Last October, Raquel Zamora was interviewed by Boyle Heights Beat during a live broadcast of Radio Pulso, our monthly podcast. The LAUSD teacher and counselor was asked about why she decided to run for City Council, what assets she brings to the race and what issues she hopes to tackle.
The interview was edited for length and clarity.
Boyle Heights Beat: Thank you for joining us today on the podcast. Why exactly are you running for the Los Angeles City Council?
Raquel Zamora: I’m running for Council District 14 because I believe the district deserves a service-driven representative that lives and breathes the issues that are happening throughout the district. I am a longtime LAUSD teacher and counselor, social worker and small business owner in the community. And I believe there [are] a lot of things that are going unaddressed, and that’s why I decided to run for office.
BHB: District 14 is extremely diverse and its communities have a lot of different needs. What is your history with this district?
Out of the five candidates that have qualified for the March 3 ballot in the race for City Council District 14, only one lives in Boyle Heights. Raquel Zamora was born and raised in the neighborhood to a family that has run Zamora Bros., a popular Boyle Heights carnitas eatery, for nearly half a century.
RZ: Well, I was born and raised here in Boyle Heights. I was born at General Hospital on Christmas Eve, 1981. My family arrived to Boyle Heights in the late 1960s. My grandfather opened a small business named Zamora Bros., we sell the best chicharrones in Los Angeles. We’ve been around for 49 years, or fifty years [in 2020]. I’ve been an educator here in the community and my career started at the East LA Skills Center. As an ESL teacher, I used to teach the parents of Utah Elementary, high school students at Roosevelt High School and Wilson High School, so I’m very, very connected to the district. I’m also a [home] therapist for victims of crime throughout the whole district. So I’m a social worker and foster care social worker as well. So I’m a jack-of-all-trades, and a mother, first and foremost, to a beautiful three-year-old.
BHB: Yeah, I noticed that your daughter, Valentina, takes us takes up most of your posts for like Facebook. When you were considering running, did you ask yourself what kind of community you want to raise your daughter in?
RZ: That’s right, a safe community. I want her to know her roots, traditions, language, culture, all of that’s very important to me. And I really want her to thrive. And I think that that’s what makes me want to serve this community, the whole district, so she has the best opportunities and all the children of the district have the best opportunities.
BHB: No woman has ever represented this district. Why do you think it’s important to see women, especially women of color, in politics?
RZ: You know, right now, there’s definitely a changing political climate, and I really feel like women, women of color, need to be at the decision-making table because we’re being impacted, and there needs to be representation that really is genuinely speaking for a whole lot of women and women of color that are not being advocated for.
BHB: You have a wide range of experiences as a public school teacher, counselor, social worker, small business owner and community volunteer, and a mother. How do you think these experiences will help you if elected as a council member for CD14?
RZ: Well, all of my experiences give me a very special lens, because I understand a lot of the issues. And I think that that’s what makes me a very, very good candidate, because I live and breathe the issues. And through all of my experiences, I can [say] there are children and families being displaced, small businesses that are hurting, moms that worry about the safety of their kids going and coming from school. Because that’s all lived experience. I think that that’s extremely important for a council member.
BHB: There has been an influx of charter schools coming into Boyle Heights, and some residents are against them. You emphasize the importance of public schools in your educational success, what’s your stance on charter schools?
RZ: There are different types of charter schools, there are charter schools that are affiliated and charter schools that are not affiliated. I think that at a state level, if all the schools are playing in the same field and are being held to the same standard, then things will be better for both choices. I think that really, at a state level, if there was more regulation, that would help all school systems, both charter and non-charter, here in LA.
BHB: Vaping is an epidemic affecting teens everywhere. What’s your plan to deal with this?
RZ: You know, as a therapist I understand that in adolescence we experiment and we make poor decisions, and it all comes down to education. So educating, ‘psycho-education’ for our teenagers, having programs in the schools that talk about health, is really supporting the parents. Because the first teachers are at home, really spreading the message and the education of how harmful it is.
BHB: A big part of gentrification is the cost of housing. What are your plans for making housing more affordable?
