If Latinos don’t mobilize to vote “no” in the California recall election, we can say goodbye to decades of progress for our communities.
The nativist power grab in our pro-immigrant state would also have ripple effects nationwide, emboldening other xenophobic Republican governors and potentially paralyzing immigration reform efforts in Congress.
Gov. Gavin Newsom has been one of the most pro-Latino governors in California history, appointing Latinos to significant leadership positions, such as the state’s first Latino U.S. senator, Alex Padilla, and giving Latino civil society groups a seat at the negotiating table from his first days.
Dolores Huerta, the 91-year-old civil rights icon and labor leader, described the governor to me this way: “He’s proven that he’s a friend of the Latino and immigrant community. And we need to keep him.”
Newsom’s pro-Latino approach is precisely the reason Republicans launched the recall in the first place. Just read the “reasons for the recall” in the official voter information guide: “Laws he endorsed favor foreign nationals, in our country illegally, over that of our own citizens.”
Here’s what Newsom did that enraged the Latinophobes who hide behind rhetoric about “our own” and illegal entry. He prioritized high-risk Latino neighborhoods for COVID-19 vaccines. He expanded college student loans for "Dreamers" seeking graduate degrees and made unprecedented investments in public education that helped working-class Latinos, including initiatives to lower the cost of textbooks and cover two free years of community college.
He backed COVID stimulus checks for undocumented Californians who have kept our state running as essential workers. He approved temporary housing for farmworkers who came down with COVID, as well as rent relief and tax cuts for small businesses. He secured health insurance for our undocumented seniors: our abuelitos who have sacrificed for us.
Recent polls on the recall election, however, show many Latinos don’t yet realize what’s at stake. An Emerson/Nextar poll found 54% of Latinos favoring the recall this month, a reversal of broad support for Newsom in May. Organizers tell me it’s because of anti-Newsom propaganda on social media and confusion about the recall.
Fernando Guerra, a Loyola Marymount University professor of political science and Latino studies, told me Newsom’s team has to do a better job of communicating what Latinos have gained: “This governor has done more for Latinos when it comes to education, health and economic integration than any other governor in the history of California.” Guerra called the recall backers “anti-Latino folks.”
Latinos are grieving and exhausted after suffering disproportionate financial and death tolls from the pandemic; 52% of us know someone who has been hospitalized or died. We’re recovering from four years of a race-baiting president and a surge in hate crimes.
Some Latinos have real reasons to be frustrated with Newsom and are struggling to make ends meet despite his support; the lockdowns were hard. “I mean, we do not catch a break,” said Armida Lopez, a Los Angeles resident from El Salvador who said the relentless challenges are causing some of her young friends to avoid thinking about the recall. That worries her because she knows things could get worse.
The Republican front-runner in the recall election, Larry Elder, wants to reverse sanctuary laws, healthcare for undocumented people and even birthright citizenship. He’s sought advice from former Gov. Pete Wilson, who oversaw California’s most anti-Latino decade. As a longtime mentor of former President Trump’s most sadistic advisor, Stephen Miller, Elder and his policies would make life worse for Black and brown people in every part of this state.
Sonja Diaz, UCLA’s Latino Policy and Politics Initiative founding director, said a successful recall would be a “lotto ticket for the Republican Party.” Republicans would use it in midterm election ads to rally national support for a right-wing agenda detached from science.
A victory for the Republicans could also dampen elected officials’ enthusiasm for policies that help Latinos, such as a pathway to citizenship for undocumented people in the reconciliation bill. “It will raise really significant questions about the idea that the Latino vote is a genuinely powerful political entity that’s capable of driving policy at any scale,” Roberto Suro, a journalism and public policy professor at USC, told me.
But many activists and organizers believe our community is going to show up for Newsom. We’re just late deciders, weighing everything carefully.
Assemblywoman Wendy Carrillo (D-Los Angeles) told me she thinks the recall is a “a wakeup call, much like Pete Wilson was in 1994 with Proposition 187.” She doesn’t blame Newsom for slow outreach about what’s at stake. “The governor and his team are doing the very best they can while they’re trying to save lives and have to deal with this unnecessary and costly election,” Carrillo said.
Newsom’s team is investing in Spanish- and English-language ads, text messages, phone calls and more. Organizers are knocking on doors, and Latina matriarchs are doing legwork to reach extended family.
“Most of our canvassers and people making calls are women talking to women, to make sure the entire household is defending all that we have gained,” said Angelica Salas, executive director of the immigrant rights group CHIRLA.
In California, progress for Latinos broadly benefits all residents by allowing our families to better contribute economically and to feel safe reporting crimes to police without fear of a loved one’s deportation.
Huerta, the civil rights leader who coined the phrase “Si se puede,” told me she believes the recall endangers humans everywhere because of its backers’ stoking of hate and disregard for facts, including climate change. But she believes Latinos will turn out to rescue the state.
“When you’re in the middle of the tornado, you can’t see what’s happening on the outside,” said Huerta. “But it’s really happening now for immigrant rights.”
We just have to keep educating our cousins and cousin’s cousins about the future Newsom has helped make possible — and why the recall backers want to put Latinos in what they believe is our rightful subservient place.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.