Chicano Representation in California: Taking Control of their Destiny
The End of World War II
The year was 1947 and the place was California. World War II had ended two years earlier and millions of American GI’s had returned home to their families and jobs. The Great Depression had ended with the coming of World War II and California – like the rest of the country – was experiencing a newly found economic prosperity.
As a result of this prosperity, Los Angeles was drawing large numbers of people from all around the United States and from Mexico. Between 1940 and 1950, the population of California increased from over 6 million people to 10 ½ million. During the same period, the population of Los Angeles County jumped from 3 million to 4.7 million people.
During World War II, hundreds of thousands of Hispanic Americans had served in the U.S. military, many receiving decorations for their service to their country. These proud veterans returned to their native land, but still experienced many forms of discrimination and prejudice in the job market.
However, as the war drew to an end, an important piece of legislation presented Chicano veterans with an opportunity for advancement in California. The G.I. Bill Act of June 22, 1944 – or the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act [Public Law 346, 78th Congress, Title III, §§500-503, 58 Stat. 284, 291-293 (1944)] – put higher education within the reach of thousands of Mexican-American veterans. The Veterans' Readjustment Assistance Act of 1952 [Public Law 550, 82nd Congress, July 16, 1952, Ch. 875, 66 Stat. 663, 38 U.S.C. 997] provided similar privileges to Korean War veterans.
Over the next decade, Mexican-American veterans
attended local and nationwide colleges and universities to obtain college
degrees. In many cases, these vets were the first members of their
families to receive a higher education. Armed with the weapon of
education, many of these Chicano veterans became the politicians of the
1960s and 1970s.
The Emergence of Edward Roybal
It was in this vacuum of non-representation that a unique individual came onto the scene. More than any other person, Edward Roybal would pave the way for two generations of Mexican-American Californians, who would achieve representation in the Los Angeles City Council, the U.S. Congress, or the California Legislature.
Born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Roybal had come to Boyle Heights in 1922 with his parents, when his unemployed father sought new employment. Roybal graduated from Roosevelt High School and attended UCLA before going to World War II. After the war had ended, he returned to Los Angeles and became the Director of Health Education for the Los Angeles County Tuberculosis and Health Association.
In 1947, 30-year-old Edward R. Roybal decided to run for councilman of the 9th Council District, which included Boyle Heights, Bunker Hill, Civic Center, Chinatown, Little Tokyo, and the Central Avenue District. The racial makeup of the district’s 185,033 residents was: 45% White, 34% Latino, 15% African American, and 6% “other.” Even Roybal’s political base, Boyle Heights, was just 43% Hispanic at the time, while 34% of the inhabitants were native-born Whites.
Professor Katherine Underwood has analyzed Roybal’s run for office and noted that Roybal’s first campaign lacked endorsements and neglected voter outreach. In the primary election on April 1, 1947, Edward Roybal and three other candidates ran against the incumbent councilman, Parley Parker Christensen. On Election Day, Christensen won 8,948 votes, while Roybal came in third with 3,350 votes (15% of the total ballots cast). Seventy-five percent of Roybal’s support had come from Boyle Heights. (Katherine Underwood, “Pioneering Minority Representation: Edward Roybal and the Los Angeles City Council, 1949-1962,” Pacific Historical Review – 1997).
Following this loss, Roybal became involved with several of his campaign supporters to create the CPO (Community Political Organization) in September 1947. The organization, which was later renamed CSO (Community Service Organization), became the first broad-based organization within the Mexican-American community, representing veterans, businessmen, and workers.
The primary goal of the CSO was to register Mexican Americans to vote. For this purpose, the organization recruited 1,000 members and registered 15,000 new voters in the Latino sections of Boyle Heights, Belvedere, and East Los Angeles. By 1949, Roybal believed that he had enough support to run for the Ninth District seat once again.
