Tag Archives: los angeles

Coming To A Community Near You? Arizona’s Volatile Immigration Battle


"Is this the change you promised us? Barack Obama Where are you? What's next?" Banner at May 1st rally in Los Angeles. More than 50,000 people attended. Photo Credit: Lydia Breen

 If you think  SB1070 has little to do with you or minorities in your community, think again. At least ten states are considering legislation similar to Arizona’s law.  Democratic lawmakers in Washington are  also studying aspects of  to see if it can be used as a template for tough measure on comprehensive immigration reform.   During May 1st demonstrations across the country,    tens of thousands of people called for a boycott of  Arizona , demanding comprehensive immigration reform at the federal level. Will Latinos  get President Obama  to make good on his promise of meaningful, just immigration reform? Or will the “Big O” equivocate while nativists  score political points by spreading fear in local communities?  The following article takes a closer look at SB 1070.  ( The bill has not yet gone into effect. Legal challenges could block it all together. 

Maricopa County's Sheriff Joe Arpaio seems as happy as a pig in mud with SB 1070. The bill has emboldened his nativist supporters. Now Arpaio says he may run for governor. Credit: change.org

In Arizona, it seems like the “birthers” are running the ranch,  where folks like  Sheriff Joe Arpaio bask in the glow of the SB 1070.  Even Republicans are split on the bill.  Business and civic leaders in the state are upset  that the backlash from a boycott could have a troubling economic fallout.    The right-of-center  Arizona Republic went on the war path in a front page editorial last Sunday, saying  the bill panders to people’s worst fears about immigrants while doing little to bring about badly needed reform   [Click here to watch a great interview with David Zirin talking about  how pro atheltes are speaking out in favor of a Arizona boycott.]

Congress is responsible for passing laws that will secure our borders and regulate immigration in a just manner.  But, for years,   Congress has lacked the courage to act. Not ones to miss an opportunity, the birthers  (who don’t even believe the President of the United States is legally in the country) are ready to take up the slack. 

Ten states are now considering immigration laws similar to Arizona’s SB1070, including Missouri, Maryland and Nebraska – none of which have high numbers of undocumented people. In Ohio,  sheriff Richard K. Jones is backing a state-wide initiative to get an Arizona-style  bill on the ballot. (This in spite of the fact that Ohio’s Hispanics, most residing legally in the state ,  constitute  2.5% of the state’s population.) 

For some insight on how this plays out in local communities, a new documentary shows how immigration was used to divide a community in Prince William County Virginia, an area far from the nation’s southern border.  Watch “95000 Immigration”.  Click here for  THE TRAILER then check the schedule on the web site to see if it may be playing in a theater near you. 

The voice of tomorrow: "Legalization or No Re-election"

SB1070 – low hanging fruit 

A central measure of the bill would make  it a crime for undocumented people to seek work as day laborers. This targets the poorest of the poor immigrants while doing little to crack down on drug traffickers and terrorists. Nor does it g after sweatshops owners, agribusiness and others  who exploit undocumented workers. 

May 1st rally in Los Angeles protests Arizona SB 1079. Photo Credit: Lydia Breen

 Instruction manual not included 

Under SB 1070, if  a police officer stops someone for any reason, the officer  must inquire about  their immigration status,  provided  the officer has “reasonable suspicion” that  the person stopped is in the country illegally.  (Previously, Arizona law required an officer to ask about immigration status only if a serious crime had been committed or if a serious crime was being investigated. ) 

A few days after it was passed, the bill was amended to say that an officer may not use race as sole grounds for reasonable suspicion.  But it does not specify what criteria  (accent, clothing, demeanor??) should be used.  Further, if a citizen who has reason to believe that someone is in the country illegally, the citizen can require the police to investigate. 

Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik didn’t mince words, calling the bill “disgusting,” “racist” and “stupid.”  In an interview on Democracy Now he said: 

“This law will have no impact whatsoever on illegal immigration. None at all. We already have the authority. We didn’t need it…When the law was first passed… every Hispanic in this country, especially in Arizona, must have [felt] like they’d been kicked in the teeth, like they’re now second-class citizens.  They have a target on their back because when they leave the house they’re going to have to take papers with them and prepare to be stopped and questioned. That, overnight, has made Hispanics second-class citizens.  ” – Clarence Dupnik, Pima County Sheriff  

 Officer Martin Escobar, a naturalized U.S. citizen with the Tucson Police Department went further  by saying he would not comply with the bill if it gets passed into law.  Escobar has filed suit against the state saying it is impossible for police to enforce the law in a non-discriminatory 

"Life, Love, Family" a band from the Baldwin Park neighborhood of L.A. participated in the May 1st rally

May 1st Rally focused on Arizona's immigration inequities

manner.  He claims the bill will sour police relations with immigrant communities and hinder investigations of serious crimes.    Not all law enforcement officials agree. Some, like Sheriff Joe Arpaio, is delighted with SB 1070, as he continues his raids and rampages in the immigrant neighbors in Maricopa County (which includes Phoenix and Scottsdale.)   But a recent L.A. Times article state that  70% of the people arrested by Sherriff Arpaio and his boys in the  Sherriff’s Department had Spanish surnames. This,  in spite of the fact Maricopa County  is only 31% Latino, most of whom are legal residing in the or U.S. citizens. 

Arpaio, who made his name by profiling Latinos (he says “illegals” are his top priority, more so than drug addicts) and forcing prisoners to endure disgusting conditions,  has  molded his own profile on along the lines of a stereotypical redneck cop.   No matter  Thanks to SB 1070,  the guy liberals love to hate is drooling in the limelight, claiming he may even run for Governor. 

“Help Wanted” , “No Trespassing” 

Faith leaders are taking up the call. Cardinal Roger Mahoney of Los Angeles spoke out eloquently against the bill,  calling it “unconstitutional ” and racist.  While Mahoney has lost much moral high ground by equivocating over  protecting children who were abused by priests operating under his authority,   he has long been a strong advocate for immigrants’ rights. 

photo credit: Lydia Breen

The cardinal criticized Governor Jan Brewer and Arizona lawmakers for failing to provide a definition of  reasonable suspicion when writing up the bill.  ( “They can’t,” he said in a L.A. Times article.”Because you’d come up with ‘brown skin, black hair and ‘listens to ranchera music.’ “) 

In his recent blog post, “Arizona’s dreadful anti-immigrant law”,   Mahoney writes: “the tragedy of the law is it’ s totally flawed reasoning: that immigrants come to our country to rob, plunder and consume public resources. That is not only false, the premise is nonsense.” 

Mahoney goes on to describe the inherent contradictions of the bill: “What led the Arizona Legislature to pass such a law is so obvious to all of us who have been working for federal comprehensive immigration reform:  The present immigration system is completely incapable of balancing our nation’s need for labor and the supply of that labor. 

“We have built a huge wall along our southern border, and have posted in effect two signs next to each other. One reads, ‘No Trespassing,’ and the other reads, ‘Help Wanted.’ The ill-conceived Arizona law does nothing to balance our labor needs,” he wrote.– Cardinal Roger Mahoney, Archdiocese of Los Angeles  

A day laborer waits for work where he can get find some support at Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson, 2008. Credit: NY Times Institute

Church members will not comply 

Other faith leaders are also speaking out. The Reverend Alison Harrington, pastor at Southside Presbyterian Church recently told a large crowd of the faithful: 

It is immoral, unethical and unjust; and as faith leaders we are called to struggle against sin, to call our leaders into repentance and to call our community into action. 

The new bill forbids citizens to hire and/or transport undocumented people.  But members o faith communities around Tucson Arizona say they drive  undocumented people to Sunday church services.  Calling the bill a “sin,”  Harrington and others say they will not comply with the law. 

Big Brother:  binoculars and a database 

It’s hard to see where all this is going without a national biometric identification card, to be required by all working citizens.  The current draft of the Democrats bill in Congress proposes as much, preferring the more palatable term “biometric employment verification.” But groups like the ACLU have strong concerns about the proposal.’s impact on our privacy – a on-going battle during the Bush Administration. 

