Becoming Neighbors in a Mexican American Community: Power, Conflict, and Solidarity

By Gilda L. Ochoa | Go to book overview

Chapter 8
Revisiting and Envisioning the Processes of
Becoming Neighbors

The telephone rings late Monday evening on July 22, 2002. The familiar voice on the other end of the receiver updates me on the intricacies occurring in La Puente schools—a knife was found on a playground, elementary schoolchildren are being expelled, parents are organizing, there is dissatisfaction with a principal. Amidst the update on these dynamics in the local schools, the conversation shifts to the hiring of a new city manager in La Puente. I am told that the City Council may hire a former member of the Hacienda–La Puente Unified School District—a twenty-year veteran of the board who was involved in discussions to close schools and to eliminate bilingual education. This individual is widely known in local political circles, and he is a controversial figure among some community activists.

The following evening, the bimonthly La Puente City Council Meeting has begun. Mexican American and Mexican immigrant activists are at the meeting to demonstrate their opposition to the hiring of the former board member. Among them are several students who are relatively new to politics. Their youth and their matching white T-shirts make them hard to miss among the older residents who typically attend City Council meetings. They are MEChA students from a La Puente high school. Having just revived this organization at their school, they are present at the meeting proudly displaying their self-designed MEChA T-shirts.

As the meeting progresses, a community organizer addresses the council. He criticizes the former school board member and now contender for the city manager position because of what the organizer describes as a history of nepotism and mishandling of funds—using money from the school district’s general fund for a stadium at Glen A. Wilson High School in Hacienda Heights. He warns the City Council that members of the community, including the students from MEChA, are watching them.

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