In the April 5, 1949 primary election, Roybal knocked Daniel Sullivan and Julia Sheehan out of the council race by capturing 37% of the total votes cast. This forced a runoff with Christensen in the May general election. In the general election held on May 31, 1949, Edward Roybal soundly defeated six-term Councilman Christensen by a vote of 20,472 to 11,956, winning by a 2-to-1 margin. With this victory, Ed Roybal became the first Mexican American since 1881 to win a seat on the Los Angeles City Council. He would serve as Council member of the 9th District from July 1, 1949 to Dec. 31, 1962, before moving on to the U.S. Congress in 1963.
Even with Roybal’s victory, CSO continued its registration efforts. By 1950, some 32,000 Mexican Americans had been added to registration rolls, contributing to the election of businessman Albert G. Padilla to the San Fernando City Council. Mr. Padilla was made Council member on April 18, 1950 and served for four years. (Source: Elena Sanchez, San Fernando City Clerk). A year later, Roybal was reelected to the Council seat for the 9th District in the primaries on April 3, 1951 when he defeated Irving Rael by 17,941 votes to 5,762 votes (almost a 3-to-1 margin).
The Election of Charles Navarro (1951)
In the meantime, a second Hispanic, Charles Navarro, ran for the City Council. In the April 3 election, five candidates ran for the Council seat, representing District 10. In this primary election, left-wing Assemblyman Vernon Kilpatrick received 5,301 votes, while Navarro received the second largest number of votes with 5,077. Navarro and Kilpatrick thus advanced to a showdown in the general election, to be held in June.
The Los Angeles Times reported that this election represented “one of the bitterest Council fights in years,” pitting the Conservative income property owner and “champion of free enterprise” Charles Navarro “on a strong anti-Communist platform” against the left-wing Kilpatrick. Kilpatrick had already served for twelve years as an Assemblyman but, according to the Times, “had a long record of left-wing activities and associations.”
Once the complete returns had been tallied, Navarro had defeated Kilpatrick 9,075 votes to 7,382 on June 29, 1951 at the general election. Navarro took office as Councilman on July 1, 1951.
In the 1953 contest for the 9th District, Roybal ran unopposed, winning his seat in the April 7, 1953 primary election. Charles Navarro was also reelected at the same time. Very little changed in the political representation of Latinos for the rest of the 1950s. Edward Roybal sought the nomination for Lieutenant Governor in 1954, but failed.
Then in 1958, Ed Roybal announced that he would run for the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors. The outgoing Supervisor John Anson Ford endorsed Roybal. He and Councilman Ernest Debs opposed each other. The Eastside supported Roybal, but last minute defections hurt Roybal as several prominent Chicano leaders defected to Debs. Because Roybal had openly opposed the Chávez Ravine and Boyle Heights issues, the Los Angeles Times opposed him and endorsed Debs. On the first ballot, Roybal led by 393 votes, 139,800 to 139,407. But the County Voter Registrar reported that a 12,000-vote error had been made. After four recounts, Debs won 141,011 to 128,994.
In the 1950s, large numbers of Mexican Americans moved from Texas to the Midwest and California. By 1959, the Mexican-American population of Los Angeles County had increased to 600,000. However, aside from the two Latinos on the Los Angeles City Council, representation was nil. No Mexican American represented East Los Angeles or other Hispanic communities in Sacramento, nor did any Hispanic represent California in the U.S. Congress.
To address the issue of representation in California, the Mexican American Political Association (MAPA) was organized by 150 volunteer delegates at Fresno. Meeting for the first time in April 1959, MAPA
Delegates drew up a plan for direct electoral
politics. From the beginning MAPA declared that its main goal was to
become the political voice of the Mexican American community. Ed Roybal
was elected first MAPA president.
In 1961, Los Angeles City Councilman Charles Navarro decided to run for the office of City Controller, challenging the incumbent City Controller, Don O. Hoye, who had served in that capacity since 1957. In the May 31, 1961 General Election, Navarro coasted to an easy victory of the incumbent Hoye, taking a 2-to-1 lead over Hoye in the early returns and maintaining his lead throughout the night. The final tally from June 2, 1961 gave Charles Navarro 331,340 votes, well above Hoye’s 161,690 votes.
