How Undocumented Immigrants Helped Change Phoenix's City Council Race

In 2005, during an otherwise typical tour of his West Phoenix district, then-Councilman Claude Mattox turned to a City Hall reporter and casually announced that Maryvale, once a premier master-planned community, used to be nice "until the illegals moved in."

It was the kind of statement from a politician that you don't easily forget. But the folks who swept Mattox into office for years didn't care about such things — and the Latino population in his district, for the most part, didn't vote.

That changed last year. Last year, Phoenix voters — even voters in Mattox's own longtime district — passed him up for mayor in favor (ultimately) of Greg Stanton, a left-of-center politician who advocates for a more humane approach to immigration reform. They also elected a firefighter named Daniel Valenzuela to Mattox's old seat.

Jamie Peachey; New Times photo illustration
Tony Valdovinos, a student organizer, mailing back committment cards to the Latino families who filled them pledging to vote.
Courtesy of Tony Valdovinos
Tony Valdovinos, a student organizer, mailing back committment cards to the Latino families who filled them pledging to vote.

District 5 is changing. And that change is thanks, in large part, to some hardworking undocumented immigrants.


Ramona Olvera and her husband, Jorge, are among a new wave of Latino voters pushing for change in Phoenix City Council District 5.

In late August, the two sat at the dining room table in their modest Maryvale home, each with a city of Phoenix ballot before them.

Outside, the blistering heat characteristically blanketed the city, and an equally heated election was under way for the Mayor's Office and several seats on the city council, including one representing their West Phoenix community.

Sitting with her ballot and a pen in hand had a special meaning for the 46-year-old mother of two, who spends her days working in a medical office — it was her first time casting a vote in the city she has called home for more than 15 years.

A relentless team of student organizers, many of them undocumented immigrants who are all but lifelong residents of the United States, were behind her newfound civic awakening — and the awakening of several thousands of West Phoenix Latinos.

The students spent their summer knocking on doors urging people to vote and fighting against decades of apathy — from both Latino voters and politicians elected to represent the region.

Before last summer, no politician had ever knocked on Olvera's door or called her on the phone to express interest in her concerns or court her vote.

Student organizers say that during their daily knock-and-talk initiatives in the neighborhoods with the historically lowest turnouts, they found that Mattox lacked name recognition, particularly among Latinos.

Mattox declined New Times' request for an interview. "As of now, I'm done with all this," he said.

For the Olvera family and other Latinos in Maryvale and West Phoenix, it is just beginning.

Olvera's 19-year-old daughter, Betty, volunteered last summer in the organized movement to increase Latino voter turnout in Maryvale and surrounding pockets of the west side.

In District 5, her city council district, which stretches roughly from Northern Avenue to Thomas Road between 15th and 107th avenues, Glendale firefighter and city council candidate Daniel Valenzuela vied to be the second Latino on the current council.

Stanton made clear his opposition to rigid anti-immigration laws while his opponent, Wes Gullett, offered his public support to SB 1070, the controversial measure that, in part, mandates local cops to enforce federal immigration laws.

At the time, Olvera didn't pay attention to local politics. Yet immigration issues matter to her, just as much as crime in their community, neglected neighborhood streets, and businesses shuttering their stores and leaving behind vacant strip malls.

"I always voted for the president. That was my thing," she tells New Times, sitting at her dining room table on a Thursday evening, just home from work and still wearing her scrubs. "But this [was] my first time voting for someone I know."

Now, all four of the Olveras — first-time voters — likely will be lifelong voters with appetites for change.

Just a stone's throw from John F. Long Elementary, named for the late developer and philanthropist who created Maryvale — the west side's first planned community — in the early '50s, is an alley littered with garbage and dirty diapers. Nearby streets are peppered with vacant homes whose windows are covered with plywood.

Given persistent efforts to turn local cops into federal immigration agents, families aren't sure whether police officers will help them or hassle them about their immigration status.

Violence and property crimes have dropped in and around Maryvale over the years, and city officials have made strides to revitalize West Phoenix — but the Latino community remains saddled with feelings of neglect and distrust for the police.

Back in her dining room, as Ramona connected the spaces between the arrows on her ballot, she thought about how she went from being completely disconnected to hosting campaign gatherings with as many as 30 students in her home up to five times a week.

The busy mother also carved out time to make campaign calls for Daniel Valenzuela's race and make chicken taquitos, chorizo burritos, and spaghetti for his army of volunteers.

"It was an amazing experience," she says. "I'm definitely going to keep on voting."


Valenzuela and Stanton won their races in runoff elections on November 7, by large margins, and were sworn into office on January 3.

