East San Jose’s political energy is rising – a motion that has been on the transfer for years

East San Jose’s political power reached new heights in 2020 – and it continues to rise.

Local leaders used that power to fight for immigration reform, build their base in local politics, and convince Governor Gavin Newsom to appoint California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, who is slated to occupy Kamala Harris’ Senate seat last month. Padilla is the state’s first Latino senator.

“When representation is important and you see someone like you in this position, you feel like we’re doing something right,” said Lennies Gutierrez, chairman of the Latino Leadership Alliance. “And we have to keep going.”

Gutierrez said the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on minority communities and the struggle for racial justice underscores the need for color communities to have their voices heard.

San Jose Councilor Magdalena Carrasco and the Silicon Valley Latina Coalition teamed up with fellow Latinx leaders at the Mexican Heritage Plaza in November to advocate a Latino seat at Newsom.

“It made a big statement … about activating the people in the area,” Gutierrez said.

The Latina coalition of Gabby Chavez-Lopez, President of Silicon Valley, and Gutierrez, along with 32 other statewide Latinx organizations, joined a Zoom call with the governor to take the push.

“I’ve never seen or experienced anything like this before, so it was really exciting,” said Chavez-Lopez. “It proves not only externally but also to ourselves that we can work together to get things done. I look promising. “

Despite these advances, East San Jose traditionally had no seat at the table. A collective decided to create their own table.

In 2018, four East San Jose Community nonprofits came together to form the Si Se Puede Collective. It includes groups such as the Amigos De Guadalupe Center for Justice and Empowerment, Grail Family Services, the School of Arts and Culture at the Mexican Heritage Plaza, and SOMOS Mayfair.

“We have tried to fight our way to this table in the past and nothing has happened,” said Maritza Maldonado, managing director of Amigos de Guadalupe. “When people in the church speak their truth, we will change things. We are the experts in our own community. We understand the problems because we live these problems. For the next three to five years you will see a different east of San Jose. We will not settle for anything less than equity. “

Maldonado said progress requires grassroots community organization and coalition building from the bottom up. In this way, leaders can solve multi-generational problems and keep families in East San Jose in poverty.

The Si Se Puede collective teamed up with Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren in November to demand support for immigration reform from the new Biden administration. It asked local officials to sign a list of demands, including the creation of a path to citizenship for recipients of Delayed Action on the Arrival of Children (DACA), an end to ICE raids, the reunification of families of children who being held in cages on the U.S.-Mexico border and providing COVID-19 relief funding.

“Our moment now is to rise up as a community,” said Camille Llanes-Fontanilla, Executive Director of SOMOS Mayfair, at the press conference. “Together we demand a policy that recognizes people as full people with dignity and self-determination.”

The rise of political power in East San Jose has been increasing for years.

For the first time in history, the San Jose City Council has five Latinx councilors – commonly referred to as the Latino Caucus – and they have advocated actions such as creating a stock fund to promote vulnerable neighborhoods, stronger sick leave policies and ensuring justice in the city pronounced redistribution process.

The Latino Caucus also voted against a strict mayor measure for the 2020 vote, which would have given Mayor Sam Liccardo more powers and extended his term by two years.

Two of the five Latinx members, Carrasco and Councilor Sylvia Arenas, represent parts of East San Jose.

The growth of power and representation is based on years of preparation. Gutierrez said that neighborhood Latinx organizations have trained community leaders for years – and now it’s coming to fruition.

“There is a pipeline and you can see the pipeline is starting to work,” Gutierrez said.

The Latina Coalition of Silicon Valley’s leadership program teaches young Latin Americans between the ages of 19 and 29 leadership skills and civic engagement. The leadership training of the Latino Leadership Alliance includes the management of political politics and the building of coalitions.

Another local non-profit, the Hispanic Foundation of Silicon Valley, trains Latinos for non-profit organizations.

“Part of our job is to raise those voices,” added Gutierrez. “And now you see these emerging leaders who have received this education through nonprofits and through life.”

And this is just the beginning of East San Jose and its political prowess.

There are many major battles on the horizon, including the end of an eviction moratorium that could force tenants to lose their homes and the ongoing surge in COVID-19 cases, particularly in the East San Jose neighborhoods. Gutierrez said immigration, COVID-19, and education would be future topics being addressed by the Latinx community.

“Just because we are represented does not mean that our work is over,” said Gutierrez. “We have to keep going and apply more pressure. Just because he’s a colored person in the U.S. Senate doesn’t mean he’s off the hook. “

Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected]

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