Presidential Candidate Draws Heckles and Standing Ovation in L.A.

Josefina Vazquez Mota on stage at a Zocalo event

She's Mexican, and she's Right. L.A.'s welcome for Mexican presidential candidate Josefina Vazquez Mota on Friday included hecklers and a standing ovation.

There was tension in the air at MOCA's Grand Avenue plaza about 20 minutes before she was to talk as part of the Zocalo Public Square speaker series. Organizer Gregory Rodriguez paced about. Is she even in the city, I joked. She's at 7th and Flower, he said.

Several dark SUV's park along the sidewalk. The candidate for the party in power, the conservative National Action Party (PAN), gets out as PAN opponent Martin Lopez, at the top of his lungs, yells in Spanish, "Josefina Vazquez Mota, is the same thing, blood, violence, unemployment."

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While the foreign political slogans may appear out of place in downtown L.A.'s cultural corridor, there's a long history of Mexican politicians coming to this city as well as opponents of Mexico's ruling political party finding themselves exiled for one reason or another in the Southland. Ricardo Flores Magon, who stoked the Mexican Revolution from Echo Park a century ago, would have been proud of the heckler.

Some came to hear what the candidate proposed to do about escalating violence in Mexico, some came to connect with the country of their birth, while others, like Nancy de los Santos came out of curiosity.

"I would not have left my house this evening to see another man tell me what he thinks is going to happen politically in this country or any country. I'm here because she's a woman and I just find it fascinating that in these day and age a woman said, 'I want to give this a try.' De los Santos said.

The possibility of seeing Mexico's next president brought Robert Gordillo to see Vazquez Mota. He lives in Rancho Palos Verdes and works in television sales for the Azteca Spanish language network. "We're hosting an event for the PAN candidate for president, so we have some clients coming and we're hoping to bring them to the meeting." Gordillo said.

Emelia Perez showed up to hear what the candidate would do to improve public safety in Mexico. She brought her young daughter, husband, and her Mexican immigrant parents to the talk. Perez grew up in Northridge and graduated from medical school in Guadalajara four years ago.

"It's a shame that the Mexico I went to school in and was very safe in Guadalajara is probably no longer true today," Perez said.

Once the talk started Perez and her family were one of the lucky ones to sit inside MOCA's auditorium. About 50 people had to sit on folding chairs and watch on a television monitor. Most stood up and clapped as Vazquez Mota walked on stage.

Moderator Sergio Muñoz asked if Mexico's ready for a female president. She said women are more than half of the population and she's running because she knows her country, it's society, it's educational challenges.

This was not the place to hear the candidate lay out the party platform of her Right-leaning, PAN party. Mexican law forbids candidates to campaign and ask for votes outside Mexico's borders. Which is odd because the country has spent a lot of money to make it easier for Mexicans abroad to vote.

That didn't stop Vazquez Mota from pulling on the heartstrings. There's a Chinese proverb, she said, that lays out that half of the sky is held up by women. And there are women in Mexico who hold up the entire sky and a husband.

As a child, she added, her parents told her that if she got lost she should find a policeman right away, something no parent would tell their child these days. She also talked about curbing the privileges of Mexico's political class. That was followed by talk of improving access to a quality education, economic growth, and opening competition in some sectors. Mexico's current president (she ran his presidential campaign) didn't bury his head in the sand, she said, when faced with growing drug cartel violence.

I'll leave you with two last thoughts on Josefina Vazquez Mota. Her critics are waving a short article she wrote nearly 15 years ago about the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile. The article doesn't pledge support for the regime, as the critics say, it's more a middle of the road assessment that says Pinochet's economic model holds its lessons.

I don't think this is what guitarist Carlos Santana had in mind over the weekend when he decided to talk about Vazquez Mota at a Mexican concert. Mexico's ready for a female president, Santana said. Lucky for him that his amps were loud enough to drown out the boos.

Poet and KPCC Reporter Adolfo Guzman-Lopez writes his column Movie Miento every week on KCET's SoCal Focus blog. It is a poetic exploration of Los Angeles history, Latino culture and the overall sense of place, darting across LA's physical and psychic borders.

About the Author

Adolfo’s been a reporter at NPR affiliate KPCC since 2000. He’s reported on three L.A. mayors, four L.A. Unified superintendents, and covered the LAPD batons and rubber bullets flying at the May, 2007 MacArthur Park immigrant marc...
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