1
 
2
 
3
 
4
 
5
 
All
 
Next Page »
 
My Voice Nation Help
161 comments
Aldo Gonzalez
Aldo Gonzalez

Not true, we increased voter turnout throughout the entire district. Latino voter turnout increased more than any other group because they were the lowest voters prior to our campaign so obviously you would see a much bigger change. We did exactly as your second sentence says and got Daniel Valenzuela elected, now he is truly working for the entire community and not just a small portion of it.

Aldo Gonzalez
Aldo Gonzalez

Brown wave was the wrong title for this article because it was not only brown people who did the work. We had students from virtually every high school in phx, community college, teachers, firefighters, mothers, fathers, african, you name it we had it all. Goes to show you how powerful our community can be when we are united. 500% increase is no joke

Stand With Arizona
Stand With Arizona

"Just a stone's throw from John F. Long Elementary, named for the late developer and philanthropist who created Maryvale — the west side's first planned community — in the early '50s, is an alley littered with garbage and dirty diapers. Nearby streets are peppered with vacant homes whose windows are covered with plywood."

Sounds like Mattox was dead-on about Maryvale and illegal aliens - who are notorious for discarding soiled diapers wherever they like: out their car windows, on sidwalks, even on grocery store shelves. It is disgusting.

Aldo Gonzalez
Aldo Gonzalez

Mattoxx ignored that area because it had the lowest voting areas in the district. Voters are at fault but he is also to blame for not taking care of that area. You cant blame him tho, as long as he kept most of the voters happy he could still keep his job. Thats what politicians have done historically, we knew that and we decided to change the culture.

Changing the culture of low propensity voters is what this article is about. Not about immigration. 500% increase is not joke

AZ Rocks
AZ Rocks

the reason crime statistics drop is that they are not documented just like the people. can't get federal money if the crime is too high

Rex Reason
Rex Reason

"Violence and property crimes have dropped in and around Maryvale over the years, and city officials have made strides to revitalize West Phoenix "

Because many of the Latino thugs and white trash have moved North and East. Phoenix cops let these dumb hooligans do whatever they want.

Jesus Cristo de Nogales
Jesus Cristo de Nogales

VERY URGENT NEWS ALERT: All of us readers of the Newtimes rag need to join Gustavo Arellano and Steve Gallardo in denouncing their stay in the US. Come with us, my brown skinned occupiers of "El Norte" and return to Mexico and take over the country from the pale skin descendants of the colonial masters. Let the brown people take over their contry of Mexico. Are you with us my fellow occupiers?? That is real news that the Newtimes needs to cover!

Youngstudents
Youngstudents

Browm wave is like huge turd wave of Mexicans and Nigras who have never accomplished shit. America is doomed. These slimebags are worthless.

Jesus Cristo de Juarez
Jesus Cristo de Juarez

News Alert: Since when is the mass exodus of the citizens from one country and to illegally another country considered "undocumented migrants" instead of occupation of the country. When the Hitler invaded Poland, I don't beleive they called the Germans "undocumented migrants". Do you? Coe join LaRaza de los Gringos for a better America.

Hips
Hips

If they can band to gether to vote can they not band together and support being legal and documented?

Guest
Guest

No one wants to hear this biased crap anymore! ILLEGALS cannot vote! To call them undocumented is an insult to our intelligence. I'm sure they are very nice people as the article points out over and over again, BUT they are breaking the law ,utilizing much needed resources and causing division in this country. NO OTHER COUNTRY would have put up this bullshi_ for this long! Can you really imagine another country letting ILLEGAL immigrants take their jobs and give them the finger!???

Veronica Coffin
Veronica Coffin

How the heck are illegal immigrants allowed to VOTE?? Even ex-convicts can't vote in this country but illegals can? Something very wrong here!

Phoenician
Phoenician

@Veronica Coffin you clearly did not read the article...Please read and then comment.

Guest
Guest

Terista, YOU are an unamerican piece of trash with know clue or concern how much it costs to support you and all of your mexican national relatives!!

Boz
Boz

Illegal alien immigration costs Arizona $2.3 billion each year (ABC 15, Summer 2011). Should Arizona be paying for Mexico, Central America, and South America foreign nationals to live here off of Arizona/American tax payers? Our National Soverignty and our Laws of our Land are being completely ignored by foreign national felons being protected by Democrats and the Obamanesty Administration.

AMERICAN MEXICAN
AMERICAN MEXICAN

ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION IS DESTROYING AMERICA!!!! LOOK WHAT IT DID TO THE WHITE HOUSE IN JUST THREE SHORT YEARS.

