Pasadena Latinos Say Growing Numbers Reap Gains, But Not Always the Power to Match

Published : Tuesday, October 15, 2019 | 5:25 AM

As their community readies for the 21st Annual Latino Heritage Parade this Saturday, local Latinos can see both important gains and enduring pains that characterize their lives in Pasadena.

A canvassing of Latino leaders, activists and residents reveals excitement about their growing numbers at Pasadena City College, pleasure at an increase in public awareness of and sensitivity to their culture, and relative satisfaction at the assumption of posts in the city’s higher political and cultural echelons.

But although there is much progress to be praised, the divisive process of Pasadena Unified school closings has put a spotlight on what many describe as the harsh realities of being working-class Latinos in Pasadena.


Councilmember Victor Gordo is the only Latino on the City’s principle governing body and he is a candidate for Mayor of Pasadena in the upcoming 2020 elections.

He arrived as an immigrant from Mexico with his family at the age of five and says they were embraced by Pasadena and provided opportunities for their betterment.

Pasadena’s Latino community has grown, in large part, Gordo said, because the city continues to extend the same warm embrace to newer arrivals.

“In my view, that distinguishes our city from many other places in the country and in the world.”

Yuny Parada, co-chair of the Pasadena Latino Forum, sees bright Hispanic lights beginning to shine from academia.

“PCC is educating more Latinos than any other group,” observed Parada. “We are going to college, we are getting ahead. The future will be good to us, based on the education level.”

“The best things come with education. Not hard work,” she continued. “That’s something we used to do in the fields. Now it’s about who gets more educated and gains access to the best resources.”

Cynthia Olivo, Assistant Superintendent-Vice President of Student Services at PCC, concurred with, and confirmed, Parada’s outlook.

“Latinos have a long history in Pasadena and it’s amazing to see that we’re the largest group at Pasadena City College, and the Pasadena public K-12 system,” she said.

Laura Farber, is the Tournament of Roses’ first Latina president and also happens to be the Latino Heritage Parade’s Grand Marshal.

She noted that a PCC Latino conference attended earlier this year by students of modest income, “just opened their eyes and opened the world to them and now they are seeing they could even accomplish certain things they never thought were possible.”

Roberta H. Martínez, a noted Pasadena writer and historian, was instrumental in organizing the parade at its genesis and views the City of Pasadena’s present role as an example of Latino progress.

The parade was a truly community-sourced effort. When Martínez approached City Manager Steve Mermell and Councilman Steve Madison about stepping back from her role after 14 years, “The City stepped up,” she said. “So the people that are involved with the parade now are definitely community members and staff from the City.”

When the first edition of the parade launched, getting Spanish translations at city meetings and school board gatherings was a challenge.

Such is not the case now, said Martínez. “Increasing communication with different community members is an example of a more positive, more open mindset that’s more reflective of who the community is in Pasadena.”

She attributed such gains, at least in part, to the Latino community’s steadily increasing size.

In the 1970s, Latinos represented 10 percent of the city’s population. The number may be closer to 40 percent now, she speculated, which would transform the Latino community from a minority one to a majority one.

Identifying challenges specific to Latinos can be a tricky business, she noted. “We have a wide spectrum of folks here that are Latino, like Latin X, Latina, that run the gamut socioeconomically, linguistically, and educationally.”

The problem with applying broad labels like Latino to anyone who hails from the southern and western hemispheres is that it can lead to equally broad assumptions.

“Sometimes the assumptions are understandable,” said Martínez, “but I think we have to take time to take a deep breath and kind of check our assumptions.”

Pablo Alvarado of the National Day Labor Organizing Network agreed, expressing concern that Latino culture is reduced to a hybrid mix of Cinco de Mayo celebrations, congas, and Mariachi music.

“We’re not monolithic,” he said. “It’s a diverse community. That’s the first thing we have to acknowledge. Then we have to acknowledge that there are different nationalities, and then you have migrants, and the first generation kids, and second generation. So we are not just one cultural expression, but an expression of cultures.”

Those totemic cultural gifts mentioned enrich America, said Alvarado, but they can be overused “as a way to hide the underlying issues that our community faces in our own city.”

He mentioned the case of a worker named Arnoldo Velasquez who just informed him of a $300 monthly rental increase that may force a move from Pasadena.

“Workers are going to come from all over the metropolitan area, but they’re not going to be able to live in our city,” said Alvarado.

He pointed to the choices Pasadena Unified School District (PUSD) has made when it comes to school closings. “The schools where the Latinos go are being shut down.”

“The way I see it is that Americans, from friends to foes, enjoy the fruits of migrant labor, but society does not want to want to accept our humanity.”

Farber sees her own story as evidence of community gains: “I’m Latina and proud of being Latina and I’m proud that the Tournament is starting to reflect the community, which I think was done organically, and that is wonderful.”

The 2021 edition of the Rose Parade is to be inclusive, she said.

“I believe the Latino community is going to see something very different this year,” Farber remarked. “We are a very diverse parade and definitely have a huge showing when the Latino community comes out to support what we do. And they’re going to grow when they see bands from their home countries.”

Pasadena Latino Forum’s Parada agreed that the community was growing, while noting that its political power has not increased commensurately.

“Power still evades us,” said Parada. “It is not spread equally among the diverse groups of Pasadena. Equity is a challenge to us and something we are fighting for.”

Having a Latino police chief in John Perez is progress, she said, as is having Nick Rodriguez in the post of associate city manager.

“We now have Latinos on the executive committee and we are hoping they do the right thing and take care of Latinos so that the benefits they get reflect their numbers,” said Parada.

Within the PUSD milieu, Martínez said, there is an African American Parent Council, and an English Learner Advisory Committee.

“That’s cool, but the majority of students in PUSD are not English language learners,” she stated. “Some 60 percent are Latino. Where is the representation? Where is the place for the voice of those students and their families?”

Similarly, the history of the Latino community is something rarely shared, she said.

There are good documentaries available on the Chicano and Latino experiences, said Martínez, but to her knowledge, none have aired on local cable stations or through some PUSD-based outlet.

“There is no ethnic studies class that includes a history of the Latino in the PUSD curriculum,” she lamented.

Some of that work, then falls to the parade itself, which was designed to inform and educate the Latino community, and those beyond, about that history, Martínez explained.

“The Latino Heritage Parade is a wonderful time to celebrate our culture and to also utilize it as a moment to ensure the voice and needs of Latinos are heard and represented in every part of our community,” said PCC’s Olivo, who will be the parade’s Community Grand Marshall this year.
“This parade is an opportunity to rededicate ourselves, as a city, to diversity,” said Gordo. “To embracing not just Latinos, but people from all parts of the world in all walks of life.”
The Latino Heritage Parade and Festival takes place on Saturday, Oct. 19. The parade begins, 10 a.m. sharp, at Washington Park and culminates at Villa Park’s Multi-Purpose Field from noon to 4 p.m.