Isabel Candelaria, 72, sits on a green bench outside St. Hillary’s Church in her hometown of Pico Rivera on a warm Sunday afternoon as she reminisces on her experience and thoughts on healthcare, education, immigration and homelessness. She says these are the issues on her mind as she considers which candidates to vote for in the June 7 LA County primary elections.

CALÓ NEWS sat with Candelaria to learn about what is on her mind this election cycle:

“I advocate for the people that live here,” Candelaria said. “I advocate for the senior citizens and what they’re going through,” she added as the sound of the church choir’s singing hung in the air.

“To me, the issues that I feel are important,” she said. “Firstly, I look at the candidate. And I say, ‘Tell me what you have done for me to continue to support you.’”  

Candelaria said that she has been heavily involved in the Latino community as a volunteer and Sunday school teacher for the past 20 years. She said the issue that weighs most heavily on her heart is the issue of homelessness. 

“Politicians keep saying we’re going to clean up all this homelessness,” Candelaria said. “And each candidate that goes in with this platform actually doesn’t do anything.”

Homelessness in Los Angeles County increased by 12.7% in 2020, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA). An estimated 66,000 people in Los Angeles County are homeless. LAHSA is expected to conduct a new homelessness count in Los Angeles County this summer. 

“I think they need to really reach out to these people. And I know that they have, but they just move them from place to place. That’s not taking care of the problem,” Candelaria said. “That’s why I say Eric Garcetti is doing a horrible job down in LA, and has created this monster that is homelessness. How are you going to fix it?”

What are the most important issues in the upcoming election?

I look at the candidates. And I say, ‘Tell me what you have done for me to continue to support you,’ and that has a lot of basis on how I vote. I am a certain party. But if I feel that candidate is not doing what he needs to do for me, I will look at other things that I need to do. First of all, if you are voting for something, an issue, that I don’t believe in, I will not vote for it. But because I don’t believe people really understand what they’re voting for. They just mark whatever they can. And now some of the things that we’re all living through right now are the [result] of what these people have voted for.

I advocate for the people that live here. I advocate for the senior citizens and what they’re going through with the veterans that are homeless. And what are we doing for them? Politicians keep saying we’re going to clean up all this homelessness. And each candidate that goes in with this platform actually doesn’t do anything. They’ve been advocating homelessness for how many years? And sometimes, I feel that they’re leaning more toward the [undocumented] immigrants here. And they’re taking away the stability for an American that was born here and has served our country. They’re out in the street because all the Section 8 [benefits are] going for these [undocumented] children that are American, but their parents aren’t. That is a big problem. I think if we turned the tables and offered help to veterans, Section 8, and get them into housing. And then let’s help the ones that are here. But we’re giving them everything, and our vets are out there. I can’t believe it. It hurts me to no end.

Do you believe Gov. Gavin Newsom has been doing a good job?

We’re gonna give free health care to every [undocumented] immigrant? But Gov. Newsom doesn’t concentrate on really what’s going on. We’re in a drought situation. What about the people that live here? And you’re talking about taking care of all the other people and not really emphasizing anything on the people that paid their taxes, and they pay for all the free stuff and that’s why nobody wants to work anymore. They’re getting nothing but free stuff. So why would I go to work? It’s just so backwards. It’s just needs to be changed.

Do you think law enforcement in LA County has been doing a good job?

Well, from what I see, yes. You only get in trouble when you cause trouble. If you didn’t cause trouble, why would the police be after you? And like they say about people that have been injured. Sure, some of them have been wrongfully hurt by police. However, a lot of them, if you just comply, what are they going to do to you? You know, so it makes it harder for them. And it makes it harder for this person, because they could get hurt by not complying. And you see it all over the TV and stuff where people are running away from law enforcement and stuff like that, but yeah, absolutely.

Do you agree with how the local government has handled the pandemic?

