Latinas now make up nearly half of L.A. Unified's board of education! I was oblivious to the obvious in the school district press room while covering the new board's swearing in on Wednesday.The splash of cold water came from re-elected board member Monica Garcia at the end of her acceptance speech. "I love being the part of history where for the first time in over 159 years, three Latinas sit on the school board at the same time." Joining Garcia and Yolie Flores Aguilar on the seven member board is former San Fernando councilwoman Nury Martinez. "Boy do we have an opportunity to really write a different history for this district," Garcia said.
A watershed moment? Where are the historians scribbling updates for their revised Chicano studies texts? I'd interviewed Yolanda Santoyo outside school district headquarters about her hunger strike to stop teacher layoffs. She's a social worker, Aztec dancer, and Chicana activist. So I went back out to hear if she thought this was a big deal. "A big deal for who?" she answered with a disinterested facial gesture. "How is that beneficial to our community?"
For decades activists have lobbied for more Chicanos in elective office, in management positions and on television. And that's starting to change. "They forget, they sell out," Santoyo said of those newly minted brown politicians. They're not entirely to blame, she said, Latino constituents don't do enough to hold the politicians accountable.
Back inside the school board chambers I pulled aside former L.A. Unified school board member David Tokofsky, certainly he'd think it significant. In 1995, L.A. Unified's first Latina school board president supported his run for school board, he said, earning her flack from people who wanted a Latino instead of him.
Listen, Tokofsky said, as he pointed to the three Latino politicians inside school board chambers for the swearing in - L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and councilmen Tony Cardenas and Jose Huizar - that's six powerful Latino politicians in the same room he said. "If power continues to not have an effect on the learning in the classroom, symbolism doesn't mean anything." Schools are still struggling, he said, so accomplishment in elective office remains much more important than symbolism.
I got back to the press room in time to hear new board member Steven Zimmer twist the symbolism into laughs. "The voters of L.A. have elected and reelected two amazing, powerful, inspirational Latina leaders to the school board, and the bald white Jewish guy who's very well trained in listening to powerful, strong Latinas." Applause and hoots from the community inside school board chambers.