Nation — 03 August 2013

By Victor Abalos

(Editor’s Note: Anaheim, California — the home of Disneyland — was historically a city with a white majority. Latinos are now the majority, but there no Latinos on the Anaheim City Council. That has sparked calls for changing the city’s at-large voting system to elections by district. Victor Abalos, a public affairs and communications consultant who works extensively with Latino organizations, has written this open letter to the Anaheim City Council.)

logo_anaheimDear Anaheim City Council Members:

How does it feel to swim against the tide of history?

I find it disappointing, maybe even a little surprising, that you continue to resist efforts to bring even the most basic kinds of democratic reforms to your city – reforms dozens of other cities all over the state have already instituted. After all, you are not an ignorant or uneducated lot.

Among you are writers, historians, former state policy officials, and lawyers. You can’t be blind to how this state and your city have changed.  Can you?

Perhaps you’ve convinced yourselves that you really are looking out for the best interests of all the residents of your city by resisting the call for district elections. It’s possible you believe an all-white city council elected through at-large elections can truly represent and govern a city where more than half the residents are Latino.

I know there are some among you who recognize change is imminent. I believe some of you agree with the residents that have been hounding you at your meetings, calling not only for election reform but also greater police oversight and greater investment in poor and working-class neighborhoods.

But the majority of you have decided to resist and now you’re going to waste your city’s precious resources fighting lawsuits you will lose behind a strategy that’s really nothing more than a tragic exercise in denial.

On the other hand, maybe you do see the handwriting on the wall and it scares you. Maybe it’s because the city you now govern no longer resembles the Anaheim you grew up in, or wherever it was you came from, and you’re struggling to find a way to resolve that.

I don’t blame you. I may even sympathize. Change is frightening, even terrifying if what you’re scared of is a real threat. But what is it exactly you fear? Are you worried Latinos will over-run Anaheim? My friends, that’s already happened. More than half of your fellow residents identify themselves as either Hispanic or Latino. Less than 28% of your neighbors identify as non-Hispanic white.

Latinos are everywhere in Anaheim, even the Hills. Who’s cleaning your house? Who’s cutting your grass? Who’s in the kitchen in any of your favorite restaurants? Even Disneyland, the Happiest Place on Earth, has Latinos on the payroll. (Pay close attention to Pocahontas, you may hear an accent).

All I can suggest is; don’t be scared. The Anaheim of the future, the Anaheim you may have feared, has already arrived. That future comes to you in the form of your neighbors, your co-workers, your employees, and your customers and clients. But most of all, respected members of the Council, they are your constituents. All they’re asking for is your leadership.

But if you’re not ready or willing to exercise that kind of leadership: no problem. In less time that you think, you will be observing city government from the cheap seats of the chambers, watching and remembering and probably wishing you had paddled the other direction.

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Victor Abalos

Victor is a public affairs and communications consultant who works extensively with Latino organizations.

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