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Escondido Hispanics Feeling Under Siege

Created: 24 September, 2010
Updated: 13 September, 2023
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10 min read

PictureD are just some of the community members coming together one afternoon to talk about the Hispanic community in Escondido. From the back left to right. Carlos Ronquillo, Jason Everitt, Daniel Alfaro, Mark Skok, Victor Torres and unidentified. Front row, Unidentified, Laura Carpio, Carmen Miranda, Cristina Griffith, and Miranda Griffith.

    The City of Escondido is microcosm for the rest of the country as their demographics have gone under dramatic changes. The Hispanic community is growing by leaps and bounds and it is this dramatic growth that has the once majority community, that still maintains a political advantage, on edge and the Hispanic community feeling defensive and vilified.

    In 1990 the Hispanic community represented 23.3% of the total population in Escondido. In 2000 the Hispanic population had grown to 38.7%. The 2010 estimates for Escondido have the white population falling behind the Hispanic population for the first time. In 2010 Hispanics represent 45.5% of the population while the white population is now at 44.1%

    Change is always tough and with Escondido’s political elite they have chosen to take a hard stance against the Hispanic growth and in general making the community feeling unwelcomed. This tough stance against Hispanics has this community feeling like second class citizens looking for answers. That is the bad news!

    The good news is that members within the Hispanic community are coming together, organizing, and planning for the immediate future to become full partners in the political process and bring about a change of attitude.

    This sentiment of unity was reflected in a recent meeting held at the home of Carmen Miranda, a community organizer and candidate for the Escondido city council.

    Other community members attending this meeting included Daniel Alfaro with the National Latino Regional Center, a human rights committee, Tom Flores an attorney representing a client who have had their car impounded during a drivers license check point; Chris Nava a longtime activist with Escondido Democratic Club; Jason Everitt, candidate for Escondido City Council; Carlos Ronquillo, longtime resident of Escondido; Bill Flores founder of El Grupo; Victor Torres, attorney and president of El Grupo; and Jenifer Leiendecker a community activist against checkpoints.

    It was a diverse group of young and old, professionals and community activist all coming together to address such issues as ICE agents riding along with the Escondido police,  police traffic stops that were unfairly targeting Hispanic communities, and political empowerment.

    Carlos Ronquillo, a San Diego police officer, described an Escondido that was, at one time, inviting to Hispanics. “When we first moved to Escondido 27 years ago we thought it was an ideal place to live,” describe Ronquillo. “When we were moving into our new house the neighbors came over with a welcome basket and invited us into the neighborhood. Back then we felt welcomed. Today we no longer feel welcomed.”

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    When asked when the change from a welcoming community to one that ostracized the Hispanic community came about both Carmen and Carlos said it was right after the passage of Proposition 187 in 1994.

    Prop. 187 was a petition drawn up by right-wing extremist, championed by Governor Pete Wilson, who took some very extreme views about denying benefits to illegal immigrants.

    The proposition was ruled un-constitutional but it was too late, the success of the proposition at the polls gave wings to those who felt overwhelmed by the fast growing Hispanic community.

    The anti-Hispanic sentiment found a home in Escondido. North County has always been home to a conservative point of view with the Republican Party dominating the political landscape, that and a lack of political participation by the Hispanic community, made Escondido politics fertile ground for an anti-Hispanic movement.

    Feeding the anti-Hispanic fear is the very real issues of a large immigrant community that lives in Escondido and the surrounding areas which provided the fuel for Escondido City Council to move forward with their agenda.

    North County is known for their agriculture production including large avocado farms, strawberry fields, flower fields, orange groves, and the other businesses that thrive in this type of community. An immigrant work force is a necessity for these businesses. Migrant farm workers are needed but not welcomed.

    After Prop. 187, Escondido along with other states and cities began to take on the immigration issue head on. Hazel-ton, Pennsylvania which was the first city to pass an ordinance banning apartment rentals to immigrants, shortly thereafter, in 2006, Escondido City Council took up the cause and passed their own ban on renting to immigrants.

    “They have criminalized a segment of the community, they have blamed a segment of the community for the problems of the city,” stated Ronquillo. “Frankly we are tired of this attitude and we are feed-up with the fact that, as a community, of being labeled as trouble makers.”

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    According to the Council member of Escondido, Marie Waldron, in ’06, the ordinance was needed to counter what she called a lack of initiative to address illegal immigration at the federal level and that the country’s sovereignty was under attack by a wave of illegal immigrants.

