The Art of Illegalism, Salinas Style

February, 2013

The scene was shocking and awesome. Bulldozers and backhoes growling through their quarterly cleanup of Salinas’s “Chinatown.” Oddly, I didn’t spot anyone who looked Chinese among the displaced Illegalists. It was early in the morning; maybe they were all doing Tai Chi over at the Steinbeck Center. But, honestly, you call that place “Chinatown?” The Chin Brothers Market and the Buddhist temple are there, but are they enough to constitute a Chinatown? My friend Eilene says there used to be a Chinatown sixty years ago, but it must have shifted to North Main, near the Rodeo. There, a few Chinese and Japanese restaurants, and a Filipino store stake their claim to the Far East. Chinatowns in the Bay Area and LA are wonderful places to visit, shop and dine. With all due respect, “Chinatown” in Salinas just doesn’t look that appealing.

Anyway, it was inspiring to see the decisive action Salinas took to clean out hobos illegally camped on the streets and fields near the underpass. I hope the national media picks up the story of how a tough, no-nonsense city deals with illegal squatters. Fire a shot across the bow then send in the Caterpillars. Problem solved. At least temporarily because, as we all know, they’ll be back in no time. Street people know the art of survival better than anyone. When bulldozers show up and cameras are rolling, get out of the way and head for the nearest reporter. As soon as they’re gone and the coast is clear, move right back in or camp out at City Hall. In three months, do it all again.

Salinas’ rich illegal heritage has taught its wider constituency a few lessons about survival as well. Stay put, keep your mouth shut and the complaining will wear itself out. Soon enough, power-possessed politicians will be exempting you from pro-forma laws and bribing you to claim Illegalism isn’t illegal, and that your own yearning to breathe free – and your right to cut in line – have earned you a place in the Paradisio del Norte.  Salinas even has a new Coalition for Fairness and Equality with Liberty and Justice for All. They seem to want to ensure that oppressed residents can take what they want and are under no obligation to obey laws that inconvenience them, presumably including silly new gun control laws. That’s doing it in style.

Kudos to The Californian’s Jeff Mitchell for keeping track of the duplicitous career of Salinas City Councilman, Jose Castañeda, a member of the aforementioned Coalition, and one who knows a thing or two about illegal occupation of public offices. Now that he’s illegally on both the Alisal School District Board and the Salinas City Council at the same time, he’s playing by the same rules of Illegalism honed in the shadows of Salinas’ oppressed neighborhoods: stay put, keep your mouth shut and the complaining will wear itself out.

You remember Jose, he’s part of the Alisal Gang of Five that respects murderers, gangsters and other  reprobates by painting them as priests of the powerless, and naming a Salinas school after their executed ringleader – then lying about his ‘legacy’ to children they’re charged with not lying to. But, the way I see it, Jose’s on pretty solid ground. Do you think any self-protecting party apparatchik would challenge his constituents by calling a guy out for being in office illegally? In the Age of Obama, I think not. Party bosses need all the Illegalists they can find, and if they can get a guy on both city and school district councils simultaneously, excellent. Castañeda’s a trailblazer for political shot callers who share his vision of getting candidates into simultaneous public positions all over the country. It would greatly reduce the time and money spent buying just one office for one candidate. Money better spent falsifying voter registrations for asthmatic yearners slinking off the coyote trucks onto the streets of Chinatown.