The Bermudez Triangle

The immigrant rights movement needs Elias Bermudez, only there's a problem: A lot of his own people don't trust him

Not a hair on his salt-and-pepper pompadour is out of place, but there are huge bags under Elias Bermudez's eyes. He's behind the microphone on a recent Wednesday morning, at KIDR 740 AM. You can catch his radio show on Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 7 to 9. The show reaches a lot of people. The frequency is one of the oldest in town, and well known for talk radio and news in the Spanish-speaking community. The station's changed owners a few times, but today, all its shows focus on the immigrant community, which widely views KIDR as a valuable resource.

Except when it comes to this guy. It's not easy being Elias Bermudez. And he makes sure it stays that way. Today, his message to his listeners — many of whom are undocumented immigrants — is a ballsy one: Go back to Mexico.

"I'm saying maybe you are right," he says, sounding like an evangelical preacher on Judgment Day. "Maybe the United States is right. Maybe it's time for us [Mexicans] to leave."

Elias Bermudez
Giulio Sciorio
Elias Bermudez
Elias Bermudez faces down a demonstrator. He's known for his controversial leadership in the immigrant rights movement.
Zuma Press/Newscom
Elias Bermudez faces down a demonstrator. He's known for his controversial leadership in the immigrant rights movement.

That is not a sentiment shared by other immigrant rights activists. But Bermudez, leader of the Phoenix-based Inmigrantes Sin Fronteras (Immigrants Without Borders) has planted himself firmly to the right of other Hispanic activists. Like similar groups, Inmigrantes holds demonstrations to protest anti-immigration laws, and Bermudez has staged, with mixed results, several labor and hunger strikes to grab attention. The group also holds information fairs where Bermudez teaches immigrants what to do if stopped by police, and he reminds them he runs a business that will prepare immigration documents — for a price. Currently, the group is pushing Arizona employers to resist a sanctions law that goes into effect January 1.

When Bermudez talks about giving a voice to the undocumented, he becomes misty-eyed. But not everyone is convinced of his sincerity. So he works alone, or with strange company.

Bermudez is not afraid to announce his support for Republican Senator Jon Kyl, and he boasts that he campaigned for President George W. Bush. Twice. He's been quoted calling Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio a "friend" (the two used to share a cordial public relationship, though they've never interacted socially) and, on one occasion, his group marched in support of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps.

In the Spanish-speaking community, it's no secret that Bermudez has left a bad taste in the mouths of other activists. Former Democratic state Senator Alfredo Gutierrez has publicly criticized him on his own talk show on Radio Campesina 88.3 FM. Gutierrez complains that Bermudez isn't organized and doesn't help the community. When Bermudez does something other activists think is wrong ­— kneeling before the sheriff, for example — Gutierrez is sure to bring it up on the air.

Gutierrez declined an interview for this story, saying he prefers to talk about things that are positive, and that therefore, "I have nothing to say about him."

Privately, Bermudez's critics say he's hard to work with, he's egotistical, he's financially corrupt, and his past is a problem.

His past is checkered. If his story weren't a matter of public record, it would be impossible to believe. At 56, Bermudez is the former mayor of the Arizona border town San Luis. He's a convicted felon. And he claims to have the ear of the president of Mexico.

As much as his enemies — and members of the Spanish-speaking media — hate him, the English-speaking news media love Bermudez. His antics are outrageous, and he's incredibly quotable.

Recently, he grabbed headlines as the brains behind an alleged plot to murder his "friend" Arpaio. Nothing came of an investigation into the supposed plot, but it says a lot that no one is accusing Alfredo Gutierrez, Hector Yeterallde, Isabel Garcia, or Roberto Reveles — other prominent immigrant organizers — of trying to off the sheriff.

(The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office declined to talk to New Times for this story.)

Bermudez's visibility irks his critics, but the immigrant rights movement needs Bermudez — or someone like him. Today's undocumented immigrant has few people to look up to, and the English-speaking community, or at least the portion of it that continually votes in favor of anti-immigration laws, has few people to change its mind about immigration.

There is no César Chávez rallying the undocumented, no Martin Luther King Jr. calling for a higher moral standard.

