During the 1980s and 90s, Jorge Nuño grew up in a house nestled near Vernon and Main street in South Central Los Angeles with his sister and their two immigrant parents from Jalisco, Mexico.
“I grew up adjacent to the [LA] Coliseum,” Nuño said. “When you grew up in the hood, you’re like, ‘Where you live?’ ‘Ah, I live by the Coliseum,’ so that you can give people some context of what part of LA you live in.”
Attending Catholic schools from elementary to high school, Nuño went to Bishop Mora Salesian High School, an all-boys school in Boyle Heights. There, Nuño discovered his passion for art, which pushed him in the direction of Brooks College, a trade school in Long Beach, to study graphic design.
Unaware that graphic design existed as a career or field of study, and after seeing a commercial advertising Brooks College’s graphic design and animation program, Nuño dialed their 1-800 number and convinced his mother to tour the campus with him. And although Nuño was set on attending, his parents were hesitant.
“My dad was like, ‘I don’t even know why you’re going there; you’re going to end up dropping out and owing all of this money,’ and I said, ‘I bet you I won’t.’ We ended up betting for $5,000, I bet him I’d graduate,” Nuño said. “My mom made us sign a little napkin [contract].”
Proving his parents wrong, Nuño graduated from Brooks and also attended UCLA in 2001, leaving with a degree in film, cinema, and video studies when he graduated three years later.
Entering the graphic design world in his early 20s in the early 2000s, really allowed Nuño to gain his footing in a now-crowded field.
“I came into the industry where computing was just making its transition over from traditional, manual work. So, it gave me an edge when I came into the industry as a young designer,” Nuño said.
Moving up the ranks as a designer, to an art director, and then running the entire department for different advertising agencies in LA involved in big films, such as “Spiderman,” “Titanic” and “The Grinch,” Nuño, at 26 years old, decided to create his own design company, NTS Communications, which focuses on film and television, as well as education and government.
“[NTS] helps schools with their branding and marketing and recruitment,” Nuño said. “Also internally, in their spaces, we help them with signage, wall graphics, and transforming hallways by putting kids on the walls with their mascots. It’s really cool.”
Nuño also owns the only Latino and union-owned print shop in LA County, SCLA Print, which prints top-quality, custom business cards, banners, displays, indoor and outdoor wall designers and more.
Through the process of starting his own company, Nuño realized how rare it was for a Latino from South Central to be present or successful in graphic design.
“One of my mentors from a previous company [I worked for] asked, ‘Hey, where do you live?’ I said, ‘Oh, South Central LA,’ and he was like, ‘What? South Central? How did you end up here? How come you didn’t get shot or something?’ And when he asked me that question, I realized I wasn’t supposed to be there,” Nuño said. “I also realized that employers really loved my work ethic. It pierced through the challenges I faced without me knowing. That space is primarily very white and going in there being a person of color, who was worthy and going up the ranks, I was in a good position to leverage the titles that I worked on and to start my own agency.”
Inspired to help fellow Latino entrepreneurs and small businesses like himself, in 2007, Nuño founded The Big House, a small business incubator housed in the 10-bedroom mansion that Nuño purchased in South Central, where nonprofits can have physical offices in their community.
Becoming more than just a business, The Big House was developing into the heart of the South Central community, with local high school students coming by with an interest in entrepreneurship, technology, and design. Creating a space where the youth could utilize these skills, in 2010, Nuño founded the Nuevo South Community Development Corporation, which resides within the Big House.
With the Big House in such close proximity to his childhood home and spending so much time in his community, Nuño not only realized how unhappy he was with the local government but also how much more involved he would look to become in his neighborhood. Unsure of where to start, he began introducing himself to local leaders and meeting people just as passionate as himself.
“I started finding like-minded people that were about community and that were as passionate as I was,” Nuño said. “I was passionate about wanting to do something for the [South Central] community, but I got to meet people who were doing good things for the community. Since then, it’s been about spending time involved in the community and utilizing my resources and my space to provide a safe space for people to meet.”
Nuño, wanting to better the South Central community, in 2017, decided to run for LA City Council District 9, which encompasses the region(s) of the western section of Downtown and South LA, with hopes to lessen homelessness, prioritize youth development and make housing more affordable, but, unfortunately, lost the election to the incumbent, Curren Price.
