September 19, 2013 Issue

September 19, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 


Activists Call for Full Participation in Upcoming Immigration Reform March

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The timing couldn’t be better or more urgent for a “massive march” to demand legislators bring immigration reform back to the table, according to immigration activists and their celebrity partners who this week issued a call for participation in a protest march being held this Sunday in Downtown Los Angeles.

This is the time of year when people go out of their way to celebrate the independence days of Mexico and many other Latin American countries and Hispanic Heritage Month, which recognizes the many contributions made by Latinos to the U.S., the same enthusiasm should be shown for making your voices heard when it comes to demanding comprehensive immigration reform, said one of several speakers at a press conference promoting details for Sunday’s march, part of a national day of action.

The “Millions of Voices For Immigration Reform-With A Path To Citizenship Coalition” press conference took place on the northeast steps of Los Angeles City Hall on Monday, Sept. 16—Mexico’s Independence Day. (EGP photo by Gloria Angelina Castillo)

The “Millions of Voices For Immigration Reform-With A Path To Citizenship Coalition” press conference took place on the northeast steps of Los Angeles City Hall on Monday, Sept. 16—Mexico’s Independence Day. (EGP photo by Gloria Angelina Castillo)

“I believe it’s time that these same thousands who celebrate the independence of their home countries come out, to the future, [for] immigration reform—but we have to fight for it, because it’s not going to fall into our hands, not everything should be a party,” said Roberto Bravo of the Council of Bi-national Organizations (Consejo Binacional de Organizaciones).

“We have to fight for family unification, we need to be at Olympic and Broadway at 10am on Sept. 22,” Bravo said passionately.

The march is being organized by the “Millions of Voices for Immigration Reform with a Path to Citizenship Coalition,” founded by long-time immigrant rights activists Gloria Saucedo of Hermandad Mexicana Transnacional, Javier Rodriguez of the March 25 Coalition, Raul Murillo of Hermandad Mexicana Nacional and Juan Jose Gutierrez of Vamos Unidos

We chose this name “because there are millions of voices across the country—and 80 percent of the entire population support immigration reform,” said Rodriguez in Spanish. “Its an opportune time to push for more, to give it a final push so that this year immigration reform is approved.”

Gutierrez said thousands are expected to participate in the march to urge Congress, and specifically the House of Representatives, to move forward with approving comprehensive immigration reform legislation. He and other speakers said it’s the Republican leadership in the House that is obstructing reform efforts.

“Not only are we doing this huge, important march on Sept 22, [it] will be followed up by a whole series of political actions, marches, picket lines, masses, student walk-outs etc. across the nation,” Gutierrez told EGP, adding he’s just learned another group is organizing a rally for Oct. 5.

“People want to bring the issue of immigration reform back to the table in the House of Representatives,” which is holding up the debate on immigration and a path to citizenship, he said.

Saucedo called on members of the press to help promote the Sep.22 march. “We need you to announce the march every day, at all hours…” Saucedo said.

Several Spanish-language radio and television personalities have announced they are backing the effort.

Too many families split between the US and their homeland are lighting candles hoping to someday be able to see their loved ones, said Ricardo Sanchez, “El Mandril” of regional Mexican music station KLAX-FM (97.9). Many people have not been able to return home to say good-bye to their deceased parents, he said, struggling to hold back his tears.

Sanchez said people should not be misled by those who claim another march will have no impact: “Of course it will make a difference! And we will prove it this Sunday at 10am at Olympic and Broadway,” he said.

Jose Armando Ronstadt, of Spanish news station KWHY channel 22, said the average person, and immigrants in particular, are voiceless, so the media has a responsibility to use their platforms to keep the fervor alive.

“We cannot silence those voices. If we silence the voices of those who need help, its basically sinning against hope, and we have to keep hope alive,” he said.

The passage last Thursday of AB-60, which will allow eligible undocumented immigrants the right to apply for and obtain a driver’s license, was a historic day for immigrants and the state, said State Sen. Kevin A. De Leon speaking in both English and Spanish.

De Leon said Sunday’s march will serve as a symbolic reminder to legislators that people are willing to come together for “what is right and just” for all people living in America.