Bermudez is in a position to become that leader. He's incredibly charismatic; when he speaks, it's impossible not to give him your full attention. A clever politician, he has the potential to become the strongest leader of a movement in desperate need of a potent national figurehead.

There's just one problem, though, and it's a big one. His own people don't trust him, and among his critics there is a general feeling that Bermudez does the movement more harm than good.

It's not just his dodgy past that makes people uneasy. There are considerable questions about what he's up to these days, as well, especially when it comes to the financial management of Inmigrantes.

Bermudez says he is not surprised by the criticism. He sees himself as a martyr for the cause.

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19 comments
anonymous
anonymous

Relacionado a la nota de Luis Avila en Viva Radio:

La mera verdad son una bola de puros fresas quejones que estan enojados con Estados Unidos porque quieren venir aqui a crear la separacion que existe en Mexico entre los ricos y pobres, quieren demostrar que ellos si fueron a la universidad y pretenden querer ayudar a los mexicanos que estan aqui infiltrandose en cualquier medio de comunicacion posible, cuando lo que realmente quieren es que los gringos vean que ellos no son jardineros ni carpinteros, quieren los gringos los vean como si fueran Elena Poniatowska o Octavio Paz. Y aparte, estan enojados porque aqui no se les hace tanto borlote como quisieran por ser ninos fresas intelectualones, al contrario, la gente los detesta y los aborrece por ser tan hipocritas y por que se mueren por sus quince minutos de fama cuando ni siquiera tienen talento en ningun campo. Y que mexicano tan mas hipocrita es Luis, especialmente en la parte del articulo cuando dice que despues de regresar a Mexico por estar enojado con la prop 200 y no poder volverse adaptar a la sociedad mexicana, entonces quien chingados crees que eres? Un guero de The OC o que a poco los niveles fresas se te subieron mucho mas alto solo porque aprendiste a hablar ingles y porque sabes pedir un Starbucks? Que bueno que vivas aqui y tengas una identidad perdida, porque Mexico no necesita a hipocritas e idiotas como tu que no saben ni porque estan involucrados en tanto desmadre, hablas por hablar y por hacerte famoso usando causas como la de los ilegales para tu propio beneficio.

Otra hipocrita fresa que se cree muy gringa, que no mas anda metida en esto para hacerse publicidad, especialmente en este parrafo cuando dice:Sandoval, 20, was born in Mexico City and came to the States at 2. When she was in middle school, her parents divorced and she moved back to Mexico with her mother. After a year and a half in her home country, she found she just could not adjust to the Mexican way of life, so she moved back to America to live with her dad.

Si te has de haber regresado porque de seguro extranabas tus lentes Versace que te apuesto te costaron mitad de lo que ganas, pinches fresas hipocritas si estan tan preocupados por los mexicanos aqui porque no usan su dinero para ayudar a gente que lo necesita en vez de comprar lentes Versace?

Larry
Larry

Burmudez is a greedy publicity hound who likes to get in front of the cameras. He is like a Hispanic version of Sheriff Joke or Candy Andy Thomas. He may be on his way out if things actually crack down in January and the new law isn't shot down. Wonder what kind of money hustles he can pull off in Mexico?

Paco
Paco

Ur so right esperanza! All these clowns should take a lesson in history and politics and learn about the REAL leaders, not wannabes. And you are correct, two girls who are obviously the ones I have seen giggling and laughing with him all the time are the ones that defend him, hahaha, and hes even read the comments on here too, as he mocked one of the comments directed towards one of his allies that was called la gorda come hamburguesas. I really think that this whole gang is a group of fresas queriendo obtener la fama y el estrellato y se creen artistas revolucionarios, con sus circulitos y juntitas que organizan, se creen la nueva generacion de intelectuales mexicanos, por favor! Esperanza tienes e-mail? Me encantaria platicar mas contigo.