Charles Navarro took office on July 1st as City Controller, thus vacating his council position. Upon his victory, he stated, “I’ll miss the debates and personality clashes of the City Council, but I’m looking forward to my new responsibilities as controller.” An Anglo, Joe E. Hollingsworth, was appointed on August 25, 1961 to Charles Navarro’s unexpired term on the 10th District seat. Hollingsworth would be succeeded by Thomas Bradley, who was elected at the April 2, 1963 primaries to replace Hollingsworth on June 30, 1963. Bradley served the 10th District until July 1, 1973, when he became Mayor of Los Angeles.
1961 Reapportionment and Redistricting
In 1960, California had a total population of 15,717,204 persons. This new figure increased California’s representation in the U.S. Congress from 30 seats in 1950 to 38 seats. Roughly 1.5 million Hispanics made up more than 9% of the California population, but 20% of these Hispanics were foreign-born, many of whom were not naturalized and, as a result, were not eligible to vote. In Los Angeles, Latinos only made up 9.6% of the population in 1960, slightly above the African-American population of 7.6%.
As the new decade commenced, there were still no Chicanos in the State Senate, the Assembly or in the California Congressional delegation. There was no representation of the Mexican-American population in any part of California, primarily because of political fracturing. "Fracturing" is the drawing of district lines so that a minority population is broken up. Members of the minority are spread among as many districts as possible, keeping them a minority in all the districts.
Because of fracturing, the Latino community of Los Angeles was unable to concentrate its strength so that it might elect representatives in some of its districts. And so it was that the East Los Angeles Barrio, with its large population of Hispanics, was split up into nine different Assembly districts, seven State Senate districts, and six different Congressional Districts.
Most of these districts were combined with neighboring Anglo communities so that Hispanics rarely made up more than 20% of any one district's population. This district manipulation was effective in depriving the Latino community of legislative power and influence.
In 1961, with the 1960 census statistics as a guide,
the California Legislature reapportioned the Senate and Assembly pursuant
to section 6 of article IV of the California Constitution. Testifying
before the Reapportionment and Elections Committees of the Senate and
Assembly, Los Angeles City Councilperson Edward Roybal, complained about
the fragmentation of the Chicano communities in L.A. He stressed the
importance of creating Hispanic districts.
The California Supreme Court later ruled that California's congressional districts, as drawn in 1961, were unconstitutional and ordered reapportionment of the districts (Silver v. Reagan, 67 Cal. 2nd 452). Similarly, the Supreme Court also ruled that the Assembly and Senate would have to reapportion their districts (Silver v. Brown, 63 Cal. 2nd 270).
Although most of the redistricting that took place in
1961 resulted in obvious and continued gerrymandering of the Latino
community in the Los Angeles area, the increasing Latino population in the
Los Angeles area finally led to the election of Mexican-American
representatives. Most significant was the creation of a congressional
district, which would pave a way for Edward Roybal to run for Congress.
In the June 5, 1962 California Primary Election, thirteen Chicano candidates ran for office. City Councilman Edward Roybal had announced that he would run for the 30th Congressional District. Around the same time, Henry Mendoza, a Republican, announced that he would run for the 21st District.
Altogether, eleven Chicanos were on the ballot for the 40th, 45th, 48th, 50th, 51st and 77th Assembly Districts. In East L.A.’s 48th District, Frank Lopez and Frank Paz had run against each other in the primaries. Political analysts believed that Frank Paz might have won that election if he had not faced another Latino in the primary.
Of the thirteen candidates, only three men would take office following the November 6, 1962 General Election. In the primaries, John Moreno had faced three other Chicano Democratic candidates in the contest for East Los Angeles’ 51st Assembly District seat. A native of Los Angeles, Moreno had attended USC and served in the U.S. Navy from 1945 to 1947. Before running for his Assembly seat, John Moreno served as the Mayor of the City of Santa Fe Springs. Once elected, Assemblyperson Moreno would serve as the representative of the 51st District for only two years: 1963 and 1964.
Philip Soto, a Democrat from La Puente, was a veteran of the U.S. Air Force and was a member of the La Puente City Council prior to his service in Sacramento. He became the state representative for the 50th Assembly District.