“What we need in Washington D.C. is political maturity, where folks can find consensus and come together because immigration reform is not a Latino issue, it is not an Asian issue, not an African issue, it is truly an American issue because this country was founded by immigrants for immigrants,” he said.

As De Leon spoke, a heckler shouted at him from the sidewalk. “There’s too many of them! Make Mexico your country!” a heckler shouted at De Leon as he spoke.

The Sept. 22 march is important because it will show that with unity and leadership, there is hope for the improving the situation of immigrant workers, said Raul Murillo, director of La Hermandad Mexicana.

Exide Ordered to Cut Production, Again

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Vernon battery recycler Exide Technologies has been ordered to cut production by air quality officials because air monitors near the facility recorded lead emissions that exceed health standards, the L.A. Times reported Wednesday.

The higher than safe levels were recorded over a 30-day period, and come on the heels of calls for the company’s permanent shut down, and an announcement that the embattled company will pay for county residents worried they may have been harmed by lead emissions to get free blood tests at the company’s expense. The free blood tests will be available to thousands of people living in an area that includes Boyle Heights and the nearby cities of Maywood and Huntington Park, as well Vernon.

A sign outside Exide Technologies, located on 2700 S. Indiana St. in Vernon. (EGP photo by Gloria Angelina Castillo)

A sign outside Exide Technologies, located on 2700 S. Indiana St. in Vernon. (EGP photo by Gloria Angelina Castillo)

As EGP reported last week, local residents are organizing with other stakeholders in the region to collectively pressure for the permanent closure of the Exide plant amid concerns that the battery recycler has created a health crisis for hundreds of thousands of people living and working in the region, raising the cancer risk and the possibility of increased neurological deficits in children.

The California Air Quality Management District had been monitoring Exide emissions to see if the company has really reduced harmful emissions as it had claimed to regulatory agencies and to a judge who overturned an shut down order by the California Department of Toxic Substances Control, following excessively high readings of lead and arsenic were found in the spring.

More costly and complicated testing for arsenic, however, will not be part of the free testing protocol, according to health officials.

While many are welcoming the opportunity to be tested, some community and environmental activists are questioning the reliability and value of lead testing several months after the heightened exposure. They worry that the tests are being conducted to placate concerned residents, but will do little to pinpoint the source of any high levels of lead found, since data from the tests are not going to be analyzed or compiled into a study or report, but are for individual consideration only, leaving Exide off the hook.

Nonetheless, Vernon Director of Health and Environmental Control Leonard Grossberg said Monday that news of the free lead testing is “a step in the right direction.” He said, during his update to the city council on the Exide situation, the testing announcement shows “that they [Exide] are active in the community” and trying to educate the public about “the possibility for exposure.”

Testing, however, is being conducted at the insistence of the California Department of Toxic Substances Control, Brian Johnson, Deputy Director for DTSC’s Hazardous Waste Management Program, told EGP Tuesday in an email.

“Blood, dust and soil testing in the nearby communities are activities that DTSC has insisted that Exide implement and have been central to our discussions with them since we suspended their operation,” Johnson said. “We have partnered with the LA County Health Department, who bring their substantial expertise to ensure that we have scientific and health data on which we can base future decisions regarding Exide’s responsibilities.”

Testing will be conducted under the direction of the County Board of Supervisors and partner agencies that include DTSC and the South Coast Air Quality Management District, according the Los Angeles Dept. of Public Health.

Details as to when and where the free tests will be available are still being finalized, according to health officials.

Johnson told EGP that DTSC’s goal for Exide is the same goal they have for all hazardous waste operations, to ensure that neither their current or past operations pose a risk to public health nor the environment.

Since 2007, Exide has violated both AQMD and state lead emission safety standards on three different occasions.

Earlier this year, the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) shut the plant down because the agency found that the facility was releasing hazardous levels of lead and arsenic into the air, as well as “metal bearing” waste into the soil.

Under order from DTSC, Exide began taking soil and dust samples late last month at adjacent properties. The samples will be analyzed for lead, arsenic and other toxic chemicals known to increase the risk of cancer, neurological damage and other health issues.

Grossberg told Vernon council members this week that the regional water quality control board continues to monitor the storm water plan for offsite water discharges. He said Exide proposes to remove all the existing underground piping and test to see if there is any exposure to the soil or ground water.