“The political community already has their agenda set five, ten years out. I wasn’t part of the coordinated effort,” Nuño said. “I’m just this passionate community member who has a right to run, but there are rules to the game and some strategies are already in place and you’re not politically convenient for them. My job is to get the word out to the community that matters, but it takes money to get your word out. You don’t know until you get involved, the mechanics of running for office.”
Today, The Big House is flourishing with street vending pop-ups, Black Lives Matter meetings, tenant rights workshops and visits from politicians such as Karen Bass and Eunisses Hernandez, along with a new cannabis company launching soon. He is also considering the idea of running for LA City Council District 9 again when the seat is open again in four years.
“The Latino community needs to organize in a way that’s not at the expense of other communities and to be in solidarity with other groups because the future of LA is multicultural,” Nuño said. “Civic participation in the Latino community and electoral politics in the Latino community is critical for the future of LA and we need to do it in a systematic way that is scalable and a priority. I think that would address a lot of our issues.”
CALÓ NEWS sat down with Nuño to discuss, as a candidate for the LA City Council and a member of the Latino community, the aftermath of the LA City Council scandal and how the Latino community can move forward.
Responses have been edited for brevity and clarity.
JORGE NUÑO, 45, LOS ANGELES, CEO NTS COMMUNICATIONS, HE/HIM, LATINO
WHEN YOU HEARD THE LEAKED AUDIO, WHAT WERE YOUR INITIAL THOUGHTS? HOW DID IT MAKE YOU FEEL?
You know, I could tell you that it really triggered me and it hit a chord because I remember getting invited to a Zoom meeting with a bunch of Latino leaders across the city. And everyone was making introductions and sharing some thoughts, and I remember the second I started talking, I started crying because it triggered me. What I heard in that impacted me. Because those are the deals that happen to a lot of good people, where they’re dismissing Native leadership, they’re dismissing good people because they have something already cooked up, and I think that was hurtful because I knew that existed, but to hear it was just triggering.
WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE TO HEAL THE WOUNDS AND HOW LONG WILL IT TAKE?
Well, I think we need to start with the resignation of everyone that was in that room. I think that’s one thing to move forward. The resignation of all the members that were in that meeting is number one. Number two is to really study what was happening in that room and the politics that played into it. We’re talking about redistricting and there are talks of removing the Independent Redistricting Commission. [Number three], I also feel that we need to increase more districts, not only on the City Council but also on the school board. Because what happens is that, you know, the population has grown so much in these districts, that the amount of districts that exist in Los Angeles is no longer an equitable or accurate representation of the size of the city now. A lot of districts are just too large, so we’re limited to the number of districts. It doesn’t allow for more representation of different groups. The population in the city of Los Angeles, you know, Latinos make up over 50% of the population, but we don’t have 50% of representation in the City Council.
And on top of that, within the Latino community, people want to be represented, and different Latino communities want different representation. The Guatemalan community, the Salvadorian community, and the Central American community. I think, even within our districts, we’re fighting among ourselves because there are two districts that we occupy. So, that way, there’s representation for the Black community, the Asian community, and the White community. We need more districts instead of fighting for 15 districts.
And if we take action, [I think] things could change in the next four to six years. It requires the current political establishment to agree to these changes to make representation more equitable.
WHAT ARE THE FIRST THREE STEPS TO BE TAKEN TO HEAL RELATIONSHIPS WITH GROUPS THAT MARTINEZ AND THE OTHERS DEMEANED HEARD IN THE AUDIO AND WHY?
I think it’s important that all communities come together in solidarity, that’s step one. Actually, I think that’s step two. Step one is for the people that were in that room to step down. Step two is for all of us to come together and come to an understanding that the city is multicultural and multiethnic. We have different interests, but as long as we understand that this city should be represented by everyone, it’s important, right? Even if it’s from renters to homeowners, we need diversity in our City Council. And I think that the people that really care for the community are coming [out] in solidarity with everyone. Everyone’s talking, having these hard conversations. Sometimes we’ll have a conversation within our community, but then there’s a different conversation that happens in the political community. So there needs to be more alignment and more transparency.
