Oral Histories: Union Leaders Gather Against 187

As part of "187:The Rise of the Latino Vote," we're publishing the oral histories of some of the movement's pivotal players and the people whose lives it affected. Every week, new interviews will be added, adding to this rich archive.


They're organizers, educators and mobilizers. Union leaders are called on to fulfill a number of roles on behalf of the workers in their organization. As Proposition 187 loomed on the horizon, union leaders gathered their respective organizations and united against a ballot that threatened their constituents and their communities. Learn more about the union leaders that helped gather a critical mass against Proposition 187. 

Learn more about this historic campaign against Prop 187 on "187: The Rise of the Latino Vote." Watch this preview.

Gil Cedillo

Gil Cedillo | Samanta Helou Hernandez for "187"
Gil Cedillo | Samanta Helou Hernandez for "187"

Gil Cedillo was better known for many years as the man who pursued a bill that seemed impossible to achieve: driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants. 
But his crusade for immigrants started many years before when he was the President of Local 660 of the Service Employee International Union (SEIU). Listen to his full interview.

Maria Elena Durazo

Maria Elena Durazo | Samanta Helou Hernandez for "187"
Maria Elena Durazo | Samanta Helou Hernandez for "187"

From the fields of California as a child with her farmworker parents to leadership in the transformation of the union movement and now, a seat in the California Senate, Maria Elena Durazo has been at the forefront of major issues in the state.

She was born the seventh child in a family of eleven children to migrant workers. Growing up, she traveled with her family, following the crops throughout California and Oregon, an experience that marked her and set the stage for who she was to become. Listen to her full interview.

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Joel Ochoa 

Joel Ochoa | Ricardo Palavecino for "187"
Joel Ochoa | Ricardo Palavecino for "187"

Joel Ochoa is a political refugee from Mexico who arrived in the United States at the end of 1973. By the time Proposition 187 came around, he was a seasoned union organizer. 

That's probably why he didn't buy the argument some democratic politicians and consultants made to him and others, that to fight the anti-immigrant initiative, immigrants had to keep a low profile, not participate in big marches and not anger the so-called “Encino Voter." Listen to his full interview.

Cristina Vazquez

Cristina Vazquez | Ricardo Palavecino for "187"
Cristina Vazquez | Ricardo Palavecino for "187"

On the day of the march against Prop 187 in Los Angeles, Cristina Vazquez was on stage, getting ready to introduce some of the labor leaders that attended the event and expecting at most about 5,000 people to show up.

On that Sunday, October 16, 1994, Vazquez saw tens of thousands of people, many immigrant workers, and their families, walking in the streets of downtown Los Angeles coming from the east. Many had handmade signs demanding respect from governor Pete Wilson, who was pushing Proposition 187 to take away education and health care from undocumented immigrants. Listen to her full interview.

Annetta Wells

Annetta Wells | Ricardo Palavecino for "187"
Annetta Wells | Ricardo Palavecino for "187"

Growing up in what was then called South Central L.A. in a single-parent home fueled Annetta Wells' desire to fight for her family and the people in her community.

Her fighting spirit started early on and continues to this day, now that she's the deputy political director for the largest labor local in California, SEIU 2015, representing over 400,000 long-term care workers up and down the state of California. Listen to her full interview.

Top Image: A young Gil Cedillo at the head of a table discussing plans for an anti-Prop 187 march | Still from "187"

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