Council members, not usually very vocal on the issues that come before them, questioned Grossberg regarding the city’s response to the Exide situation.

Mayor Pro Tem William Davis wanted to know what happened to the city’s request to the AQMD back in April for the agency to issue a health advisory in response to the findings of excessive harmful emissions by Exide.

“AQMD has not issued a health advisory because it lacks the scientific proof that anyone, not to mention 250, 000 people, are being harmed right now, to date, from any emissions from the Exide plant operations,” Grossberg responded.

“Without that proof they could not issue the health risk advisory and I cannot issue a health risk advisory,” he said, one day before AQMD officials ordered Exide to cut production.

Councilman Richard Masiano asked if the city is doing everything it can to ensure the safety of the workers at Exide and its surrounding residents? Grossberg said the city is doing everything within its power, and regularly communicates with AQMD, DTSC.

“Vernon’s Department of Health and Environmental Control continues to share the public concern regarding important public health and safety issues and pledges to do anything within our city power to safeguard the lives of our residents, business employees and residents of our neighboring communities,” Grossberg said.

Vernon is taking heat from surrounding communities that believe the city can shut Exide down by changing its zoning codes.

City Administrator Mark Whitworth asked whether there is a legal avenue the city can pursue to revoke Exide’s permit to operate in the city.

It was Los Angeles County that approved using the property where Exide is now located for lead smelting back in 1922, before it was annexed into Vernon in 1959, according to Deputy City Attorney Scott Porter. He said the city cannot change its zoning codes to shut down Exide.

“The constitution and zoning don’t work like that. No city may legally amend their zoning code to thereby illegally prohibit operation of a multi-million dollar facility, which has been recently upgraded to the tune of many thousand of dollars, simply to meet air quality standards,” Porter told the council.

The equal protection clause in the constitution requires cities to treat all similarly situated business owners equally, he said.

“The city cannot legally say to Exide owners ‘even though you’ve never violated our zoning codes, because we don’t like you, you’re hereby shutdown effective immediately,’” Porter said.

“The city cannot legally shut down Exide for violations of AQMD’s or DTSC’s pollution standards, only the AQMD and DTSC can legally enforce their own standards.”

Meanwhile, plans to start the blood tests still have other obstacles to overcome. According to DTSC Spokeswoman Tamma Adamek, said while DTSC wants testing to begin and for Exide to pay for the tests, it “will require approval from the bankruptcy court” because Exide filed for bankruptcy in June, and as a result, a bankruptcy judge must approve all expenditures.


Information from City News Service was used in this report. 


From Immigrant to City Official, Vernon Woman Makes History

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Luz Martinez was just 12 years old when she left Mexico for the United States, without her parents and not knowing any English.

Like many girls of her generation, she dreamed of someday being a secretary: Today she is the first Latina to be elected to the Vernon City Council.

Luz Martinez as a child in Juarez, Mexico (left) immigrated to the U.S. at a young age and eventually became Vernon’s first Latina councilmember (right) in 2012. (Photos courtesy of Luz Martinez)

Luz Martinez as a child in Juarez, Mexico (left) immigrated to the U.S. at a young age and eventually became Vernon’s first Latina councilmember (right) in 2012. (Photos courtesy of Luz Martinez)

The road from pre-teen immigrant to councilwoman wasn’t always easy, Martinez told EGP during a recent interview. She said it was hard leaving her single mother and home in Juarez, Mexico behind in 1965, but the sacrifice — made by countless immigrants before and since — was made so she and her younger brother Manuel would have a “better life.”

“I could have made a life in Mexico,” Martinez ventures, “but I knew [coming to the U.S.] was going to be better for us.”

Martinez and her brother had the good fortune to be adopted by an aunt who lived in East Los Angeles, but it was difficult transitioning to life in the U.S., she told EGP.

“It was hard because I didn’t speak a drop of English. Little by little, I tried to speak more and more,” she said, recalling that she and her brother would watch television shows in English to pick up the language. We were determined to learn English and get an education, Martinez remembers.

Although she now speaks English fluently she’s still shy about speaking in public, but says she is working on being more vocal during city council meetings as recommended by Vernon’s Reform Monitor John Van de Kamp. He says more open discussion will improve transparency and help the city rehabilitate its public image, damaged by allegations of corruption and a campaign to disincorporate the industrial city:  The reason Martinez says she ran for office in the first place.