Esperanza
Esperanza

"Mr. Avila should be called "Sissi" Avila. Only two women -friends of him- have try to defend him. It's good to see young people doing things, the problem is that their lack of knowledge and experience makes them ignorant about people who have really made a difference in the community. Luis and his gang will be quickly forgotten for not having the moral authority nor the respect for people who have truly served the community. It is funny to see two women getting offended for something directed at "Mr. Avila"

Paco
Paco

Irregardless, what have they really done? Its the people who united will make the change, not one sole person, and especially not those who seek fame and money for their actions as a reward, if you are a true idealist then you will give everything up for the cause, lets face it, Latino leadership in Phoenix is dead

Erika
Erika

I just wanted to utilize this space to congradulate and give thanks to Mr. Avila as well as Mr. Bermudez for all of their hard work. To some of us, it is very easy to critizise others because of "what they did or failed to do" but after all of this negative critism, let's take it a step further and also consider the things that Mr. Avila and Mr. Bermudez have done for our needed community compared to what he have done as individuals ...

Nuvia
Nuvia

Wow Esperanza, please calm down! If you read my comment more attentively you will see that I said �SOME of you people don�t have the courage to put your name under your comment,� precisely because YOU did and I didn�t want to make an inaccurate generalization. Also, if you went to Stylos last march (by the way, thank you for the publicity), then you should know that the award for Activist of the Year was given to Isabel Garc�from Tucson and the award for best ORGANIZATION was given to Inmigrantes Sin Fronteras which I don�t get how it is a contradictory message given that in this article Luis Avila questions Mr. Bermudez� methods and not the validity of his organization.Oh! and about me being called �La gorda esa,� I�m sure other over weight people in Arizona are very appreciative of the fact that Antonio Garc�has such a prejudice. Se�Garc� podr�usted entrar a este foro para dar una opini��educada y de esa manera dar una mejor imagen de la comunidad hispana? Gracias :O)

Esperanza
Esperanza

Nuvia, I included my name, Esperanza, in my comment, so, what the heck are you talking about? BTW, I am not keeping up with your "hero" Luis Avila. I find disgusting that NT uses him as a credible source to obtain statements from him, particularly when he gave an "award" to the now object of his criticism: Elias �el tranzas� Bermudez. I can care less what Luis (or you) does with his butt, but he needs at least to be consistent with his message, and be willing to receive the same criticism he gives to others. Are you a man to defend yourself little Luis, or you need your drunkard friends like Nuvia to defend you? Maybe you need your forgettable gang to organize a "hunger strike" to defend you; I hope this time you stop eating for real so your strike can be effective and you and poor little Luis "the clown" Avila stop crying! Esperanza

Antonio
Antonio

Nuvia.. ya deja comer hamburgesas y callate.. tu eres la gorda esa que nada mas anda siguiendo al "molacho" .. el baboso que no puede hablar,..el guey de LA.. el es cuate de una persona del New Times y por eso lo ponen tanto aqui.. el chavito le hecha ganas.. pero nada mas.. no confundan... ni siquiera puede hablar bien.. no se le entiende...

Nuvia
Nuvia

Wow!!!I can't believe some of you people can't find something in this article to concentrate on other than Luis Avila!!! If he is such a "clown" they why are you people paying so much attention to him? AND, you critizice him, you question his credibility, you call him names (which i thought was something we stopped doing in 6th grade) but you don't have the courage to put your name under your comment...that just says a whole lot about you. Come on people, if he is that "unimportant" stop wasting your time on keeping up with his education, his myspace page, the events he organizes and his radio show :O)

anonymous
anonymous

I think the New Times should really focus on Luis Avila instead and learn more about things he does instead of using him as a reliable source in any article, one thing is for sure is that he is a damn big hypocrite for giving Bermudez an award earlier this year and now speaking against him, if Luis is really that committed to his so called principles and ethic, then why didnt he refuse to give him the award, he is just using the illegal immigration protest as a resource to gain popularity, and like Esperanza said earlier, he is a clown, trying to do all these things without even having any sort of talent, hes a wannabe everything, a poor little Mexican with a lost identity, pinche Fresa gordo, regresate a Mexico si odias tanto las cosas que suceden en este pais.

el misterioso!!  chan chan cha
el misterioso!! chan chan cha

Wow!!! I thought this only happend in the KTAR web site!! but here it is. Its not a matter of who is who or who is helping or trying to be someone in the community. Elias you're in your 50's and still rolling man. This article about you honestly it does not hurt you at all instead benifit you more than what you think. Now throught the U.S. people know about bermudez. People its worthless to get mad!! this articles come everyday, for example take bush jr! his approval is in the 20's and does he give a dam? no way! keep on with your life's and take a chill pill. Elias you're a cool cat!! I think you should open a myspace. I assure you it would kick butt. Peace Raza Oraleeeeeeeeeeee!!!!!!

