Fresno

Elections (Latinas rock the vote), rejections (Gerawan workers defeat UFW) defined this past year

FROM TOP: State Sen. Melissa Hurtado applauds during the swearing-in ceremony at the state Capito; Silvia López led Gerawan workers successful campaign to decertify the United Farm Workers; Avenal’s José Ramírez captured the WBCsuper lightweight title; Miss High Desert Valerie Alcáraz won Miss Congeniality at Miss California pageant; Danzantes Unidos Festival drew 1,500 folkloric dancers to Fresno; Fresno State’s Latino graduation is the largest of its type in the country; Fresno FC became the first professional soccer team in the Fresno region; law enforcement broke up MS-13 gang that had terrorized Mendota; UFW’s Arturo S. Rodríguez stepped down as president; and, Central High’s Robert Pérez claimed second consecutive lip sync crown.
FROM TOP: State Sen. Melissa Hurtado applauds during the swearing-in ceremony at the state Capito; Silvia López led Gerawan workers successful campaign to decertify the United Farm Workers; Avenal’s José Ramírez captured the WBCsuper lightweight title; Miss High Desert Valerie Alcáraz won Miss Congeniality at Miss California pageant; Danzantes Unidos Festival drew 1,500 folkloric dancers to Fresno; Fresno State’s Latino graduation is the largest of its type in the country; Fresno FC became the first professional soccer team in the Fresno region; law enforcement broke up MS-13 gang that had terrorized Mendota; UFW’s Arturo S. Rodríguez stepped down as president; and, Central High’s Robert Pérez claimed second consecutive lip sync crown.

The 19th year of this millennium had just as many days as normal years, but the news that were packed into the 365 days made for a memorable 2018.

And, we’re not even counting the happenings with the Trump administration, the election of a new president in México, or the buzz over the newest offerings from México’s heralded moviemakers.

Vida en el Valle reviewed the news that happened this past year and ranked the most memorable ones.

1. Latinas rock the vote

Two years ago, Sacramento State alumnus Melissa Hurtado was elected to the Sanger City Council and spent her work hours advocating for health care. Earlier this month, the 30-year-old Sanger resident became the youngest member of the state Senate after shocking the political world by upsetting Republican incumbent Andy Vidak in the 14th District.

Hurtado accomplished what more politically savvy candidates had failed to do: Defeat a Republican in a predominantly Democratic and heavily Latino district.

“It’s still crazy!” said Hurtado, who was sworn into office earlier this month.

“I’m still working hard, I’m still traveling the district trying to look for staff to fill the district offices,” she said after her Dec. 3 swearing-in ceremony.

Hurtado was not the only Latina to find political success. Former Assemblymember Anna Caballero won in the neighboring 12th state Senate District to wrest a seat that was occupied by a Republican.

Other Latina successes: Annalisa Perea and Magdalena Gómez in the State Center Community College board; Genoveva Islas on the Fresno Unified School District board; Madera native María Elena Durazo in a Los Ángeles-based state Senate seat; and, 20-year-old Jewel Hurtado winning a seat on the Kingsburg City Council.

Latinas make the perfect candidates because they “are mothers,” said Lourdes Oliva, a politically active Fresno resident.

“They protect their children. They take care of their kids, their education and their well-being,” said Oliva.

B-YEAR
JUAN ESPARZA LOERA

2. Gerawan workers decertify UFW

Silvia López cried when ballots from a 2013 decertification election were finally counted on the ground floor of the Hugh Burns State Building in downtown Fresno on Sept. 18. The count was 1,098 against the United Farm Workers, 197 in support of the union; 18 invalid votes; and, 635 challenged ballots.

“This is what Gerawan voters have wanted all along,” said Silva. “This is what we have been asking for. I don’t know why it took them so long.”

The state Agricultural Labor Relations Board agreed with the findings of an administrative law judge that the Reedley-based company violated regulations in support of its workers who did not want the union. The ALRB kept the votes locked up while both sides battled it out in the courts.

Earlier this year, the Fifth District Court of Appeal ruled in favor of the workers and said the votes should be counted.

In October, the ALRB officially decertified the UFW as representative of about 5,000 workers.

C-YEAR
JUAN ESPARZA LOERA

3. Avenal boxer captures WBC title

José Ramírez achieved a boyhood dream by defeating Amir Imam on March 17 at New York’s famed Madison Square Garden to claim the WBC super lightweight title. He followed that up by defending the title in front of more than 11,000 at the Save Mart Center in September against previously unbeaten Antonio Orozco of San Diego.

The 26-year-old boxer remained unbeaten with a 23-0 record following his fourth-round knockout of Orozco in the nationally televised match.

“I always prepare myself to be the best,” said Ramírez inside the ring following the fight.

Ramírez, who has been an outspoken supporter of water for the Valley and immigrant rights, is not finished.

“I dreamed to become a world champion; I became a world champion,” said Ramírez. “I dreamed to become an Olympian; I became an Olympian. And I dream to become the unified and undisputed super lightweight world champion; and that’s what I’m trying for and that’s what I’m going to do.”

