On Nov. 8, 1994, California voters passed Proposition 187. Spurred on by Gov. Pete Wilson and the media demonizing Hispanics, Prop. 187 sought to prohibit undocumented immigrants from using a wide range of public accommodations, including non-emergency medical care and public schools.
It passed by 1.5 million votes. In California.
The man whose signature appears on my college diploma led the fight to pass it. I see his signature every time I look up at my office wall. His xenophobia, echoed so much over the past year, is something I can never forget.
Today, though, that means something different to me than it did 22 years ago. Actions produce reactions. Prop. 187 destroyed the Republican Party in the home state of Ronald W. Reagan and Richard M. Nixon.
Actions produce reactions. In the wake of being demonized, Hispanic Californians mobilized, registering voters and running for office on the local, state, and national levels. Some of the results were quick: 1996’s election saw Orange County voters toss out “B-1” Bob Dornan in favor of second-generation American Loretta Sánchez. Others took more time, but today, all statewide officials and large majorities of the state legislature are Democrats. The one Republican elected governor since Pete Wilson was an immigrant who had a much different view of immigrants than Wilson did.
Loretta Sánchez lost her race this week. Not a race for re-election, but a race to succeed Barbara Boxer in the U.S. Senate. Rep. Sánchez was defeated by California Attorney General Kamala Harris, a Democrat and the child of immigrants from India and Jamaica. The two finalist for the senate seat were both Democrats, both women, both children of immigrants. That contest reflects the state’s politics now as Prop. 187 reflected the state’s politics in 1994.
I am not saying history will repeat. I am not saying what has happened here this week does not have potentially grave consequences. But I am saying that the progressive, inclusive political culture of California in 2016 was not always there. It was forged in opposition to hate, and in organizing to defeat the agents of hatred.
This is what comes to mind every time I see Gov. Wilson’s name on my wall. It is what is on my mind today.