Martinez’ journey from Mexico to Vernon was winding and years in the making. At 18 she returned to Mexico to be with her mother, crossing the border between Juarez and El Paso, TX everyday to work. Years later she would return to California, a newly divorced single mother in need of a job, preferably as a secretary as she had long dreamed.

She had after all acquired the skills she needed at Montebello High School where she took typing and stenography courses in hopes of someday following in her aunt’s footsteps and landing a “glamorous job,” like those depicted in the AMC TV show “Mad Men,” which happens to have filmed in Vernon.

“I would see [my aunt] all dressed up with her hair done,” Martinez recalls. “Some kids played house, I played office.”

A talented stenographer, who says she could type 160 words per minute, Martinez in 1987 was hired as the assistant to the city administrator’s secretary, where she learned to prepare agendas and take minutes. Within a couple of months she was promoted to secretary for Vernon’s fire chief, a job she held for 23 years before deciding to run for the council seat left vacant when former Mayor Hilario Gonzalez decided to retire. The city was at the time embroiled in allegations of wrong doing by its top executives.

Martinez says she decided to run, despite all the controversy, because as a long-time city employee she had come to know the city well and felt she had something to offer.

Luz Martinez, front middle, was honored for her many years as a city employee, by the Vernon’s city council in 1997 before she became a councilmember herself in 2012. (Cortesy of Luz Martinez)

Luz Martinez, front middle, was honored for her many years as a city employee, by the Vernon’s city council in 1997 before she became a councilmember herself in 2012. (Courtesy of Luz Martinez)

“What an opportunity to help assist the city!” she said. “I saw all the terrible things happening here and that’s what made my decision to run and [to try and] prevent people from coming and ruining the city,” she said, recalling the images of reporters swarming the city and negative headlines about Vernon in the news.

Former fire chief and current City Administrator Mark Whitworth told EGP he feels Martinez has a “genuine interest” in helping the city address the reforms measures brokered by Sen. Kevin de Leon in return for his support to fend off calls for disincorporation.

“She saw the need in the community and wanted to help Vernon make progress,” he said.

But being elected in a city with only about 100 residents wasn’t easy. There were allegations of voter fraud and votes thrown out, which in the end turned the election in Martinez’ favor. She made history when she took office in October 2012, as the first Latina ever elected to the council, and as only the third woman to take the oath of office since the city was founded in 1905. Martinez says her election has opened the door for other women, including Latinas.

Now “I want to see more woman in the body and for them to say ‘I can do that,’” she said.

Martinez told EGP she was determined to tackle the city’s much needed reforms and according to Vernon spokesperson Fred MacFarlane, she  “stepped up to the plate” when it came to reducing the controversial high salaries paid to council members.

Martinez chose to forgo the higher salary paid to her fellow council members, opting instead to receive just under $25,000 a year as recommended by Van de Kamp. “That’s something she didn’t have to do; but that just demonstrates that she’s all in and really wants to put the right message forward of what Vernon should be,” said Whitworth.

The council has since voted to reduce council member pay, but it’s something that could have taken years if Martinez had not taken the initiative, says MacFarlane.

Martinez says she still feels strongly about her Mexican heritage and culture, and hopes to someday bring celebrations like Mexican Independence Day, which resonates with her personally, to the city where many of the residents and city and industry workers are Latino.

“That day is very important to me … I don’t forget where I came from,” she said, still in awe about how far she has come from being a child immigrant to Vernon official who will represented her city in Sacramento this week.

“I am very proud to have come all the way to where I am today.”

PBS Documentary Looks at Complex History of Latinos in the U.S.

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The Latino presence in the United States dates back 500 years and the new documentary “Latino Americans,” which is being aired on PBS, hopes to dig into the history and fill the voids that persist in the group’s collective memory.

Few Americans know the history of Juan Seguín, a Texan-Mexican who fought for Texas’ independence during the 1830s; the establishment of 21 Spanish missions in California; the heroism of Guy Gabaldón, a U.S sailor who served during World War II; the participation by Latinos in all of the U.S. wars, or Latino’s early role in national politics.