Well, I really can’t say yes or no because I don’t know what other way they could have done it. You know, I am double-boostered. I mean, I comply. For my health. But this gets out of hand quite a bit. I know that when I go to to the market or something, I wear my mask. I don’t care. I don’t know if you’re vaccinated. I have a very low immune system. So I need to watch out for me. And I’ve had people come up to me and say, ‘You don’t have to wear a mask.’ I say, ‘I wear it if I like, why would it be bothering you?’ I don’t know which other way the [government] could have done it. You know, it’s hard because we’ve never gone through anything like this. So what is the right way or the wrong way? Maybe the emphasis should have been put on our children. Right now, they’re really getting sick. Some parents don’t want to immunize their children. And that’s totally up to them. But I’m going to take every precaution to keep myself healthy.

How important is immigration reform?

Well, it’s quite important. Because I know we’re the melting pot. And we’re a very diverse country, which is fine. But unfortunately, [immigrants] demand [things]. And this is where I don’t understand it. How can you demand our government to protect you, to feed you, to send you to college for free, while you’re struggling to pay your student loans? And that has a lot to do with how I look at things. I fought in the mid-1960s for civil rights for us as Americans of Mexican descent, which we called ourselves Chicanos because of our own identities. We’re not accepted by the people that come over here. They demand you to speak Spanish, they don’t understand that in our era they used to hit us if we spoke Spanish. And on the other hand, we’re not accepted even by the ones that live in here. They always say, ‘Do you speak Spanish?.’

What did you fight for in the 60’s?

The walkouts. We walked out [while] I was going to UCLA college and we went to the student council and said that we wanted our own Chicano Studies program. We are the ones who implemented the Chicano Studies program in the 1967-68 era. We’re the ones who went out there and fought. We want to know your identity. But you will have to accept us, too. We’ve lived here all our lives. We’re not first-generation Mexican-Americans, we’re second, third-generation Americans of Latin descent. Why should I speak to you in Spanish, when you need to assimilate to our culture as well?

What can you say about the homeless issue?

I feel very bad for the homeless. I believe that the majority of them have mental illnesses. And there are reasons a lot of them don’t even want to be in a certain place. They want their freedom, whatever it may be. But I have dealt with mental illness in my own family. So, I know. I remember one day I went down to LA and saw this young guy. And I looked at him. And he asked for some money, like a dollar. Two years later, I saw him again, still living on the street. Now, he is totally ill because he is not getting his medication. I know for a fact that if they had their medication, they would be able to possibly live a better life than what they’re doing now. 

What resources do you think LA county can add to combat homelessness?

They need to really reach out to these people. And I know that they have, but they just move them from place to place, and that’s not taking care of the problem. That’s why I say Eric Garcetti is doing a horrible job down in LA, and has created this monster [that is] homelessness. How are you going to fix it?

You said that you lobbied for the Family Medical Leave Act?

I went to Washington. D.C. I went to Sacramento and lobbied with Chuck Calderon for the FMLA because at that time my son had cancer, leukemia. And I was out of work for quite a while because my whole focus was on my child. Unfortunately, my child passed away. And I went to Chuck Calderon and I said, ‘Do you know Mr. Calderon that I was in fear of losing my job because I stayed with my child. But I don’t care if I would have lost my job because I needed to be there for him.’ And that’s when the bill passed in California for FMLA. Then we went to lobby in Washington, D.C. with all the senators and stuff like that. And [former eight-term Democratic member of Congress from California, now deceased] Esteban Torres took us on the underground tunnels.

What was that like?

Oh, it was awesome. It’s so awesome being able to communicate with these people and let them know what we felt like, which was more important for not just us as individuals, but for all in the United States. It meant quite a bit to us.

This is part of a series of Q&A conversations CALÓ NEWS will be having with community members about politics, immigration, justice, healthcare, culture, business and much more. The views and opinions expressed are those of the guests and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of CALÓ NEWS.

Lauren Berny (She/Her/Hers) is a multimedia journalist from Southern California. She recently graduated from California State University, Long Beach, and is an intern reporter for EdSource. Berny is also...