I am an Assistant Professor studying Political Behavior, Race and Ethnic Politics, Latino Politics, Mobilization, and Partisanship at Northern Arizona University. I am also a Research Associate at the Leavey Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University.
Like many Americans, my story begins with one foot on either side of the Mexico-U.S. border. My mother was born in Los Angeles, and her family goes back generations on both sides of the border since before the border existed. Mostly a family of rural origin throughout Southern Arizona, New Mexico and Chihuahua, Mexico, the ranchero lifestyle runs deep on my mother’s side. My mother’s immediate family moved to Boyle Heights, CA after my grandfather served in World War II, where he was awarded a Purple Heart for his wounds in battle in Italy. Ironically, considering the life expectancy of his unit in Italy (about 50%), my grandfather outlasted everyone.
My father was born in Mexico City and spent his early childhood in a home for boys, an orphanage, while his mother (the soul of my life) traveled North to raise enough money to bring him to the United States. Fatefully, when my father came to the United States at the age of 6, he moved three houses down and across the street from his future bride, my mom. Although my grandfather is a stubborn man and had survived combat under the harshest of conditions, the street between my mother and my father couldn’t be wide enough for him. Young love defeats all enemies, and Tata finally raised the white flag. My parents have been married 40 years.
I still have close family sprinkled throughout Mexico; Chihuahua, Guadalajara and Veracruz. My last name is Portuguese and my mother’s surname is Perez and her mother’s surname is Rivera. My great-grandmother swore we had family in every war the U.S. has been in since the Civil War, and indeed, there are many Perez’ and Rivera’s from Arizona and New Mexico who fought in the Civil War. It’s probable there are blood relations, but I have not done the research to confirm. My great-grandmother lived to be 104 and she was sharp as a tack to the very end. She slipped me candy and a silver dollar every time I visited. I’d pay a thousand dollars to have just one of those silver dollars back!
Like many who grow up in East Los Angeles, my parents moved out of East L.A. once they started their family. I grew up on the outskirts of East L.A., in a multicultural neighborhood called Alhambra. It’s just over the hill from Boyle Heights, along the 10 freeway. However, East L.A. was my home. I played pop warner football at Salazar Park (which is now Cesar Chavez park I am told) and I spent most of my early years ensconced in Boyle Heights. We grew up watching bands like Los Lobos play at city fairs. My father’s best friend moved on to be an activist in the farmworker movement, and I remember fondly going up to the farmlands to visit my dad’s friends, where they always “talked politics”. Cesar Chavez is the godfather of a few of my cousins (actually not blood cousins, but Mexican’s have extended families, and that’s what we call each other), and I believe it was there that I grew interested in politics.