With their November 6 elections, Philip Soto and John Moreno became the first two Latinos from Los Angeles County to be elected to the California State Legislature in the Twentieth Century. They were also the first Latinos to be elected to serve in the State Assembly since the election of Miguel Estudillo of Riverside County in 1907. The election of these two men set a precedent for a long line of Latino legislators committed to the service of their communities.
While Soto and Moreno celebrated their Assembly districts, Ed Roybal also savored his own victory. On November 6, 1962, after defeating Loyola University Professor William Fitzgerald, the City Councilman became the first Hispanic from California to be elected to Congress since the 1879 election of Romualdo Pacheco.
Edward Roybal took his seat in the House of Representatives on January 3, 1963 at the start of the 88th U.S. Congress. He would serve for twenty years from the 88th Congress to the 102nd Congress, retiring on January 3, 1993. At the start of his Congressional career, Representative Roybal represented the 30th District from 1963 to 1975. From 1975 to 1993, he served in the 25th District. In 1976, Roybal became one of the founding members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
As Ed Roybal prepared to run for Representative of the 30th Congressional District, he resigned from his City Council seat on July 31, 1962. An African-American, Gilbert W. Lindsay, was appointed to replace him on January 28, 1963, even though the 9th District had a large concentration of Latinos. Lindsay would serve in this capacity to Dec. 28, 1990, when he died in office. In three years, African Americans went from having no representation on the Los Angeles City Council in 1960 to having three representatives in 1963. At the same time, Latino representation went from two council members to zero.
The City Council apportionment of 1962 split East Los Angeles among seven councilmanic districts. Because of this fragmentation, Chicanos could not be a majority in any one of the city’s fifteen districts, even though they represented a large portion of seven of the council’s fifteen districts.
The 1964 Elections
In the June 2, 1964 California Primary Election, Ed Roybal received 49,151 votes in the 30th Congressional District, easily winning reelection to his Congressional seat. His closest opponents received only 15,153 and 13,228 votes.
In the elections for the California Assembly, many Chicano candidates stepped forward to seek a mandate for representing their communities. A total of eleven Chicanos ran for the 10th, 38th, 40th, 45th, 48th, 50th 51st, and 75th Assembly District seats. However, by the time the elections had ended, only one Hispanic Assemblymember would take office.
In the 50th Assembly District, Philip Soto
won reelection by 2,178 votes in the general election. Two years later in
1966, however, facing the same opponent in 1966, Soto would lose his seat
by 4,309 votes, most likely because of boundary changes to his district
after the 1966 reapportionment.
1965 Reapportionment of the California Legislature
In 1965, the California Legislature was forced to reapportion itself under order of the California Supreme Court. Governor Edmund “Pat” Brown called a special session of the Legislature to consider reapportionment, and, in October, the California Legislature passed Assembly Bill No. 1, which fashioned new Assembly and Senate districts.
However, the 1965 redistricting continued the fracturing and dilution of the East Los Angeles Chicano community. Five Assembly Districts – the 40th, 45th, 48th, 50th, and 51st – all dipped into East Los Angeles for 20-30 percent of their registered voters, while five other Assembly Districts – the 52nd, 53rd, 56th, 65th and 66th – all dipped in for smaller percentages. (Richard Santillan, “California Reapportionment and the Chicano Community: An Historical Overview 1960-1980,” in The Chicano Community and California Redistricting, Vol. I (Rose Institute of State and Local Government, Claremont Men’s College, 1981).
The 1966 Elections
In the 1966 California Primary Election on June 7, 1966, four Hispanics ran for the 14th, 19th, and 29th Congressional Districts, and all of them lost. Fifteen Chicanos also ran for positions on the Assembly. All of these candidates, some of whom opposed one another in the primaries, lost their elections. The one Latino incumbent, Philip Soto, lost by 4,309 votes,.
In addition, nine Latinos also ran for State Senate seats, the 9th, 10th, 27th and 28th and 30th. Richard Calderón received the CDC and MAPA endorsements for his bid for the 27th Senatorial District but lost by 311 votes. Cecilia Pedroza and Raúl Morín had splintered the Mexican-American vote, preventing Calderón from winning.
