are nothing like it. Escondido has become a local, national and international scourge.
Racially motivated public policy is nothing new in this town. In 2006, the planning commission approved a rental ban that would require landlords and potential landlords to evict and report any suspected “illegal aliens” who may live in, or even inquire, about a house or apartment.
The ACLU immediately filed suit and the city was forced to overturn the ordinance and pay millions of dollars in fines. The city also tried to impose parking regulations that would greatly impact working poor Latino neighborhoods. Abed and the extremists on the city council also approved and oversaw the installation of driver license “check-points” again in mostly poor Latino neighborhoods.
ICE agents, who had offices in the Escondido Police Department, were also present to immediately impound cars and arrest anyone who did not have a driver’s license or could prove citizenship. The cruelty and terror these check points engendered will not be easily healed.
Clearly, power does not concede power without a fight and at the planning commission meeting on July 22 they got one. Students, church organizations, concerned citizens, White allies, and clergy held a march and filled the commission’s chambers with supporters of the child care facility. The audience was filled with mostly young Brown faces. The sharp contrast between the elderly all white male commissioners became a visible metaphor of Escondido’s past and its soon to be future.
Supporters who spoke in favor of the shelter outnumbered those who opposed it 5 to 1. Young men and women some as young as 13 spoke eloquently and pleaded with the commission to do the right thing. Other speakers reflected the anger and the frustration of living in a community that is openly hostile to them and their families.
Many expressed their sense of shame of living in a city that is fearful of Brown people and children. The commissioners were presented with overwhelming evidence that the proposed facility would not negatively impact the community.
Some pointed out that their recent decision to allow Walmart to open a mega store in a residential area did not engender as much concern about traffic that a facility housing well under 100 unaccompanied minors seem to elicit. The grim and red faced commissioners were not moved. Without hesitation or discussion, after hours of public comment, they immediately voted to uphold their previous decision.
If history is to repeat itself, there will be other lawsuits. As in the past, the overtly racially motivated nature of their decision will be easily exposed and many believe the decision will be overturned.
But the future of Escondido is not in the hands of the old white men who currently run the City or the aging conservative white population. The future will be determined by the young brown audience members who raised their voices for justice and their contemporaries.
Will the Latino communities of North County develop the necessary political machinery necessary to get out the vote? Will the growing population of young Latinos vote? The winds of change are blowing in their favor. But, they will have to build the sail.
Fredi Avalos, Ph.D., is a North County resident, university professor and Director of the Difficulty Dialogue Project of North County.