Concern that fear mongering on immigrant issues will lead to an erosion of our privacy were underscored by an article published Sunday in the Arizona Republic.  The article describe an increased use of surveillance cameras throughout Phoenix,  which Arizona ACLU’s Executive Director Alessandra Soler Meetze said may lead to a “surveillance society”  without a  transparent reporting process in place. 

Adding weight to the argument, Washington Post blogger Ezra Klein wondered  if Republicans wondered where Republicans will stand on the issue of identity cards.  Will they try to sink the idea as another attempt by  Big Brother Obama  to stick his nose in our business? Or will they let the idea fly, as they did by giving  Bush got a green light to fight terrorists by accessing citizens private telephone numbers. 

 A country forged by dreams 

The dreams, talents and hard work of our immigrant ancestors shaped this country.  While it is true that we now live in different time, with different pressures on our resources,  the values that guide us are the same as they were when our country was founded. 

The dream goes on

Current day immigrants continue to help keep our country strong.  At a time when we are face with so many complex, difficult questions, we need all the help we can get.   SB 1070 could set a tone that codifies a system of second class citizenship.   It is a concern that compelled Archbishop Desmond Tutu – a man all too familiar with pass laws – to write: 

I am saddened today at the prospect of a young Hispanic immigrant in Arizona going to the grocery store and forgetting to bring her passport and immigration documents with her. I cannot be dispassionate about the fact that the very act of her being in the grocery store will soon be a crime in the state she lives in. Or that, should a policeman hear her accent and form a “reasonable suspicion” that she is an illegal immigrant, she can — and will — be taken into custody until someone sorts it out, while her children are at home waiting for their dinner. – Archbishop Desmond Tutu  


In 1985, two years after the birth of her son in Tucson, Lydia Breen produced and directed the  documentary, “The Lord Is Blessing Me…”about Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson and the decision  members made to declare their church a sanctuary for Central American refugees fleeing the fighting in their region. Reverend John Fife, then Southside’s  minister along with several church members were arrested and convicted of harboring  illegal immigrants. Now retired, John Fife and current pastor, Rev. Alison Harrington, and others at  Southside  say they will refuse to comply with SB1070. 



The Virgin Had This Homeboy’s Back (Fabian Debora)


"Mi Madre de Los Angeles" Fabian Debora

by Lydia Breen

Fabian Debora grew up in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of East Los Angeles.  He survived gang violence, drug addiction and prison.  Now he works as a substance abuse counselor at Homeboy Industries, helping at-risk and formerly gang-involved youth.  Debora’s  art, which is largely based on his life experiences, has opened up new worlds for him.  It is also inspiring the  young people he works with to pursue their own dreams.

Debora’s paintings are  on display at “Canvassing Peace” , an exhibit sponsored by the American Friends Service Committee ( on view now through Augstu 12, 2010 at AFSC’s regional headquarters in Los Angeles, 3rd floor, 634 South Spring Street).


Artist Fabian Debora calls Los Angeles a territorial place.  “There are guidelines you have to follow, places you can’t go,” he says.

Growing up, the walk from home to school felt like it was littered with landmines.  “There were eight gangs in my neighborhood,” he says. “It was like it was infested. “

He wasn’t looking for trouble. All he wanted to do was his art. He explains:  “When I left the projects where I lived, they would ask where I was from.  I’d say, ‘I don’t bang.’”

It didn’t help.

“The place I lived, the way I dressed that automatically placed me in a gang,” he said during a recent interview in his office at Homeboy Industries.   “Once I walked out of the projects, it was basically like a free-for- all.”

Boyle Heights bridge credit: static.guim.com

The river was his refuge.  He used to ditch school and spend hours there.  The cement walls were his canvass, a place to experiment with graffiti and mural art.  He made friends with homeless people who lived under the bridge.  They gave him advice (get an education) and he gave them his bag lunches.

On the way home he got hassled all over again.  “I was trying to stay out of trouble, but it was hard,” he said. “My dad was a heroin addict who was in an out of jail.   I couldn’t look to him for protection.  And my mom had to work two jobs.”

Eventually, he gave in to the pressure and joined a gang.  But he kept on doing his art, adding tattooing to his repertoire.