In his reelection bid for the 30th Congressional District, Ed Roybal received 48,117 votes against the 22,347 votes of his Republican opponent, Henry O’Bryant, Jr. This represented the only bright spot for the cause of Chicano representation in the 1966 election year.
Julian Nava’s Election (1967)
The election of Julian Nava in 1967 to the Los Angeles Unified School District Board was significant in many respects. He was the first Latino elected to the school board and he was able to defeat an incumbent in an at-large election. His vote total, over two million, was actually the largest ever received by a victorious Latino candidate in the United States up to that time. In an interview with the author, Julian stated that his election “lit fires in many places” and “inspired the famous ‘Walk Outs’ of the Los Angeles high schools in February of 1968, just seven months after I took office.” Julian explains that these walkouts took place because “the students (and their leaders) believed that for the first time their demands for reform might be met with one of their own on the school board.”
But Julian Nava’s surprise victory was one of the few events that gave representation to Latinos during this period. The author, Richard Santillan, in “Chicano Politics: La Raza Unida” explains that:
“After 1968, the Mexican-American… looked at the American political system and found that the Mexican-American after almost 120 years of being an American citizen did not have any real political voice. The Mexican-American tried to work in the two-party system, but the system failed him. In 1968, the California Legislature did not have one Mexican-American in the Assembly nor the Senate.” (Richard Santillan, Chicano Politics: La Raza Unida (Los Angeles: Tlaquilo Publications, 1973), p. 11).
The 1968 Elections
By 1968, the California Legislature was once again without Latino representatives. In the June 4, 1968 primary elections, 13 Latinos ran for Assembly seats. Philip L. Soto once again ran for the 50th Assembly seat again but lost one more time. By the time the elections had ended, only one Chicano was given a ticket to enter the Assembly.
In the primary election for the 40th Assembly District, the Democratic candidate Alex Garcia had faced twelve other candidates in the primary election, including four Hispanics. For Mr. Garcia, this election would begin a political career, as he served in the Assembly from 1968 to 1974 and in the State Senate from 1974 to 1982. Assemblyman Garcia was a veteran of the U.S. Army and a graduate of East Los Angeles Junior College, the University of California, Los Angeles and the Southern California Business School. Before his election to the State Legislature, Garcia was a field Representative for Congressman Ed Roybal for five years.
A New Decade (the 1970s)
The 1970s represented new opportunities for Chicano candidates. The beginning of true Hispanic representation would be established during these years. In 1970, California had a total population of 19,971,069 persons. Of this total, 2,369,292 were Hispanics, who made up 10.8% of the state’s total population. However, in this year, out of 15,650 elected and appointed officials at the municipal, county, state, and federal levels, only 310 (1.98%) were Chicanos (“Political Participation of Mexican Americans in California,” Report of the California Advisory Committee to the United States Commission on Civil Rights, Sacramento, Calif., August 1971, p. 15).
Of the 2.4 million Hispanics living in California, 490,892 were foreign-born, making up 22.9% of the total Hispanic population. Many of these people were not citizens and ineligible for American voting privileges. This represented a significant stumbling block in electing Chicanos to public office.
Assemblyman García was the lone Latino in the California Legislature at the beginning of 1970. However, in the June 2, 1970 primary election, three Republican Latinos ran for Congressional seats in the 9th, 16th and 22nd Congressional Districts. In addition, fourteen Chicanos also ran for Assembly seats in the primaries, but only two men won.
In the primaries, Alex P. Garcia won reelection to the 40th Assembly District by a wide margin, getting 15,151 votes out a total of 22,953. The Democrat Peter Chacón was elected as the representative for the 69th Assembly District in San Diego County. After receiving a bachelor’s degree, teaching credential and M.A. from San Diego State University, Mr. Chacon worked as an educator and administrator for the San Diego Unified School District.
