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187

Fabian Núñez: From Youth Organizer to One of California State’s Most Powerful Public Positions

- Written by: Pilar Marrero, Portrait by: Samanta Helou Hernandez

Find more firsthand accounts of the campaign against Prop 187 here.

At the time of Proposition 187, Fabian Núñez was a 27-year-old organizer making little money at a nonprofit called One Stop Immigration in the eastside of Los Angeles. 

Fast forward 25 years, Núñez has held one of the most powerful public positions in the State of California (Assembly Speaker) and left a mark in state policy.

Like others of his generation who faced Proposition 187, he went from a young organizer to politics or another career involving public policy.

As California Assembly Speaker, a position he held between 2004 and 2008, he led the passage of the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006. This landmark climate change legislation became a standard for other states and the U.S. Congress in addressing environmental challenges.  He considers this one of his major accomplishments.  

In total, he was in the California Assembly from 2002 to 2010.

However, it was the fight against 187 and Núñez's involvement with a small group of activists in putting together an unprecedented march by immigrants and their supporters in October of 1994 that would steer the young organizer into politics. 

“The year 1994 was a pivotal year and for me, if it had not been for my involvement at One Stop, my work organizing immigrants, defending undocumented immigrants in particular and being one of the primary organizers of the march, I don't think I would be where I am today.”

Núñez left electoral politics some years ago and is now a partner at a public strategy firm, but his current life is far from the streets of Tijuana, México and San Diego's Logan Heights, where he grew up as one of 12 children of working-class parents. 

His dad had been a bracero (contract farmworker) in the fields of California for years before Núñez was born in 1966.  By that time, the family was living in San Diego, his dad working as a gardener and his mom as a maid.

But the family returned to Tijuana, where Núñez spent the first few years of his life, before returning to San Diego again, to the working-class area of Logan Heights, a tough neighborhood east of downtown San Diego.

When Núñez was going to school in San Diego, a Republican politician called Pete Wilson had been elected mayor of the city. One time, Wilson went to his school “to talk about the things kids need to do to get good grades and have a good life.”

Núñez made good grades and briefly attended UC San Diego, and eventually, Pitzer College in Claremont, where he graduated in political science and education.  He married his college sweetheart Maria Robles and started a family. They have three children together.

In 1990, he joined One Stop Immigration in Los Angeles, after getting a call from a friend about “organizing immigrants” in the city. It was only a few years after the 1986 Immigration Control and Reform Act (IRCA) had legalized 3 million undocumented immigrants.

When Proposition 187 went on the ballot in 1994, he helped organize the immigrant community to participate in a march that would allow “the immigrants themselves to express their own humanity.” It was held October 16,1994 and was attended by 100,000 immigrants and their supporters.

Over the next ten years, Núñez would become political director of the powerful L.A. county Federation of Labor, and then a lobbyist for the Los Angeles Unified School District.

In 2001, then-Assemblyman Gil Cedillo declared he was running for a state senate seat, and Núñez ran for the assembly seat. He represented District 46 of the California Assembly between 2002 and 2010.

Núñez is married to Michelle M. Núñez and is a partner at Mercury Public Affairs.

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