Home life was tense.   “My mother would tell me: ‘You have a problem.’  I told her she didn’t understand.  I was very rebellious and had a lot of anger. We were first generation Mexicans,” he says.  “I wondered why I was suffering so much, why my father was an addict.  I took it out on my mother and continued to blame her.  I told her she should never have had me. I even tried to commit death.”

His grandmother was “the spine of the family.”  An ardent devotee of the Virgin of Guadalupe, Debora recalls:  “She told me the Virgin would always watch over me. This was my first teaching.”

Artist Fabian Debora says gang members are more than the sum of their mistakes.

Tattoos and T-shirts with the Virgin’s image have been criticized as “gang-related apparel that has been banned at some schools.   Debora says that misses the point: “ Outsiders who see all these cholos with tattoos of the Virgin Mary – that’s not a gang thing.  A homeboy wears the Virgin for protection due to the mess he is in.   It’s like he is saying: ‘I’m out here in the street.  I am out here crying.”  (See video, below, of Debora applying a tatoo of the Virgin of Guadalupe.)

“Just because we are in a gang, that doesn’t me we have no morals,” he says. “The Virgin holds a lot of respect because of what we were taught by our mothers and grandmothers.”

He says gang members are more than the sum of their mistakes:  “We wind up getting judged by the wrong decisions we make. It doesn’t mean we don’t have morals.   It doesn’t mean we have the absence of hope, or that we don’t want to be protected.”

He concedes that a homeboy wearing the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe doesn’t always send the right message:  “You have guys who glamorize it in a way that can cause harm.  The minute you disrespect the Virgin Mary,  you are going against everything she believes.”

By 1994 he began to remove himself from gang life.  Then he spent five years doing Methamphetamine.  “I was hurting everyone,” he says.

Looking back, he sees how his past life – the violence,  Meth addiction, stints in prison and suicide attempts – were especially hard on his mother:  “I realize now what I put her through.”

A failed attempt to kill himself was the turning point:  “I was smoked out, loosing my mind, loosing my pride, my dignity.  I told myself I didn’t want to live anymore.”

High on Meth, paranoid that the police were after him, he ran out of his mother’s house, and kept on running,  through the projects to a park, where even a lake didn’t stop him.

“I ran into the water, got covered with seaweed and kept on going.  I jumped over the freeway wall  to the other side.” When he landed he bit his tongue – hard.  Bleeding profusely, he ran on to the highway, into the path of an on-coming suburban vehicle.

“I said to myself:  ‘This is it.’ ” His sense of reality altered, he heard a whirring noise: “ It was like I was in slow motion. I was ready to feel the impact of the truck.  Then I remembered:  ‘My kids!’”

The vehicle missed and Debora kept on running.  He reached the median strip and collapsed in a heap.  As the vehicle disappeared in the distance, he sensed his life was about to change:

“I felt like the truck took all that disease away.  The sounds returned, the sound of birds and the wind.  Then the police came. They tried to call me to come to them, but I ran away back to the projects.”

Debora wound up at Dolores Mission, the school and church where he grew up.  But he was not supposed to be there, it wasn’t safe for him.

“I called my mother to come pick me up,” he said.  “She started yelling at me for being where I was.  I told her:  ‘Mom, I almost got killed today.’  She got very quiet. ”

Debora: "I looked like a zombie, a calavera"

Debora sets the next scene as if he was considering it for a future painting:  “Can you image a mother rolling up in her car, seeing her son nearly half-dead?   It was like the Virgin when she came to help her own son.  My tongue was hanging out from where I bit it.  I was full of blood. I was wet from the lake. I looked like a zombie, like a calavera.”

Before driving away, his mother gave him an ultimatum:  he had three days. After that, he’d have to go to rehab.

Fabain Debora spent the next six months in rehab. When he got out, Father Gregory Boyle, a priest he knew from Dolores Mission who now heads Homeboy Industries, gave him a job.  It’s been three years now that he has worked  as a trained substance abuse counselor and art instructor.

Debora’s brush with death on the highway had a lasting effect.  “I became very spiritual,” he says. “I believe it happened for a reason.”

