National Advocacy Committee Blog: Will 2020 be the Nation’s CA Prop 187 moment?

Celebrating NAHREP familia, cultura, politics, and grassroots action

Twenty-Five Years After the Passage of Prop 187 in California

I was in middle school when Prop 187 passed in California. I vividly recall being in P.E. class in my smelly gym clothes overhearing a group of teachers discussing what the proposition meant for the school and for its students, a majority of which were Latino. I remember watching a group of girls roll their eyes at the demonstration a group of Latino students had organized to protest the proposition. CA’s Prop 187, or the Save Our State (SOS) initiative, sought to establish a state-run citizenship screening system to prohibit undocumented immigrants from receiving services such as medical care, public education and other public services. But it did so much more than that. It instilled fear in immigrants and U.S. citizens alike.

I realized at that moment that as a brown-skinned Latina, one of my teachers was likely to ask to see my birth certificate in order for me to continue receiving public education. It felt like a personal attack against people like me and I didn’t understand why. I was a straight A student, never got into trouble, always went to school. Save our state? Save our state from whom? From me?? Yet somehow, something about looking Latina would mean that I would have to prove that I deserved to be in school, while my classmates sitting next to me, would not.

Despite passing by overwhelming margins in California, Prop 187 was later struck down by the courts. However, while Prop 187 won on election day 25 years ago, the jury is still out on who ultimately won that fight.

How California’s anti-immigrant ballot initiative mobilized the next generation of Latino leaders.
A remarkable transformation happened in California after the passage of Prop 187. That moment in history served as a wake-up call for the California Latino community and sent a wave of action throughout the state. As a result, Latinos in California registered to vote in record numbers, massive citizenship drives led to a surge of new naturalized citizens, and a swarm of Latinos decided to run for office, effectively making California Latinos the brokers of California politics. Since the passage of Prop 187, five of the last twelve State Assembly Speakers have been Latino and Latinos have made up almost a quarter of elected officials in total. Prop 187 ignited a new generation of Latino leaders in reaction to the direct attack against what Prop 187 represented. In many ways, Prop 187 was the best thing that could have happened for Latinos in California.

While it’s been 25 years since this law was passed and later struck down, I talk about it today because what happened then smells a lot like the crossroads we are in now.

Last week, NAHREP San Diego President Denisse Roldan Newell publically shared her story at the 25th Anniversary press conference, along with Congressman Juan Vargas and other important San Diego leaders.

How can the Prop 187 reaction serve as a model for Latinos today nationwide?
Today, we’re experiencing a similar epidemic to what was happening in 1994. Anti-immigrant rhetoric is being used today to mobilize segments of the electorate, rhetoric that is often synonymously anti-Latino. Latinos are the fastest growing demographic in the U.S. and that in itself probably sparks fear.

I think about this a lot when I think of NAHREP and our capacity as an organization. Will Latinos nationwide follow what happened in California 25 years ago? Will today’s divisive rhetoric, actually be the best thing that happened to the Latino community?

Last week marked exactly one year until the presidential election. Now is the time to rise to the occasion and to use this opportunity to transform the political power dynamics of this nation for generations to come. We need to register everyone we know to vote, encourage permanent residents to become citizens, and encourage more of us to run for office. The Trump era fear mongering can actually be the turning point for Latinos, the point in time we will look back to and think, “that was when Latinos really woke up.”

At this point it is up to us. It doesn’t matter if you are a Democrat, a Republican or an Independent. We need to elect politicians who unite communities, not divide them. At NAHREP we have a Latino agenda. It’s time for our elected leaders, on both sides of the aisle, to get on board. But first, we must show the nation in the way that only NAHREP can that #NAHREPVOTES, con sazón, con chíspa, y con gánas.

It’s Time to Get involved
As part of NAHREP’s NAC, every single NAHREP chapter is going to identify a director with a focus on Government Affairs. These directors are tasked with building a committee, developing relationships with their elected officials, and registering NAHREP members to vote. Everyone reading this blog has already signed up to participate in the NAHREP’s NAC, that’s a great first step. To take the next leap, let your chapter know you’d like to join their Government Affairs Committee. The future is in your hands. Not getting involved and speaking up IS making a decision. Put simple: the status quo wins when you stay quiet and stay home. So what do you say NAHREP? Quien está presente?

About Noerena Limón

Noerena Limón is NAHREP’s Executive Vice President of Public Policy and Industry Relations. Noerena heads the organization’s policy and advocacy efforts on issues ranging from homeownership, housing inventory, credit access and immigration.

Prior to joining NAHREP, Noerena spent six years at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and served as a political appointee under President Obama in the White House Office of Political Affairs.