The Elections of 1972
The Elections of 1972 represented another step forward for the Hispanic community of California. Richard Alatorre and Joseph Montoya were elected from their respective districts in Los Angeles to the California Assembly, while Ray Gonzales was elected to represent his Bakersfield District.
Ray Gonzales, a Democrat, won a stunning victory against a veteran Republic legislator in a bid for the 33rd Assembly District, which took up most of Kern County, including Bakersfield, one of the most conservative areas of the state. Gonzáles had graduated from Mount San Antonio College and UCLA, and spent four years in the U.S. Air Force. His career in elective politics began at the age of 28 with a one-vote victory to the La Puente City Council in 1968. He later served as Mayor of La Puente before his election to the State Legislature.
Richard Alatorre, a Democrat from Los Angeles, was elected to serve as the representative of the 55th District to the California Assembly. A native of East Los Angles, Alatorre served in the Assembly from 1972 to 1985. In 1985, he took a seat on the Los Angeles City Council representing the 14th District. Alatorre would be elected as the first Chair of the Chicano Legislative Caucus.
Aware of their unified strength, the five Latinos now
serving in the State Legislature officially formed the Chicano Legislative
Caucus. The establishment of the Caucus marked a significant turning point
in the political empowerment of the Latino community. For the first time
in California's legislative history, an agenda was established and
legislative priorities were put forward to protect and preserve the rights
of Latinos throughout California.
As the 1970s progressed into the 1980s, more Chicano legislators stepped forward. But, in the eyes of many, their progress remained painfully slow. By 1985, seven Latinos were in the state legislature, making up only 6% of the total. Two Latinos also served as representatives to the U.S. Congress from California (Ed Roybal, Marty Martinez, and Esteban Torres). In this year, Richard Alatorre left the Assembly to join the Los Angeles city Council, once again bringing Latino representation to that political body.
By the end of the 1980s, the Latino community of California had elected ten people to represent their districts: Three were members of the U.S. Congress. Three were State Senators and four were serving in the State Assembly. The Hispanics in the State Legislators represented only 5% of the total seats in the Assembly and Senate.
In many ways, the Latino community of California remained disenfranchised, when one considers that by 1990, they represented 26% of the California population in the 1990 census. However, because many Latinos were foreign-born non-citizens or below the age of 18, they only made up about 5% of the California electorate at this time, effectively reducing their influence in electing their choices for political representation. The Latino share of the electorate, however, would increase dramatically to 14% by 1998 (Alvarez and Nagler, 1999: 19).
The 2000 Elections
A decade later in the November 2000 elections, the first major elections of the new millennium, Latino candidates recorded a net gain of eight state house seats. In California, the number of Latinos in the 80-member State Assembly increased from 16 to 20, giving them 25% of the seats.
An article by this Author entitled Los Angeles City Council: The Struggle for Chicano Representation can be accessed at: http://www.hispanicvista.com/HVC/Opinion/Guest_Columns/101104schmal.htm
© 2004, John P. Schmal. All Rights Reserved.
Fernando J. Guerra and Dwaine Marvick, “Ethnic Officeholders and Party Activists in Los Angeles County” in Institute for Social Science Research, Vol. II (1986-87).
Malcolm E. Jewell, The Politics of Reapportionment,” (New York: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1962.
Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and William C. Velasquez Institute, “California Congressional Redistricting Plan” (Submitted July 17, 2001, Los Angeles). http://www.maldef.org/publications/pdf/Congressional_Plan_Supplement.pdf
“Political Participation of Mexican Americans in California,” Report of the California Advisory Committee to the United States Commission on Civil Rights, Sacramento, Calif., August 1971, p. 15.
Richard Santillan, “California Reapportionment and the Chicano Community: An Historical Overview 1960-1980,” in The Chicano Community and California Redistricting, Vol. I (Rose Institute of State and Local Government, Claremont Men’s College, 1981.
Richard Santillan, Chicano Politics: La Raza Unida (Los Angeles: Tlaquilo Publications, 1973), p. 11.
Katherine Underwood, “Pioneering Minority Representation: Edward Roybal and the Los Angeles City Council, 1949-1962,” Pacific Historical Review – 1997.