He gives a lot of credit for his recovery to his mother.  “All that time my mother never gave up on me.  She always tried to guide me.  I have been sober now for approximately three years.”

The Virigin as Homegirl: "My Virgin of Mary in relation to Tonantzin" Fabian Debora

In his 2008 painting My Virgin of Mary in Relation to Tonantzin,  Debora connects his old life with his new one.  The top-left corner of the painting appears in black and white to symbolize the past.  Also in the past, the cement under the Boyle Heights bridge, tagged with the names of friends who died in gang violence. (One his friends was shot in the head).

The corn in the painting represents the maize that used to be grown along the river by Indians before the area fell into the hands of Spanish colonialists.  Debora added a totem-like statue of the Aztec earth goddess Tonantzin,  an image that Spanish missionaries conflated  with the Virgin of Guadalupe.  (See Café Libre: “The Virgin as Spin-Mistress.”)

St. Juan Deigo with image of Virgin of Guadalupe

Debora explains:  “The Catholics had to enslave the Aztec people to make them believe.

Feast Day of Virgin of Guadalupe, L.A. 2009

Debora says the fact that the Virgin of Guadalupe appeared before Don Juan, an impoverished Indian peasant, shows that she cares for and represents the people.  “She is ‘the  mother of Mexico’  a powerful icon for the Mexican people, a symbol of hope and strength. She ties in all the aspects of my beliefs.”

He says he likes using cultural images like the Virgin, the corn and the bridge in Boyle Heights because:  “ They connect me; they help me stay focused. They help me be creative.”

Before it was put on display at the  “Canvassing Peace” exhibit, The Virgin of Mary in relation to Tonantzin” was on view at Homegirl Café, where Debora used the painting as a way to talk to homegirls about “their power and beauty and their capacity for caring.”

He believes his art can help give young people confidence.  By painting the Virgin as a homegirl, he was sending a message:   “When a homegirl said to me that she liked that painting, I told her:  ‘That can be you!’”

Preparing food at the Homegirl Cafe credit: latimes blog

“A lot of the homegirls have suffered from domestic violence.  They’ve been demoralized by their man.  Some of them loose their kids.  Gangs use them as scouts to go into other neighborhoods…[They] don’t value them.  I hope I can pave a path for [homegirls], tell them that education is powerful.”

“My art can have an impact on others.  If it helps people see they aren’t alone, that’s a good thing. But it is first of all for me.  When I paint, it’s therapy. I am trying to heal.”

Debora’s most recent work, Madre Frida, is a vibrant portrait of Frida Kahlo as the Virgin of Guadalupe.   “ A lot of people respect both women,” he explains.  “Both had a lot of pain. But at the same time, both were powerful. “

"Madre Frida" Fabian Debora

Throughout  his difficulties, he says he always held on to his art:  “It has been a life saver. Art gives me a sense of freedom. There are no boundaries.  I can be myself. It has help me find a new form of identity”

Considering all the up’s and down’s he has been through, it is not surprising that an element of fatalism creeps into his thoughts:

“Now I’m focused, but that’s also where the fear comes.  You expect tragedy to hit.  I worry that something will happen that won’t allow me to succeed.”

But his vitality and his life story suggests that he has strong survival instincts and a capacity to use his art to heal.

He wants to go back to art school “for sustainability” and to learn new techniques.  His dream is to become an animator and mark the events of his life in pictures.

In his life-sized 2009 piece Falling Star, Debora paints himself and his 18-month old daughter. (The 33-year old artist has five children:  three boys, aged 10, 6 and 4 and two girls, aged 3 and 18 months.)

“In the painting I put her before me.”  He says sometimes he looks into his daughter’s bright eyes and, thinking about all his own struggles, he worries about what lies ahead for her.

“She’s holding my heart in her hands. It’s hers.”

"Falling Star" portrait of the artist and his daughter

Virgin As Muse (artist Lalo Garcia)

Lalo Garcia: “Growing up, I learned that women are strong.”


