LA-tinos leave behind a political legacy

LATNO POWER—Esteban E. Torres (left), Richard Polanco, Antonio Villariagosa, Richard Alatorre, David R. AyÛn, George L. Pla and Maria Elena Durazo speak at the Power Shift book release yesterday. CN/Steven Adamo

By Giselle Palomera

Latino politicians discussed a recently released book by East Los Angeles College alum George L. Pla and David R. Ayon at a panel and book signing yesterday.

“Power Shift: How Latinos in California Transformed Politics in America,” released this year and is based on Latino leaders who play active roles in transforming politics at the state and national levels.

The book centers around the experiences which have shaped these individuals, as they have taken on positions of power in politics, education and other public service sectors.

President Marvin Martinez spoke about the panelists and other attendees as he honored them as key leaders in the movement for Latino political power.

“While these heroes on stage have paved the way for all of us, let us not forget that the struggle continues. And today… they are here, back home…. Once a Husky, always a Husky,” said Martinez.

The foreword of the book was written by the son of Italian immigrants, Leon Panetta.

“As the son of Italian immigrants, I was able to live the American Dream. But as this book shows, that dream is not a gift. It is a struggle. Power Shift presents the journey of 10 groundbreaking Latino leaders who made that struggle, transformed politics and gave their people the chance to live the American dream,” Panetta writes.

The book highlights major points which have encouraged these Latino leaders to take matters into their own hands.

Esteban E. Torres was born in Arizona to immigrant parents and at the age of five, his father was deported and never heard from again.

This incident later encouraged Torres to immerse himself in politics.

Torres graduated from Garfield High School and went onto serve in the military in Europe and in the Korean War.

Soon after his return to the U.S., he was offered a position as a regional organizer for the United Auto Workers and five years later assumed the position of Director of the UAW.

He later played a pivotal role in reshaping East LA, assuming a position in Congress and reinventing the trade relationships between the U.S., Mexico and Canada.

Torres’ involvement in reinventing the trade relationship between Mexico and the U.S. came about when he was labeled an important ally to the bill that implemented the North American Trade Agreement. He served in Congress from 1983 to 1999.

Maria Elena Durazo came from a migrant farmworker family who later moved to LA.

She became a leader of organized labor and elected a new wave of Latino officeholders who won a “living wage” for urban workers.

In two weeks Durazo will take office as state senator.

The panelists were asked a series of questions and among those was the question, ‘What advice do you have for young leaders today in East Los Angeles?’

“Get into trouble, but make sure it’s good trouble,” said Durazo.  “Make sure you are taking action, not only for yourself but for your community. I think it is important to challenge the system because the system is wrong.”

Another question was, “I want to run for office in LA. What do I do?”

“The rule of the first is not to bang on your chest and say how great I am. The rule of the first is to open up the door for the rest of the world… run because you want to fight for justice…,” said Antonio Villaraigosa, ex-mayor of LA who was the first Latino to take that position since the 1800s.

Pla himself grew up in Boyle Heights in the midst of political, cultural and economic turmoil.

This is how Pla began his interest in politics and the role that they play in everyday Boyle Heights life. Pla is an ELAC transfer alum were he obtained his degree in Sociology in 1970.

ELAC was chosen as the first stop for the book signing tour because Pla said he believes that this is the place to start.

“The beauty of it [ELAC] is affordable and accessible and it’s an entry point for students to come, which was the same for me in 1968,” said Pla. “I don’t think it’s any different in 2018, affordable, accessible– it’s the first point of entry for a lot of people, especially first generation students.”

He started his career here, like other Latino leaders.Pla was officially added to the ELAC alumni association.

Maria Elena Yepes added the alumni pin to Pla’s blazer to officiate the induction.

One-hundred fifty copies of the book were handed out to students and attendees after the discussion panel to be signed.

The book is already being used as a learning and activism tool in major Ivy League schools.

The panel and book signing was hosted by the ELAC Foundation and the Academic Senate.

Copies of the book can be found online at

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