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Oral Histories: Politicians and Artists Find Common Cause Against Prop 187

Performance posters during the anti-187 campaign | 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.

In such a controversial campaign as Proposition 187, art and politics inenvitably mix. During the 1990s a number of politicians (established and aspiring) helped shape the campaign, as artists on the ground informed the public and inspired them to act. Meet a few of the players during a pivotal moment in California history. 

Learn more about Prop 187 and its consequences on "187: The Rise of the Latino Vote." Watch now.
187: The Rise of the Latino Vote (Media Manager)

Richard Polanco

Richard Polanco | Samanta Helou Hernandez for "187"
Richard Polanco | Samanta Helou Hernandez for "187"

In 1990, Richard Polanco assumed the chairmanship of the Latino Caucus, which was a small group. Still, he saw a political opportunity to grow the ranks of elected Latino representatives after the 1986 Amnesty Law, the 1990 Census and the reapportionment of districts. The previous decade had been one of tremendous growth of the Latino population in California.  “In 1992, the largest Latino class of members came in,” says Polanco. “This infusion really created a shockwave, brought our community to the table. In 1993, after term limits kick in, Cruz Bustamante becomes the first Latino speaker of the California Assembly in the modern era. Polanco believes in the importance of representation “that reflects the diversity that brings together different cultures and ideas and believes to the big table of the fifth largest economy in the world.” Listen to his full interview.

Gloria Molina

Gloria Molina | Ricardo Palavecino for "187"
Gloria Molina | Ricardo Palavecino for "187"

In her public career, Gloria Molina achieved a lot of “firsts.” In 1982, she was the first Chicana elected to the California State Assembly. She challenged an established network of eastside Latino male politicians, some of whom told her openly that she couldn't compete. In 1987, she was the first Latina elected to the Los Angeles City Council. And in 1991, after a landmark case that found Los Angeles County discriminated against Latinos in splitting up their voting strength to keep them from electing a county supervisor of their choice, she was elected L.A. County Supervisor for the first district of Los Angeles. It was a historic moment that introduced a woman of color in a government body that was tremendously powerful, all-white and male. Listen to her full interview.

Alex Padilla

Alex Padilla | Ricardo Palavecino for "187"
Alex Padilla | Ricardo Palavecino for "187"

In California, there is a generation of public officials, activists, scholars, professors and others who were shaped as a result of Proposition 187. Many were coming of age at that time, and their whole perspective on what they were going to do with their lives changed completely because of it.  Alex Padilla has been one of the most successful ones. Today, he is the Secretary of State for California. His tenure as the chief elections officer for the state has been marked by efforts to facilitate voter registration and, in his words: "to have as an inclusive democracy as possible.” Listen to his full interview.

Richard Montoya

Richard Montoya | Ricardo Palavecino for "187"
Richard Montoya | Ricardo Palavecino for "187"

A part of performance group Culture Clash, Richard Montoya and his collaborators used their political humor to “ignite something that would get the U.S. Latino kids enraged about this (initiative), get them going, get them to stand up and say, ‘We can´t tolerate this anti-immigrant fervor.” Listen to his full interview.

Lalo Alcaraz

Lalo Alcaraz | Samanta Helou Hernandez for "187"
Lalo Alcaraz | Samanta Helou Hernandez for "187"

Known for "Daniel De Portado," "La Cucaracha" and his political cartoons, Lalo Alcaraz's biting commentary on the politics of today has grown more bold — and popular — than ever. He has published best-selling books, been a Pulitzer-prize finalist, a cultural consultant for the Oscar-winning Day of the Dead-themed animated hit Pixar movie “COCO.” But his subject is still the same because anti-immigrant politics have only grown louder since 1994 in the United States. Listen to his full interview.

Top Image: Performance posters during the anti-187 campaign | Still from "187" 

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Pages of La Opinion newspaper | Still from "187"

Educators and Journalists Help Us Understand Prop 187

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 the state
Rally against Prop 187 with American and Mexican flags waving | Still from "187"

Civil Rights Leaders and Students Who Laid It On the Line for Immigrant Rights

The campaign against Proposition 187 was a call to action for many people from all walks of life. For those with years of legal training, it was signal to use their training to support the immigrant community. For students, it was an awakening.
"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.