Esperanza
Esperanza

I read with great disgust what Luis Avila said about Elias. This is the same Avila who gave Bermudez the Activist of Year Stylos� �award� earlier this year (no validity whatsoever in this so called award, anyways) I can care less for Bermudez, but Luis Avila is a big hypocrite. I agree that New Times should use a respected community spokesperson to get valid statements. Luis Avila should be spending his silly energy taking classes to speak properly on the radio. He thinks he is an actor, a radio personality, a journalist, and an activist. He's something for sure: a clown.

Alberto
Alberto

Let's see...he's likes Bush, Kyl, Arpaio. Those people are certainly not friends of the Hispanic community. Just because a person is your race it does not mean that are good for the community. Look at Rep. Ben Miranda in south Phoenix. Hispanic people either hate him and wont vote for him or fear him so they vote for him. Oh yeah that is another person you can add to his list of "friends". Bush, Kyl, Sheriff Joe, Ben Miranda...Open your eyes people.

Anonymous
Anonymous

I totally agree with Mr Bermudez and his fight, I think that the new times needs to stop focusing so much on Luis Avila, he is NOT the ultimate leader in the Latino rights movement and check out his myspace to see how he spends his money instead of paying for his education, and then he complains about rights for illegals to go to school and receive financial aid but look at the way he spends his money, two faced!

Ramon
Ramon

I don't know why do you attack him,this guy try to help at all hispanic people,he want the people don't risk them lives to come at this beautiful country to work, he try to all people comes legally, it's not true that he says go back to mexico or wherever the people are,he's a good man, if his did anything wrong before doesn't matter becouse his not a criminal like you describe. I leave a question to think: mhat are you doing if all this people goes back,the who makes those jobs? all the economy goes down can you see at these time how is the economy all the prizes in the mortgages goes down true or not?

Elias Bermudez
Elias Bermudez

Thank you Meagan! Your article does shine light into my life. I am a man who has fallen many times and I am determined to get up as many. You are not a good judge on character and it is amazing you were not able to find any person in this community who could offer you something positive about me. For those who may form an opinion about me in light of this article I submit to you that there is always the opportunity for you to walk in my shoes and then judge. The ultimate judge is always God and God will prove in time whether I am good or evil. Meanwhile, I will continue to do what I have done. Rightfulness belongs to all who want to do right.

anonymous
anonymous

Why does the New Times continue to use Luis Avila as a reliable source to give an educated opinion on these issues? Since WHEN did he become THE ULTIMATE FIGURE to go to when it comes to illegal immigration and WHO is he to decide who should be advocating for the rights, go back and finish college and get an even better education and then maybe you can be educated enough to open your mouth and speak on issues affecting illegals, or better yet, si eres tan chingon, WHY DONT YOU go back to Mexico and try to be such a badass like you are here?

Lauri
Lauri

This man needs to go away...after reading this story, he has no right to fight for anyone, he's a criminal, and I think he probably just married his american wife to get citizenship...he says that you can't come in this country legally? And he's supposed to KNOW so much...my grandparents came here from Italy many years ago...and they became U.S. Citizens...yes, it is a process, and maybe time consuming, but if you are proud of this country and you want to be part of it, that's what it takes...deal with it...go back to Mexico and take your people with you.

We don't need anymore freeloaders here, nor do we need someone like this, a criminal himself, trying to push these people down our throats....what I don't understand is how the illegals feel comfortable here...if I knew I was in a foreign country (which realistically it is to them) and the people hated me and didn't want me there, I'd get going fast....

No more handouts, no more welfare, no more food stamps, no more....they need to go back and fight for their rights in THEIR country....or fill out the paperwork and become a citizen...

 
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