WHAT ARE THE THREE BIGGEST ISSUES THAT NEED TO BE FOCUSED ON BY CITY HALL TO HELP LATINOS IN EVERY PART OF THE CITY AND WHY?
City Hall needs to invest in civic engagement and fund organizations to scale their civic participation. School districts should have Civics 101 in high schools where we have young people who, by the time they graduate, they want to vote. So that they’re involved in other city governments, they know who the council member or congressperson is. We need to create a curriculum in our high schools where young people are already coming out organized, motivated, and educated about civic participation. I think that’s one really important thing I’ve been trying to advocate for many years.
The city itself needs to do more of not so much [by] putting information out, but let’s create programs, let’s get people to participate, let’s create hubs in every district to get more civic engagement among Latinos. And Latinos have been historically disengaged on purpose because we are a large population, but politically, it’s not convenient. I’ve heard plenty of times, ‘Don’t go register in South Los Angeles; don’t put efforts into voter registration in South Los Angeles because we want to keep the current establishment there. There’s some of that political establishment coordination that happens. But what we’ve witnessed in that conversation, with the councilmen is the way to play the political game. We know that Los Angeles is a union town, so a lot of elected officials are at the mercy of unions because they have the dollars and the walkers, and the members to help them organize and get out to vote. There’s that political mechanism that’s happening in politics.
WHAT CAN BE DONE ABOUT EACH, AND WHY?
Funding. Prioritizing. We shouldn’t just talk about it, but we should definitely have a civic engagement department that funds organizations in coordination with the school district. I think the school district is critical because you’re meeting families where they’re at, which is young people that are going to be future voters, future participants. And when we talk about government and we look at government priorities, you have to look at their budgets. If there are no budgets for civic engagement, there is no priority.
DO LATINOS HAVE APPROPRIATE REPRESENTATION ON THE LA CITY COUNCIL, WHY OR WHY NOT?
It’s obvious that we don’t if the City Council is not a reflection of the population that we have. That’s just math for me. Now, what are we doing about that? Is what we should be talking about in the next year or two and how? And I think that’s going to happen by increasing the districts. Then, we’re not fighting amongst 15 seats, we’re fighting 25 seats, 30 seats, and that allows more representation, communities not getting cut off, like the Korean community getting sliced up three different ways, where they could’ve gotten one district if we had more districts. We also look at the county. That’s another conversation that we need to have. Where we have five representatives representing 10 million. Again, Latinos are pretty much half of that county, yet we only have one seat? African Americans have one seat and the white community has three seats? How does that make sense? But, we don’t know why, it’s just the way they carve out these districts and not trying to show representation, it’s really about power and control and maintaining power and maintaining the status quo.
WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE TO CORRECT THAT?
We need to increase the districts, we need to increase civic engagement participation through programming, and we also need to take money out of politics. I would love to see public-funded campaigns. We are dealing with independent expenditures. We’re dealing with tax. We’re dealing with unions. And these are all special interest groups. These are what really carry all the campaigns, and we need to be honest about that.
WHEN IT COMES TO REPRESENTATION IN CITY GOVERNMENT AND PROTECTING THE RIGHTS OF LATINOS, WHAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT MESSAGE YOU WOULD LIKE TO SEND TO CALÓ NEWS READERS?
I would like our community to be more involved and more organized in electoral politics, and I think we just don’t participate enough. And we start locally; we start with our own block. Organize a block club and organize the other block so that there is coordinated, constant communication, coordination and cooperation with the communities so that when it comes to electing someone, we’re organized to have these conversations, we can invite candidates to come to speak to our block clubs, to our neighborhoods. And it has to happen with young people. We have to really look at the long game because many adults may not, at this point, may not believe in politics. But if we start with young people graduating, thousands or hundreds of thousands of people graduating and turning 18, they could be future voters, but they need to understand the importance of how government plays a role in how they live their lives. I remember a friend telling me, ‘Yes, this is a country of freedom, but you’re only as free as the laws of the land.’ So, understand that it’s really critical to the future of democracy, we need to really focus on the next generation, who should be advocating.