Oral Histories

Interview of Mike Hernandez

Political activist and 1st District Los Angeles City Council member from 1991 to 2001.
Interviews not in a series, part two
Latina and Latino History
Politics and Government
Biographical Note:
Political activist and 1st District Los Angeles City Council member from 1991 to 2001.
Nicolaides, Becky
Hernandez, Mike
Persons Present:
Hernandez and Nicolaides.
Place Conducted:
Mike Hernandez’s home in Cypress Park, California.
Supporting Documents:
Records relating to the interview are located in the office of the UCLA Library’s Center for Oral History Research.
Interviewer Background and Preparation:
The interview was conducted by Becky Nicolaides, UCLA Center for Oral History Research; Ph.D., U.S. History, Columbia University. Nicolaides has published a book and articles on the history of Los Angeles, has taught L.A. history courses at University of California, San Diego and UCLA, and has consulted on numerous cultural resources projects on Los Angeles history, including projects on Latino history in Los Angeles and California and the Chicano Moratorium.
Processing of Interview:
The interviewer prepared for the interview by reading Rodolfo F. Acuña’s Anything But Mexican: Chicanos in Contemporary Los Angeles; David Gutiérrez’s Walls and Mirrors: Mexican Americans, Mexican Immigrants, and the Politics of Ethnicity; Mike Davis’s Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster; Raphel J. Sonenshein’s The City at Stake: Secession, Reform, and the Battle for Los Angeles; Enrique C. Ochoa and Gilda L. Ochoa’s Latino LA: Transformations, Communities and Activism; William Fulton’s The Reluctant Metropolis: The Politics of Urban Growth in Los Angeles; Dan Horn’s Anointed Moments; Manuel Pastor, et. al.’s “Roots/Raíces: Latino Engagement, Place Identities, and Shared Futures in South Los Angeles,” USC Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration (November 2016); and various archival articles from the Los Angeles Times and Los Angeles Daily News. The transcript is a verbatim transcription of the recording. It was transcribed by a professional transcribing agency using a list of proper names and specialized terminology supplied by the interviewer. The interviewee was then given an opportunity to review the transcript and made a few corrections and additions. Those corrections were entered into the text without further editing or review on the part of the Center for Oral History Research staff. The transcript may thus differ slightly from the audio recording because of the changes the interviewee made at the time of their review.
8.75 hrs.
Regents of the University of California, UCLA Library.
Parents’ roots and marriage—Childhood in Tijuana, Mexico, with relatives—Tensions between mother’s and father’s families, Texans v. Californians—Lives in poverty in Tijuana—Two-year migration from Tijuana to Los Angeles—Suffers from challenge of having a club foot—Experiences both support and serious challenges at public schools in Cypress Park—Presence of gangs—Becomes an athlete by high school—Family life and Hernandez’s responsibilities to the family as a youngster—Cypress Park neighborhood—Troubles at Nightingale Junior High School—Spends summer in Lodi working in farm fields—Key life changes at Franklin High School through sports and political activism—Enters Upward Bound program in high school, which brings him to Occidental College—Beginning of political activism in high school—“Blowouts” and United Teachers Los Angeles activism at Franklin High—Influence of Ricardo Romo and other mentors during high school—Occidental College years of activism and self-discovery—Drug use in Upward Bound—Involvement with Chicano Moratorium—Scrutiny of FBI, police, and sheriffs during college—Police beating at Watts Festival in Will Rogers Park—Later, on city council, advocates against false arrests—Mother, Beatrice Espinoza, purchases homes then loses them to foreclosure—Wife Sylvia Castro’s background and parents—Nuanced connection to Mexican culture—Importance of work ethic from an early age.
Mentors facilitate a transition at Nightingale Junior High—Challenges faced by minority students at Occidental College—Influential professors and political networking at Occidental—Works at Pacific Bell during and after college—Works way up management ranks at Pac Bell—Latino marketing and employment initiatives at Pac Bell—Leaves Pac Bell to help mother with faltering bail bond business—Turns the business around—Lobbying for bail bond industry leads to political connections—Through friend Victor Griego (field deputy to Richard Alatorre), becomes co-finance chair for Alatorre—Helps lead Southwest Voter Registration Education Project in Los Angeles during 1980s, registering Latino voters—Applies leadership training work for Jaycees to Latino political empowerment—Works on Plaza de la Raza cultural center and tackles Head Start controversies—Hones management skills through work with Head Start, Jaycees, and Pac Bell’s Los Padrinos—Builds bail bond business and forms separate immigration bond service for undocumented immigrants detained by Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS)—Sbicca Shoe factory raid by INS as turning point—Emerges as activist bail bondsman connected to immigration rights activists—Leadership work with civic groups in Highland Park—Forms Boy Scout troop at Loreto Elementary School—Runs for 56th Assembly District (California) in 1987—Manages Xavier Becerra’s campaign for 59th Assembly District (California) in 1990—Helps develop strategies for building local Latino candidacies—Small group “Breakfast Club” forms to discuss how to acquire political power—Runs grassroots campaign for 56th Assembly District, challenging Latino political machine—Importance of local issues and listening to constituents in decision to run for city council.
Builds business and civic involvement with Jaycees in late 1980s—Works on campaigns of Latino politicians—Challenges the Latino political machine (“Golden Palominos”)—Campaigns for 56th Assembly District seat—Works on Gloria Molina’s campaign for Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and learns lessons—Gains familiarity with First Council District before and during council campaign of 1991—Conditions in Pico Union area—On city council, works to represent poverty-stricken First District by claiming fair share—Challenges city’s formulas on budgeting—Fights inequality around city services—Negotiates long-term rent contracts for Olvera Street merchants—Challenges Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) budget—Builds network of More Advocates for Safe Homes (MASH) chapters in his district to represent the grassroots community, especially in poor neighborhoods—Zones of Need mapping project reveals geography of poverty in Los Angeles—Works to secure federal aid after Rodney King civil unrest—Media sees Hernandez as representing the voice of Latinos and immigrants during the unrest—Struggles with city council for resources in riot-torn areas—Secures low-income housing for his district—Protests deployment of INS to police Pico Union during the riots—Chicano identity and use of the term Latino—Rebuild L.A. unites the city—Immigration as rooted in California history.