Benjamin Bratt, right, who narrates the PBS documentary “Latino Americans,” at a Television Critics Association Summer Press Tour session in Los Angeles last month discussing the history of Latinos in the U.S. (Photo courtesy of PBS)

Benjamin Bratt, right, who narrates the PBS documentary “Latino Americans,” at a Television Critics Association Summer Press Tour session in Los Angeles last month discussing the history of Latinos in the U.S. (Photo courtesy of Rahoul Ghose/PBS)

The six-hour documentary, which starts this week, hopes to explain the comprehensive history of the largest minority group in the United States during its more than 500 years of history, during Hispanic Heritage Month that runs from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15.

The PBS documentary used historical archives, photos, black and white film and interviews with nearly 100 experts and Hispanic celebrities, including actress Rita Moreno, singer Gloria Estefan and authors Victor Villaseñor and Julia Alvarez, to emphasize that the nation was not only forged by Europeans but also by the contributions of Latinos.

As for Mexicans, who now make up 65% of all Latinos in the country, the documentary describes the discrimination and contempt they were subjected to during the 1960s– signs on buildings prohibited the entrance of “Dogs, Blacks and Mexicans” – while they looked for work during labor shortages.

This cycle of acceptance and rejection, the documentary suggests, has been on-going in the country. Currently, since the beginning of the economic crisis, the U.S. has deported more than one million Mexicans.

Narrated by Benjamin Bratt, the documentary, being broadcast in three, two-hour long segments, summarizes the successful Spanish conquest of the Americas, the fight over territory between the United States and Spain in 1898, the Mexican Revolution of 1910, Fidel Castro coming to power in Cuba and the rebellion against the Dominican Dictator Rafael Leonidas Trujillo, among others that caused an exodus to the North.

The documentary covers the creation of the American identity as it is intertwined with a “bird’s eye view” of the major events both in and outside of the U.S. with vignettes by Latino celebrities.

Alvarez, for example, points out that the American culture “needs certain things from us,” and that, thanks to the immigration of her family to the United States in order to escape the dictatorship of Trujillo, possibly influenced her play “How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents,” in which she explored the hybrid identity of the new generation of Latinos who claimed their space in the country.

“The exclusion and marginalizing of Latinos is like a weak but persistent fever that never goes away. It’s like the country has not assimilated to the fact that one in every six Americans has their roots in the Spanish empire in this continent,” said Ray Suárez, host for PBS.

“Would they continue not accepting it when they become one in every three? I doubt it! The good news is the Latino presence continues; they, we, will continue here for a long time,” added Suárez, who is the author of the book that accompanies the documentary.

But the chronological work by PBS is not free of criticism because although it mentions the waves of immigrants from Puerto Rico, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Central America and South America – the majority of the documentary focuses on the history of Mexicans, especially their influence in the Southwest.

The program’s broadcast, which will air on PBS and V-Me throughout the month, comes at a time when Latinos total 53 million or 17% of the population, according to the 2012 census, and they are being courted by businesses and politicians.

Check your local listings for broadcast times.

Cesar Chavez Honored with Mural at Bell Gardens School

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A new mural honoring civil rights and labor leader Cesar Chavez is now decorating the walls of a school named in his honor in Bell Gardens.



The mural at Cesar Chavez Elementary School was unveiled Monday, coinciding with the start of Hispanic Heritage Month and the 16th of September, Mexico’s Independence Day.

Fernando Chavez, Cesar’s eldest son, attended the event that paid tribute to his father’s legacy. The artwork was a collaborative effort between Artist Simon Silva, students and parents in memory of the late teacher Jose Guajardo, a former teacher at the school.


Pictured: Fernando Chavez, middle, the eldest son of the late civil rights leader Cesar Chavez stands with MUSD board member Paul Montoya, left, and Cesar Chavez Elementary School Principal Norma Velasco-Aceves, right, in front of the newly unveiled mural of Cesar Chavez on Sept. 16. 


Sewage Spill Causes Freeway Tie-Up in Highland Park

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A clogged sewer line overflowed in Highland Park on Tuesday, disgorging sewage onto the northbound Pasadena (110) Freeway and closing all but one lane for about five hours.

The spill near York Boulevard was reported 8:53 a.m., California Highway Patrol Officer Francisco Villalobos said, adding that northbound traffic was initially taken off the freeway Avenue 60.

