A man in civilian clothes looks at another man wearing an army uniform and resting a rifle in his arm. | "When Lambs Become Lions"

Link Voices

Start watching
HRzkkPW-show-poster2x3-pWmERoT.jpg

Foreign Correspondent

Start watching
A man looks out to a vast landscape of mountains and water. | From "Embrace of the Serpent" / Kino Lorber

Cinemondo

Start watching
RYQ2PZQ-show-poster2x3-OGargou.jpg

Earth Focus

Start watching
Rahaf Al Qunun | "Four Corners" episode "Escape from Saudi"

Four Corners

Start watching
jElHzF3-show-poster2x3-ilk2bxh.jpg

America ReFramed

Start watching
xKxYSKH-show-poster2x3-TLSXWK0.jpg

Tending Nature

Start watching
Heart Donate Icon
Support the world of Link TV with a donation today.
Sustaining Gifts Icon Card
Consider giving on a monthly basis to help continue to support us in our mission.
Planned Giving Icon
There are many ways to include Link TV in your plans for the future.

Oral Histories: Educators and Journalists That Helped Make Sense of Prop 187 and Its Aftermath

Pages of La Opinion newspaper | Still from "187"

As part of "187:The Rise of the Latino Vote," we're publishing the oral histories of some of the movement's pivotal players and the people whose lives it affected. Every week, new interviews will be added, adding to this rich archive.

Proposition 187 and its aftermath was a dizzying series of events that involved people from all sectors of society. We speak with educators and journalists who have studied the people and events involved. Through their lens, this pivotal time in California is understood more deeply. Here are the experts who helped us make sense of all. 

Learn more about this pivotal proposition "187: The Rise of the Latino Vote." Watch now.

Manuel Pastor

Manuel Pastor | Ricardo Palavecino for "187"
Manuel Pastor | Ricardo Palavecino for "187"

Dr. Manuel Pastor is Turpanjian Chair in Civil Society & Social Change, Distinguished Professor of Sociology (formerly in Geography) and American Studies and Ethnicity, Director, Program for Environmental and Regional Equity and Director of the Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration. He sees the nineties in California and the political tensions that showed up in several racially charged ballot initiatives as a reaction to rapid demographic change.

“It is no mistake that by 1999, the state had become majority people of color. And that was in transit through the 1990s. And it was that deep concern about a state changing demographically that really drove the underlying politics of that era,” says Pastor.

Moving forward in time to today, Pastor clearly says a similar dynamic at play in the larger United States.

“The United States seems to be passing through its own Prop 187 moment that is a sort of widespread attack on immigrants, but one that's actually deeply informed by fear of the demographic change that's occurring in the United States as a whole,” he explains. Listen to his full interview.

Fernando Guerra

Fernando Guerra | Ricardo Palavecino for "187"
Fernando Guerra | Ricardo Palavecino for "187"

Fernando Guerra founded Loyola Marymount University's Thomas and Dorothy Leavey Center for the Study of Los Angeles in 1996 in reaction to the city's 1992 race riots. His approach to the classroom is "research that leads to action that leads to justice.”

As a political scientist, Guerra has a simple explanation for what happened in California with Proposition 187. “Before ‘94, California is a red state. After ‘94, California becomes a blue state. It´s just that simple,” he says. Proposition 187 is a political earthquake in California that is still creating aftershocks. Twenty-six years later, the Trump era is creating an even more democratic state, where voter registration is lopsidedly democratic and “decline to state” registrants outnumber Republicans. Listen to his full interview.

Pilar Marrero

Pilar Marrero | Samanta Helou Hernandez for "187"
Pilar Marrero | Samanta Helou Hernandez for "187"

Pilar Marrero was four years into her distinguished career at the top Spanish language newspaper in Los Angeles, La Opinión, when Proposition 187 landed on the California ballot in 1994.