    The city council person behind the ordinance and who was identified by the group as manifesting the anti-immigrant movement was Sam Abed. In a recent article Sam said “The problem isn’t having many Hispanics, just that they don’t try to assimilate into the community.

    “They still look back instead of looking forward,” he said. “Escondido has accepted immigrants from all over the world, but … we need to have a diversity in the immigrant community — from low skill to highly educated skills.”

    “I was born in National City and grew up there so I have that South Bay experience,” stated Victor Torres. “In talking to Bill (Flores), talking to Carmen, talking to some of the other folks here I really came to realize that this is Mayberry and Barney Fife is running the show. It is such a backward place in terms of the reason why these guys are getting elected is because of fear! It is the same fear that I saw when I was a kid in National City.”

    “When I was a kid in National City I grew up on 21st and C Street and here we were with two Mexican families on the whole street and as long as we were the good Mexicans we were okay,” continued Torres. “But as other Mexicans started moving in there started to be problems because of the fear, fear that ‘my property values were going to go down, the crime rate is going to go up, this is going to turn into another Tijuana, a fear of the unknown.”

    The rental ban was in reaction to the growth of the Hispanic community and served more as a symbol of the fear within the white community of the changes coming. The ordinance polarized the Escondido communities in their attempt to send the message that Hispanics are not welcomed in the city.

    The rental ban was passed, but it never became law. It was a question of Constitutionality and was met with a swift legal challenge by local landlords, immigrants and civil rights groups, who claimed the rental ban was both unconstitutional and in violation of various state and federal laws.

    “The bottom line here is that there are just too many brown people here and we have got to get rid of them and we will do whatever we can to get rid them,” stated Bill Flores. “The easiest, largest, and most vulnerable section of the brown community is the undocumented, so the city council is going after them. The truth is that there are so many brown people that the political establishment can see the writing on the walls. They see the demographics are changing and they know that the political power is changing and they don’t like it!” concluded Flores.

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    The city council was disappointed that the rental ban was thrown out, but it did not deter them in their effort to send the message that Hispanics are not welcome in their city. Using federal grant money the city used the police department to set up DUI traffic stops in predominately immigrant and Hispanic neighborhoods.

    The DUI check points were a way for the police to check for registration and driver licenses. Without either license or registration their vehicles were towed and held for 30 days, the maximum allowed. The cost would be in the thousands of dollars to retrieve their cars.

    Now there is an issue of ICE agents driving with the Escondido Police Officers conducting immigration searches and seizures.

    It was this anti-Hispanic attitude that motivated Olga Diaz to run for office and in 2008 becoming the first elected Hispanic on the City Council. But she is a lone voice on a council dominated by the anti-Hispanic coalition of Sam Abed and Marie Waldron.

Carmen Miranda running for Escondido City Council. In a tough race she is counting on the Hispanic community to come out and become invloved in the political process, the Hispanic community can make all the difference.

    “The only way we are going to change political attitudes is to change who is running the show. If we really want to change anything we have to concentrate on changing the leadership in City Hall,” stated Chris Nava. “As a group we have to unite to change the leadership and the only way we are going to do it is at the voting booth. We have to register people, we have to educate them on how to fill out the ballots, and we have to take them to the polls. The only way we are going to change things is take the power into our hands.”

    So why aren’t Latinos voting?

    “Latinos have been in Escondido for a long, long time. They have been oppressed for a very long time, sometimes overtly, most of the time subtly and there is a feeling here, it doesn’t make a difference, that they don’t want us, were not welcome here, they don’t appreciate us,” according to Torres. “I have gone to many city council meetings I have yet to hear one city council person, other than Olga Diaz, say one positive thing about the Latino community. There has been a whole list of negative things attributed to Latinos, but not one positive thing. That just reinforces what many Latinos already feel, what’s the point, what’s the point.

    “Our challenge is to light a fire under those 18,000 voters Latino voters that live here in Escondido, those 18,000 can make a difference. 18,000 votes, even half of that, 9,000 votes, can change the outcome in any election in this city.”

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    For an informative article on the DUI check points featuring community activist Jenifer Leiendecker please follow this link: http://www.sandiegoreader.com/news/2010/aug/04/city-lights-2

    For information on the candidacy of Carmen Miranda follow this link: http://www.carmenmirandanow.com/

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