 “In Mexico, Our Lady of Guadalupe is the boss, ” says Lalo Garcia, a Los Angeles-based     

Credit: Tidings Magazine

visual artist, folkloric dancer and man of faith.  “She is our most visible symbol of Christianity – even more than Christ,” he says, explaining that Catholics in Mexico – and elsewhere –  credit Our Lady of Guadalupe for helping them through difficult times.  “When you go into a church in Mexico you may or may not find a cross, but you will always find an image of the Virgin.”         

  At the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Los Angeles last weekend,  devotees gave thanks to the Virgin with flowers, prayers, food and their art.     

The  sybol of the Virgin is based on a  Catholic teaching from Mexico in which Jesus’ mother appears in 1531 as a dark-skinned woman,  speaking in the local indigenous language to Juan Diego, an Aztec Indian peasant.  Appointing him as her messenger, she sends him to the local bishop with a message:  build a church for me on the Hill of Tepeyac, a traditional site of worship for the mother goddess Tonantzin. The request is seen as a sign that the divine is with all people, no matter how marginalized.     

Garcia's "Apparitions of the Virgin"

  The apparition was especially meaningful to indigenous people,  for it came at a time when they were suffering at the hands of  Spanish conquerors and representatives of the Catholic Church.     

  The symbol of the Virgin of Guadalupe has come to have deep religious, cultural and  political significance for  Mexican, other Latin and Asian cultures.        

At the Cathedral of Our Lady of  the Angeles,  a cast of 100 re-enacted the apparition  in “La Virgen de Guadalupe, Dios Inantzin,”  (click here for related story. )     

After the performance, some members of the audience ventured outside to say a prayer at   

Garcia’s Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe

the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, created by Lalo Garcia.  He says the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe is a good example of how faith and culture are intertwined:   

“The celebration starts at midnight when the community comes together to give thanks to the Virgin.”  He explains these the celebrations – people bringing flowers, dancing, etc. – are part of the culture; they are not directly proscribed  by the Church.  “But the celebrations are a tradition that strengthens our faith”   


Garcia’s mother

Garcia’s own art is informed by his culture, his Catholic faith and the hardship that  he experienced growing up in rural Mexico.     His faith came from his mother, a devout woman who was largely responsible for keeping the family together.         

 “My  father worked in the United States under the Bracero Program,” he said. “He could only come home for a few weeks every two years.”  The arrangement left his mother virtually alone to raise four children. “That takes a lot of strength. When there were difficulties, she prayed to the Virgin to help see her through.”    

He looks to his own mother’s example when depicting the Virgin. While his style is contemporary, he keeps much of the traditional symbolism of the Virgin of Guadalupe (the moon, the stars and rays, etc.)    

  In  painting the Virgin, he attempts to be fresh and relevant. “I would never wish to replace the traditional image of the Virgin of Guadalupe.  My intention is to help people look at her in a different way while still keeping her essence.”      

Lalo Garcia: "Nativity"

  Garcia says that’s the role of the artist:  to help people look at things with fresh eyes, to build bridges between people, and break down barriers of gender, race and culture.         

  A lot of research goes into each new project.   For example, he has one full shelf of art and religious books on the Virgin of Guadalupe.      

 When his research is done and his intellect satisfied,  he follows the advise of his 82-year-old mentor, artist Frank Martinez, who told him to surrender to his dreams:  “I begin to paint in my sleep. That’s when the images really start to come.”       

Seeking simplicity, Garcia limits his palette to four monochromatic colors.            

Lalo Garcia's "Pieta"

For his “Pieta”, Garcia looked for ways to express the myriad of emotions –  fear, awe, sadness –  that he believes Mary would have felt at her son’s death.           

“Most paintings of the Pieta done by artists have Mary looking down at the lifeless body of Jesus,” Garcia explains.  “I decided to portray Mary looking up as a sign of acceptance of Jesus’ life on earth, and of Mary offering her only Son to his father.  I see this as an example of reaching the point of letting go, at the loss of a love one.         

Garcia’s  artistic process has forces him to delve deeply inside himself.  He would like his paintings to do the same for others:       


I  hope my work will encourage people to do their own research and meditation, to help them renew their faith.          

the artist's studio