RZ: Yes, displacement is a big issue. I believe in creating policies that protect the most vulnerable communities, children and families and seniors. I really want to advocate for, for example, seniors. If you’re 65 years and over, there needs to be a policy that protects our seniors where they can’t be evicted from their home, they can’t have astronomical rentals because they’re living on a fixed income. They’ve already done the work, they’ve worked their whole lives, and I feel like it’s very unfair. So creating policies that really help the most vulnerable populations in the district for housing, that’s a very, very big important issue to many of us.
BHB: District 14 also includes Skid Row, home to thousands of homeless residents. The most recent homeless count showed the number of people on the streets in LA was actually up. What’s your plan on working on this issue?
RZ: As a social worker, I believe that we have to work together. And there has to be accountability with the service providers to the homeless. But also there need to be policies… what’s the sustainable long-term plan for the homeless population? There are a lot of homeless students that I’m particularly concerned about, single mothers… I think that there should be [varying] levels of how we deal with the homeless. What part of the population is employable? Part of the population just needs the housing with sustainability. Part of the population needs mental health… there are a lot of people self-medicating with substance abuse, but really, they need psychotropic medication. So I think that covering the different layers and areas and how we combat this together… and also I believe that the funds, you know, there’s an unlimited need, but there’s a limited number of funds: how do we make our dollar stretch and our budgets stretch, and holding the service providers accountable? I think that that’s very, very important.
And the funds need to come all the way from the federal level, all the way down, because a lot of the homeless aren’t from here, they’re out of the state. So how do we address that, it’s a big, big crisis and I feel like we’re moving slow. We have a plan in a couple years and no, it has to be immediate. CD 14 [has this] really giant building. It’s called General Hospital. I was born there, and it’s been empty. Eventually the plan is to have affordable housing there. But you know, how long, what’s the wait? It’s a long wait, the time is now.
BHB: Air Pollution is also a really big problem. Air pollution in Boyle Heights is higher than the recommended state regulations. Six local schools are closer than the recommended distances to major highways. How do you plan to help fight for clean air in Boyle Heights and district 14?
RZ: I’m very familiar with the poor quality of air. You know, I live here, my daughter lives here and my family lives here. My neighbors, we’re all breathing it. This comes to a history of environmental injustice, having all freeways placed in Boyle Heights. All the freeways are here, the 60, the 10, the 5, the 101, they all cross here, and we breathe all of that exhaust. So the fact that the schools are so close to the freeway, that’s what makes a lot of the children in Boyle Heights have asthma, bloody noses, because of the air quality. But I think that that segues more into public transportation, you know, how can we help grow our public transportation, so we don’t have that many cars out there.
BHB: Some Boyle Heights residents say they feel betrayed because of recent events involving the current council member, José Huízar. I noticed that you recently emphasized the importance of transparency, and took the initiative to start the “serve your term” pledge and even sent it to other candidates. How else do you plan on gaining the trust of Boyle Heights residents after they felt betrayed? And, also, can you tell us a little bit about the pledge that you initiated?
RZ: Absolutely. So I’ll go ahead and address first that the trust of Boyle Heights residents, you know, I live in this community, my whole life I’ve served my community in different capacities. So I’ve had a lot of relationships and rapport with a lot of community members, and I’m extremely genuine and honest. Meeting folks where they’re at in their home, at the bus stop, at McDonald’s, wherever they are, talking to them and really asking them, what the issues are concerning them, and really being genuine and following up. I think that that will definitely help in gaining trust, because I believe that a lot of people have lost hope and faith in government. I really want to restore that hope and faith.
So talking about transparency and the initiative [to] pledge to serve your term because I’ve heard rumors that there are some people on the ballot who plan to use this as a stepping stone, as a platform, a springboard to higher office. We’ve gone through that as a community and we’re holding people accountable. So if you want to represent CD 14, then what’s your vision? What’s your commitment, are you here for the long run? Are you here just for your own personal gain? Because that’s not acceptable. I initiated that because I heard that somebody is not committed to the people to [complete] the term and is going to run for mayor in 2022. And that’s not acceptable.
BHB: Is there anything else you would like to add?
RZ: No, I just want to thank you so much for this opportunity. It means a whole lot to me. You know, I am a grassroots candidate. I’m fighting an uphill battle against money, but I believe in people power and I’m very excited to be in this race and I’m going full force until March 3, 2020.