Lauren Skinner, spokeswoman for the city Department of Public Works, said repair crews cleared the blockage by about 10:20 a.m., but it took crews until around 2 p.m. to clean the mess off the freeway and check other sewer lines for blockages. She said about 260 gallons of sewage flowed onto the road, and 162 gallons were recovered.

“The other 98 gallons spilled into the Arroyo Seco Channel,” Skinner said. “But that is a very small amount.”

All freeway lanes were reopened at 2:08 p.m., according to the CHP.


Suspect Shot by Sheriffs Deputies in East L.A.

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Deputies wounded a man who fired on them during a vehicle chase in East Los Angeles, authorities said Wednesday.

Deputies who went to the 4200 block of Michigan Avenue around 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday to investigate a report of an assault with a deadly weapon discovered that people had been shot at – but not hit – by a gunman who fled in a 2013 Mercedes-Benz, said Deputy Peter Gomez of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Headquarters Bureau.

They spotted the Mercedes, with two suspects inside, and attempted to pull it over, but the driver refused to stop and a chase ensued, eventually leading to the southbound Long Beach (710) Freeway, Gomez said.

The Mercedes exited the freeway at the Third Street offramp and struck a stop sign, and the passenger fired rounds from the car, drawing return fire, but no one was struck in that exchange, Gomez said.

The Mercedes then headed north on Humphreys Avenue, where it became disabled on a stretch of MTA rail tracks, he said.

The passenger, armed with a handgun, left the Mercedes, prompting a second deputy-involved shooting, Gomez said, adding that the man was struck in the upper body and hospitalized in stable condition. A weapon was recovered at the shooting scene and the driver was arrested, Gomez said.

No deputies were injured.





Monterey Park Man Accused of Rape Arrested

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Police said Tuesday they are trying to determine whether a Monterey Park man charged with raping two women may have additional victims.

Andrew “Andy” Van Bui, 26, is charged with two counts each of forcible rape and sexual penetration by a foreign object, along with one count of forcible oral copulation, stemming from crimes that allegedly occurred Aug. 26 and Sept. 2.

Bui, who is being held on $1.5 million bail, was arrested about 11 p.m. Sept. 3 after the two women identified him as their alleged attacker, said Monterey Park police Lt. Bill Cuevas.

Police believe that Bui befriended the women at a cafe where he worked in Alhambra and then used social media to set up a meeting or invite them to his residence, where they were allegedly attacked, according to the lieutenant.

Anyone with information on Bui, who is due at the Alhambra courthouse on Sept. 26 for a bail review hearing, was asked to call Monterey Park police at (626) 307-1236.

Nurse Teaches Patients to Dance

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It was two years ago when a nurse at a local facility for developmentally disabled adults first brought her love for dancing folklorico to her patients, some of whom have Down Syndrome, Mental Retardation, severe Autism or other disabilities.

Many of the developmentally disabled adults, who dance under Martha Tiscareño’s instruction (center), are of Hispanic descent. (Courtesy of EL ARCA)

Many of the developmentally disabled adults, who dance under Martha Tiscareño’s instruction (center), are of Hispanic descent. (Courtesy of EL ARCA)

About 25 patients, ages 22 to 45, participate in the ballet folklorico classes taught by Pico Rivera resident Martha Tiscareño at the East Los Angeles Remarkable Citizens’ Association (EL ARCA) in Lincoln Heights. Tiscareño, who performed for about a decade before she started to instruct at EL ARCA, teaches her students the dances popular in the different regions of Mexico, such as the fandango jarocho and jarabe tapatio from the state of Veracruz.

When the program first started, the dancers had to learn all the regions and steps, today they just practice to review the steps they already know, Tiscareño said, noting that many of the participants have been with her from the beginning.

She told EGP that despite their diagnosed disabilities, for the most part, the men and women who take her dance classes have outgoing personalities and already enjoy dancing. Others just want to get involved and have fun, she explained, noting that if someone just wants to come to be part of the group but not dance, it’s okay.

“ They perform here for themselves, for birthdays, and during the summer they dance Hawaiian,” said Tiscareño, explaining that folklorico is not the only style of dance they learn.

And while there are no upcoming public performances currently scheduled, Tiscareño says the group has in the past performed at fundraising events, parades and even at Olvera Street.

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