California’s Latino voters helped turn state blue. Will others catch the wave?

November 1, 2019

Susan Rubio, a first-term Democratic senator in Sacramento, was 6 years old and living in Texas when her family was deported in the 1970s. Her father had overstayed a temporary worker program, and one day the family was picked up while it was at a carnival and sent back to Juárez, the Mexican border city where she was born.

The family eventually settled in the Los Angeles area and became legal residents, but for Senator Rubio deportation was always at the back of her mind. “I clearly remember the rhetoric of the time. I would compare it a little to what’s happening nationally today,” she says. 

She was a young adult in 1994 when Governor Wilson released a campaign ad in which a narrator intones, “They keep coming,” as grainy black-and-white footage shows migrants running between the cars at the U.S.-Mexico border. Two months before the election, Democratic President Bill Clinton launched Operation Gatekeeper to fortify the border at San Diego. It also had the effect of pushing unauthorized immigrants into more remote areas. 

Ms. Rubio decided it was time to become a citizen, as did her family.

What followed was 17 years as a public school teacher and a life in public service – winning elections for city clerk and city council in Baldwin Park, in eastern Los Angeles County. What also followed, she notes, was a noticeable ratcheting down in California of the rhetoric and a change in attitude about immigrants.

“There’s so much more respect for immigrants in general,” Ms. Rubio says in a phone interview from Mexico, where she was traveling in a delegation with California’s lieutenant governor, Eleni Kounalakis. “And there is so much more respect” for elected Latino officials, she adds. ......

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