Luis Orlando Gallardo Rivera is the head of an urban development agency in Aguas Buenas, Puerto Rico. He will be spending the next week in Orange County to attend a Fair Housing Policy Conference hosted by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development at the Anaheim Convention Center.

Luis is a member of the left wing Popular Democratic Party (PPD) in Puerto Rico, and he maintains a personal blog at: http://www.barriomulas.com/blog/

When Mike asked if I was willing to guest blog on the Liberal OC, I was quite honored to do so, not having collaborated on a collective blog for quite a few years. Being from Puerto Rico, my exposure to Orange County and the West Coast is quite limited; something that doesn’t prevent me from making observations and forming opinions. While some might feel uncomfortable of the fact that an outsider is commenting on their county with unfavorable or crude observations, I agree that perspectives from the outside help break the often limited view that people have on their own communities.

The West is quick to send anthropologists to far away lands, but rarely has it been the subject of ethnographic observation itself.

Despite my activeness in local politics, my approach on many issues is often cultural. I am a firm believer that one of the state’s primary goals is to foment the cultural development of its people via education, a healthy life-style, family, historic identity, solidarity, and especially community. Despite such, I do touch subjects of strictly political interest. Sadly, I have made an effort to learn about the politics of Orange County only to find a largely politically apathetic populace. I’m accustomed to the large political murals, posters, and signs on every lamp post.

I am surprised to see how a county with such a large Latinos population is a bastion of conservative politics. “Orange County has not voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1936 landslide re-election,” notes Wikipedia. There is obviously an under-representation of Latinos at the polls. Ironically, despite the fact that the Latino population in comparison with other groups has grown more than 7% since the 1990s, support for the Republican Party has gone up by almost 16%. I’m not really sure if that’s due to the courting of Latino votes or growing apathy among the immigration community. I’m still looking for the statistics.

Upon arriving to Orange County, one of my first observations was the large presence of Central American immigrants. Interestingly enough, these groups tend to lack the level of activism, political awareness (even if it does not translate into participation in elections,) and cultural development as Latino communities elsewhere. Lengthy Internet searches for Latino cultural centers in the area provided pathetic results, while Chicago and New York communities are characterized by their distant presence in local affairs. The suggestions of many locals were quite monotonous: “check out Los Angeles, if you want to check out cultural events.” After visiting areas deemed as immigrant enclaves, I concluded that Orange County Latinos lack what I would deem “healthy community.” They appear to have taken on not only a subservient economic role, but a cultural one as well. I kept saying to myself, “I just don’t understand. This is a white city with Latinos living inside of it.” I hope that it is understood that these conclusions of mine are based on a few limited experiences. I truly hope that I am wrong and will continue to search for settings with cultural significance beyond Food Chains and Department Stores.