Ramírez has announced a Feb. 10 title defense at the Save Mart Center.

D-YEAR
JUAN ESPARZA LOERA

4. Miss Congeniality

The big fuss at the Miss California pageant held at the Saroyan Theatre in July was about the fact that the contestants would be competing in bikinis for the last time after the national organization ordered the change following inappropriate remarks made by Miss America officials in private communications.

However, leave it to Miss High Desert Valerie Alcáraz to make a statement.

The plus-size Fullerton State student showed confidence on stage, whether singing opera or strutting in a bikini.

“I’ve never felt more confident than the moment I stepped onstage in my @kpswimwear swimsuit and made history as the last televised class in the Miss America Organization to participate in the lifestyle and fitness portion of competition,” she wrote on her Facebook page. “The biggest thing I learned from this area of competition, is how important self love is. I struggled with body image issues for most of my life, but the courage my fellow sisters and the organization gave me, helped me to overcome one of my biggest fears. I’m so proud of every young woman who stood on this stage and showed that true beauty is defined by so much more than what we look like.”

E-YEAR (2)
JUAN ESPARZA LOERA

5. Danzantes Unidos’ big show

Fresno has hosted the country’s largest gathering of Mexican folklórico dancers the past two years, and many other times prior to that. However, it appears Danzantes Unidos is ready to make itself at home at Clovis East High School and the Warnors Theatre.

Organization president María Luisa Colmenarez, a folkloric dance instructor at San José State, has led efforts to expand the class offerings for all levels and squeezed as many dance groups into the much-anticipated dance showcases.

After a failed attempt at a world record for most folkloric dancers performing at once (organizers said too many non-dancers stepped into performance at Clovis West High School baseball field to meet Guinness World Record guidelines), the group will try again in 2019.

The 2019 festival will be the 40th annual.

F-YEAR
JUAN ESPARZA LOERA

6. Fresno State Latino graduation

What began as an effort to allow parents and the community to celebrate the accomplishments of Latino graduates from Fresno State in 1977 has mushroomed into the largest Latino graduation celebration in the country. In May, more than 15,000 people packed into the Save Mart Center to celebrate the special moment for 1,075 graduates.

“I think we saved the best for last,” said Fresno State President Joseph I. Castro, who earlier in the day oversaw the university’s regular graduation and attended other on-campus events.

The problem now is that the celebration may have gotten too big for the Save Mart Center. Two years ago, the doors were closed when capacity was reached.

The Latino celebration has been duplicated at Fresno City College, Stanislaus State and other places. The Fresno Unified School District is looking into such a celebration for its Latino graduates.

G-YEAR

7. Fresno Foxes arrive

The San Joaquín Valley, long a hot bed for soccer because of immigrants from México and other countries who brought the sport with them, finally got its first professional soccer team when the Fresno Football Club kicked off its season at Chukchansi Park.

Led by its rambunctious hardcore fans called Fire Squad Fresno, Fresno FC ranked 11th in attendance out of 33 United Soccer League franchises. It finished its inaugural season with a 9-13-12 record for 12th place in the United Soccer League Western Conference.

Head coach Adam Smith signaled that the Foxes will need to find a dependable scorer next season to be able to compete better and qualify for the playoffs.

H-YEAR
JOHN WALKER jwalker@fresnobee.com

8. MS-13 gang broken up

Fresno Bee reporter Yesenia Amaro reported on the law enforcement crackdown of the MS-13 gang in Mendota. In August, investigators declared a major victory against the gang announcing the arrest of 25 suspected gang members involved in more than a dozen killings in and around the western Fresno County community in recent years.

Current and former city officials in Mendota told Amaro they had been pleading for outside help to deal with the gang's activities for more than half a decade before the August operation. They say those pleas largely went ignored.

The problem just didn’t include the gang members killing civilians and rivals. The gang violence problem spiraled so far out of control that even police officers became targets.

I-YEAR
JUAN ESPARZA LOERA

9. Change in UFW leadership

Ever since César E. Chávez and Dolores Huerta founded the United Farm Workers in 1962 in Delano, only Chávez and his son-in-law, Arturo S. Rodríguez, have held the title of president. That changed in November when Teresa Romero assumed the title.

“I’m thrilled to be president. I still pinch myself. It’s incredible, it’s an honor, and it is something that I don’t think I ever imagined,” said Romero in a holiday message. “I worked so hard to be here today and continue working, doing the work people like César, Dolores Huerta, Arturo Rodríguez have done throughout the years.”

J-YEAR
JUAN ESPARZA LOERA

10. High school principals lip sync

A popular high school fundraiser that began almost four decades ago in Modesto was resurrected in recent years by the Fresno Latino Rotary Club. Principals lip sync to Spanish-language music with student-led choreography to back him or her up.

Each participating school gets $1,000 for scholarships, with the winners banking on more money.

The champion: Central High’s Robert Pérez has claimed the title the last two years.

Read entire story in Spanish: www.vidaenelvalle.com

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