At the time, Marrero was one of five to six reporters at La Opinión covering immigration and the impact of Proposition 187, the voter-passed “Save Our State” initiative that sought to ban undocumented immigrants from accessing state services, from public education to drivers licenses. In addition, Proposition 187 would require teachers and other state workers to report “suspected” undocumented immigrants to the INS, which effectively legalized racial profiling of Mexican and other Spanish-speaking immigrants in California.

Marrero understood then the unique role she played as a Spanish language journalist in Los Angeles in the mid-1990s covering immigration issues. “The Spanish language media were often the only ones who would show up to [Prop. 187] press conferences,” notes Marrero. She added that with mainstream media absent, by default, outlets like La Opinión were designated to tell the immigrant side of the story related to this nativist initiative.

The rise of Proposition 187, Pete Wilson’s campaign for California governor, and his Republican-backed victory that hinged on his embrace of the “wedge issue” of “illegal immigration” catalyzed La Opinión and other Spanish-language media to serve as a critical voice for news and information serving immigrant communities from Mexican and Latin America.

For Marrero, her job was to amplify immigrant stories and voices. Listen to her full interview.

Raphe Sonenshein

Raphael J. Sonenshein | Ricardo Palavecino for "187"
Raphael J. Sonenshein | Ricardo Palavecino for "187"

Raphe Sonenshein , who today is the executive director of the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at California State University, explains the trajectory of California, its political parties and communities through one of their most turbulent times. He also explores what all of that means today. 

Sonenshein grew up in the Cold War era, where many people were afraid "that the Russians were coming” for the U.S. and its way of life and that they would unleash nuclear war.  But in 1994, California politicians turned that fear — right after the Cold War ended — and gave it a local flavor, he says.  A similar type of rhetoric showed up in the campaign for Proposition 187, especially a very famous ad by Gov. Pete Wilson, which showed people running across the border from Mexico and a voice saying “they keep coming.” Listen to his full interview.

Celia Lacayo

Celia Lacayo | Ricardo Palavecino for "187"
Celia Lacayo | Ricardo Palavecino for "187"

Celia Lacayo was born in El Salvador and came to the U.S. when she was three years old, growing up in the Bay Area. She received her Ph.D. in Ethnic Studies from the University of California Berkeley. Her research interests include Race & Ethnicity, Immigration, political behavior and Media. She finished a postdoctoral fellowship at UCLA with the Institute of American Cultures in the Sociology Department and is now Associate Director of Community Engagement for the College of Letters and Science.

Lacayo, an adjunct professor at UCLA, shows the pro-187 “they keep coming” ad in her university class to illustrate how it all came about in California in 1994. The students learning of this today were not even born then, and she points to the "codes" used in that ad which, she believes persist to this day.

“I can definitely see many connections with Proposition 187 and what is happening today in our country,” she points out. "One way to think about it is that demographic change really spurred more and more whites to be fearful of Latinos and to vote on that fear. That's how we get Trump; he tapped into that fear.” Listen to her full interview.

Top Image: Pages of La Opinion newspaper | Still from "187"

Related Content
"Alerta!" Serigraph experiment, 26 x 20", 1987 at Self Help Graphics | Courtesy of Yreina D. Cervántez

How Prop 187 Shaped Artists Coming of Age at the Time

During the ‘90s, Chicanx youth were coming of age in world that increasingly criminalized Black and Brown youth and marginalized communities of color. Prop 187 would become one of the catalysts for a newfound activism.
People holding up signs that say "Wilson blaming the worldwide recession on the Immigrants" protesting Prop 187. | Still from "187"

The Fight is Far from Over: Prop 187, a New Jim Crow and Immigration Today

Prop 187 is an important lesson about the strength of a galvanized Latino electorate but highlights the need for continued vigilance in the 21st-century immigration policy landscape.
Protestors shout from a bus against Proposition 187 | Still from "187"

California is the United States of America, Just Sooner

Experts see a mirror image between the anti-immigrant and anti-minorities movements in the 1990s, the political change it brought to the state, and the current state of the nation.