Terisita
Terisita

Good point! White people will never want to live there again.

skybyrd
skybyrd

The current Latino population just doesn't get it. Let me make it simple!
1. Overpopulation will destroy existing infrastructures. (average Latinos number of children approx 6)
2. Illegals of any race 'game the system' by exploiting social benefits ie medical emergency services, food stamps,unemployment benefits et al.
3. Exploiting civil infrastructures and increasing crime.
Think about how much you are willing to share and give up to accommodate new illegals, not to mention the trash at the border showing no respect for their new host country.

JB
JB

Why do we call illegals "undocumented immigrants?

Jesus Cristo de Nogales
Jesus Cristo de Nogales

"Ask Gustavo Arellano and a Mexican when he / she plans to end their occupation of El Norte?"

HughTheDuck
HughTheDuck

Sounds racist that they are just trying to increase voter turnout of latinos. Maybe they should try and improve the community for everyone instead of just putting their own people into power.

tomphrey
tomphrey

You do not want to know my comment. It is unprintable.

Metd2001
Metd2001

Illegals are illegals no matter what you you look at it and should be deported. If I went into their country and was caught I would be thrown into jail. Here we give them everything and can't do anything about it.

JesterJackson
JesterJackson

You can tell the comments from those that read the article and those that just start spewing at the mention of brown people.

Ryan
Ryan

"Undocumented"? Is that what we are calling the illegals these days? They are criminals. Unbelievable.

Pasquale
Pasquale

The illegals that were canvassing should have been arrested and deported.

Pasquale
Pasquale

I am all in favor of immigration. LEGAL immigration. All others should be sent back to the country where they came from. All of my ancestors came here from Europe. They all came here within the limits set forth by the law at that time. All immigrants should do the same.

Dave
Dave

Brown wave sounds like the gutter running over with shit. Yuk. Turds take over. Yeah!

Alan_Smithee10
Alan_Smithee10

OHBOY! You like to call people ignorant don't you. I still wait for an explanation of what information they are ignorant of....
And you are right about this post even though some illegals voted and will continue to vote (don't even try to dance arround the issue we both know it happens) they were not the determining factor in this election. However, if it ever happens that they are - I will scream for BLOOD. You should consider doing more to insure illegals do not vote. If massive fraud by illegals is ever uncovered whiteys rage will be explosive.

Alan_Smithee10
Alan_Smithee10

To rebut your claims about unity and love and the power of positive thinking...
I recomend Gibbon's "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire". Greed, hate, corruption and stupidity almost always win. I wish you were right but you are not. That is why your carpenter was so exceptional- because he was different.

Alan_Smithee10
Alan_Smithee10

Perhaps he wouldn't but I am no christian and do not hold with pacifistic faiths. Why should we give a shit what some dead carpenter at the ass end of the Empire would think about anything?

Alan_Smithee10
Alan_Smithee10

Your fig leaf is slipping. You know that there are illegals who vote. I am not saying that it's as bad as Fox news makes out but it does happen.
Now for an analogy-
you cant vote if you arent a citizen you silly goose
is similar to:
you can't live in the USA without papers you silly goose

Therefore just like no illegals vote there are no illegals- your sophist's tricks and verbal games are exposed.

Alan_Smithee10
Alan_Smithee10

We need more people like you. I don't hold with your politics but seriously how many Native Citizens could manage what you have? Many of the best Americans I have known have been immigrants who know how bad it can suck elsewhere and actually appreciate what we have here.

Alan_Smithee10
Alan_Smithee10

And if the Secretary of State's office would do it's job that would be enough. But they are a bunch of yayhoos. Add to that groups like the now defunct ACORN submitting fraudulent (so I can't spell so what) registration forms that result in registration cards being issued and their names entered as eligible to vote.
Any attempt to rig elections in ANY way should be dealt with as an attempt to destroy the Republic. Come on Phoenician, admit it- I bet you know at least 1 illegal who votes.

Guest
Guest

Je5sterjackson, Yes, it does matter!! What is wrong with you!! To Illegally come into this country means, TB, and a whole list of other health concerns, that is the reason we have border checks!! The way it is supposed to work and the way this country allowed entries for years was structured and the individual was checked to see if he or she was bringing into this county disease etc. They also HAD to learn the english language, which of course now our country spends billions every year in order to print things in TWO languages! Billions that could be used for CITIZENS.
As it stands right now there are american citizens in the state of Arizona that cannot get anykind of healthcare. Why, because the state is broke, the country is broke and you ask Why concern ourselves with the poor illegals. Believe me I'm all about humanity myself but it's beginning to feel like this county is in a lifeboat and we just cannot take on anymore or we will all tip over. Why is that so hard to understand??!! You just don't care do you, as long as you and yours get what YOU need. It's only common sense this country needs to take care of ourselves. Is Mexico sending financial aid for all of their billions of citizens that reside here NO. Wake up and smell the coffee and stop pretending your the only one that has a heart, we logically cannot support the world.

