In the fall of 1993, conservative political operatives began circulating plans for an anti-immigrant California ballot proposition, what would become Proposition 187. Advocates of immigrant- and worker-rights raised alarms immediately, and mounted a vigorous opposition campaign. Voters approved Prop. 187 in 1994, but it was struck down by a federal judge. The fight against the anti-immigrant law helped propel a new progressive political coalition in California. This short film documents a vigil, march, and mass held in October 1993 in the name of Father Luis Olivares, the first to declare sanctuary for Central American refugees. It features the actor Martin Sheen and Maria Elena Durazo, president of HERE Local 11.
During the 1970s, the Hotel and Restaurant Employees union (HERE) Local 11 in Los Angeles was losing power as restaurant owners dropped their union contracts and hotels cut wages and benefits. In 1978 a multiracial group of members calling themselves United Workers of Local 11 challenged the union’s long-serving leader Scotty Allan. The group distributed campaign flyers accusing union leaders with making backroom deals with employers and ignoring the concerns of the Spanish-speaking majority of members. Meeting weekly at the People’s College of Law near MacArthur Park, the rank-and-file activist found support from progressive lawyers and activists from other unions. Their bilingual campaign literature declared, “We can no longer disregard a major portion of our membership and make ‘second class members’ of so many.” Although United Workers lost the election, they helped established the right of non-citizens to hold office and participate fully in the union’s affairs through the lawsuit of Daniel Ruiz their candidate for secretary-treasurer. Their effort was the beginning of a decade long struggle for union leadership that culminated in the election of Maria Elena Durazo in 1989. From the papers of the ACLU of Southern California, box 826 folder 6, Library Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, University of California, Los Angeles. Learn more about UNITE HERE Local 11.