Kimberley
Kimberley

Illegal immigrants don't belong here. Either go through immigration or go home and make your country the place you want it to be. Don't come here and refuse to speak the language, take away jobs, walk around with no insurance and expect everyone else to foot the bills. And...leave your drugs, wars lords and weapons in your own country. We don't want them or you.

Jesus Cristo de Juarez
Jesus Cristo de Juarez

Join Gustavo Arellano and Steve Gallardo in denouncing their stay in the US. Come with us, my brown skinned occupiers of "El Norte" and return to Mexico and take over the country from the pale skin descendants of the colonial masters. Let the brown people take over their contry of Mexico. Are you with us my fellow occupiers??

Guest
Guest

No one wants to hear this biased crap anymore! ILLEGALS cannot vote! To call them undocumented is an insult to our intelligence. I'm sure they are very nice people as the article points out over and over again, BUT they are breaking the law ,utilizing much needed resources and causing division in this country. NO OTHER COUNTRY would have put up this bullshi_ for this long! Can you really imagine another country letting ILLEGAL immigrants take their jobs and give them the finger!???

xrated
xrated like.author.displayName 1 Like

"PS I think this story shows you that not all "Mexicans run away like cowards" but that they are willing to take a stand and fight for what they believe in."

I disagree that anyone should be rewarded for breaking the law. That is what they are demanding.

"The way you just assume that the "vast majority of latinos are from Mexico" is also very ignorant."

Learn to read. I never made such a statement. I can also argue my point without attempting to denigrate the person who disagrees with me. I am aware that smart people can have different opinions and still be smart. Obviously you disagree.

xrated
xrated

I agree that my questioning of her citizenship was wrong and uncalled for. For that I do appologize.

I also totally agree that the original Europeans did not come here at the invitation of the then native population. I also totally agree that, for the most part, this land was taken by force from the native inhabitants at that time. It is too bad the native inhabitants at that time did not have and enforce immigration laws. Perhaps they would still be in control of this land if they had. Knowing that history, I have to wonder why you advocate that the current native inhabitants should repeat the same mistake?

"When Latinos are integrated into the American culture...." The problem with that statement is Latinos are not integrating into American culture. Quite the opposite is happening because of the progressives love and desire for "diversity". The U.S.A. was once a melting pot where no matter where you came from you desired to walk, talk, act like... you wanted to BE an "American" (U.S. citizen). And that was encouraged. Now the U.S.A. is more of a salad bowl where all of the ingredients are contained within one bowl and they all share the same dressing on the surface, but that is where their similarities end. To understand what this road of "diversity" leads to study the Rise and Fall of the Roman Impire. Another mistake I do not think the U.S.A. should repeat.

Jester98
Jester98

Just what we need more wetbacks voting........

Phoenician
Phoenician

@Jester98 you clearly did not read the article...

Je5sterJackson
Je5sterJackson

Really John does it matter? Illegal or undocumented, legal alien , natrualized citizen or 5th generation of Hispanic decent. Can you really tell the difference between Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican , Guatemalan or Columbian? To people such as yourself, in your small unchristian hearts, they are all the same and you paint them all with the same brush. To you a misdemenor is the same as a felony. You keep yourself purposely ignorant and take pride in it.

Guest
Guest

Je5sterjackson, Yes, it does matter!! What is wrong with you!! To Illegally come into this country means, TB, and a whole list of other health concerns, that is the reason we have border checks!! The way it is supposed to work and the way this country allowed entries for years was structured and the individual was checked to see if he or she was bringing into this county disease etc. They also HAD to learn the english language, which of course now our country spends billions every year in order to print things in TWO languages! Billions that could be used for CITIZENS.
As it stands right now there are american citizens in the state of Arizona that cannot get anykind of healthcare. Why, because the state is broke, the country is broke and you ask Why concern ourselves with the poor illegals. Believe me I'm all about humanity myself but it's beginning to feel like this county is in a lifeboat and we just cannot take on anymore or we will all tip over. Why is that so hard to understand??!! You just don't care do you, as long as you and yours get what YOU need. It's only common sense this country needs to take care of ourselves. Is Mexico sending financial aid for all of their billions of citizens that reside here NO. Wake up and smell the coffee and stop pretending your the only one that has a heart, we logically cannot support the world.

John
John

THERE ILLEGAL!!!!! NOT Undocumented

Melody
Melody

I think you mean....."They're Illegal," as in they are illegal. Not "there illegal." Please spell check before you post because now you just seem ignorant as opposed to an angry citizen voicing his concern.

 
Phoenix Concert Tickets
Loading...