May 31, 2012 | As an 8-year-old boy Luis Reynoso watched in 1968 with conflicting feelings of awe and fear as authorities in Guadalajara beat back and bludgeoned students protesting in the streets. “There’s something wrong here. One group has guns, the other group doesn’t,” he recalls thinking. As he observed the violence from a safe place, Reynoso remembered a sharp dressed man in a uniform barking orders at the troops and thinking how one day he could put himself in a position to clean up a mess like the one he was witnessing. “If this guy is telling people this, what if he told them something else?” he recalls today.
Fast forward over four decades and the something else Reynoso, the Hayward school district board member, is trying to tell voters in the 20th Assembly District, is a unique brand of conservatism that most have not heard about since the days Ronald Reagan was snacking on jelly beans in the White House. Reynoso’s history is a story rooted in classic “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” Republican ethos and backed with personal turmoil, triumph and a real life tale of the American Dream becoming a tangible reality.
Born in Guadalajara, Mexico, Reynoso lost his father just before his seventh birthday. The cancer was quick and unforgiving. “It just kind of took him by surprise,” Reynoso says. “So my mom, she just couldn’t handle it and she came to the United States.” His mother arrived in Fremont around 1966, although, not entirely whole. Instead of bringing Reynoso and his three siblings for the trek to California, his mother left them in an orphanage until she called for them over four years later when Reynoso was 11-years-old. “That’s why I learned to be a tough kid. You had to be in some of these orphanages or you’re not going to survive.” Although those four years were difficult for the young boy, he harbors little anger towards the experience, knowing his mother needed to establish a new life before providing for her children. “She had to do what she had to do to survive,” he says. “You do whatever it takes. She took care of us the best she knew how.”
RESPECT FOR IMMIGRANTS
His experience is a major reason why Reynoso says he could never along with the peculiar strain of conservatism, currently en vogue, that harshly demonizes immigrants. Instead, they should be celebrated, he says. “It’s tough because you come here and you don’t know the language,” says Reynoso. “That’s why I have a lot respect for these immigrants who take the extra measures to learn the language and become a legal immigrant.” He also noted that despite common talk radio talking points, the vast majority of immigrants come to this country legally. “We forget that we are all immigrants, no matter how you look at it.
When Reynoso got acquainted with his new life in America, he quickly got himself a paper route in San Leandro. Making $30-a-month with a beat up bicycle he bought at second hand store, he says the work made him proud. It also taught him to take his fate into his own hands. “I strongly believe in the dignity of work. The job you have may not be your dream job, but there’s dignity in working and we’re losing that as a society.” He points to the recent discussion over the past few months of bringing Walmart to Hayward. “Twelve dollars-an-hour is not good enough. We know that,” he says, “but there’s dignity in providing for your family. There’s dignity in not taking handouts.” Even as a young child he recounts how the school principal called his parents because he wouldn’t accept free lunch tickets. “It was so repugnant to me to take food as a gift because somehow people feel sorry for you. If I ask, it’s a different story.” However, he realizes life is unpredictable and some are more fortunate than others. “I do understand, at some point in our lives, we need help sometimes,” he says. “If you contribute to your unemployment and something happens, you need a little bit of help, but that doesn’t mean you get help for the rest of your life. You need to make something happen.”
ONLY GOD CAN JUDGE YOU
Reynoso’s views on teaching sexual orientation in schools has drawn some detractors, but he believes he is misunderstood. Instead of demeaning the group, he says he respects their cause, but says already struggling teachers are overloaded in the classroom. “I certainly don’t believe it belongs in schools, but I will support you,” Reynoso says. “Whatever you do in your private life, I will support you because the government has no role in telling you who you need to marry or how your life needs to be in your home.” As a Catholic who recently received a doctorate from USF, Reynoso’s view is a tidy mixture of personal perseverance and theology. “If you really want to practice morality, then the way to do it is to let God judge. That would be true morality.”
“We bicker to much about social issues when we should be focusing on the economy. The role of social issues is when someone is being oppressed. School is about education. There isn’t a place for it. There’s absolutely no place for it, for sure.” When asked if gay history would be fair game to teach in schools, he said, “Absolutely.” “When you start talking about issues of sexual orientation in school, there’s a difference between promoting the issue and actually informing about the issue. Teachers have a tough time right now with the curriculum, they just don’t have time. It’s a big mistake to bring that into the classroom.”
HAYWARD SCHOOLS STILL STRUGGLING
Reynoso says he doesn’t know if he will run for re-election to the school board in Hayward, but he’s contemplating it because he says there is still more work to be done. “We’re having a real hard time managing our money,” he said of the current board. “There are people on my board who think we should be spending more money and not cut back on things.” The school district is still not out of the woods with its scary flirtation with state receivership. However, he has campaigned against the school district’s parcel tax, Measure G, which he says is unnecessary. “The district loses $2-4 million-a-year in waste,” he says. “Just by saving that we don’t need this parcel tax.”
When asked if voters ever wonder why he is running for the Assembly when he has not yet been able to mend the city’s schools, Reynoso said he often gets that question and says there’s only so much you can do in the minority. But, he also believes the board is beginning to make strides. “Before, whatever came through–BOOM–you’ve got the vote.” Now, he says, they better monitor the bidding process and challenge staff recommendations. Reynoso’s tough and sometimes antagonistic rants, however, have also rubbed some at the school district the wrong way. One infamous episode two years ago involved Reynoso being escorted out of City Hall chambers during one school board meeting after he forcefully laid into Jesus Armas over allegations the former Hayward city manager’s wife employment with the school district was derived from nepotism.
TALKING TRASH TO HIS OPPONENTS
At one point, during the two hour interview at a coffee shop across from Chabot College, Reynoso launched a biting and often times hilarious rant against nearly all of his challengers for the 20th Assembly District.
On Hayward Councilman Bill Quirk: “Part of his history is ‘B’ Street. It’s a ghost town. He was a proponent for this power plant next to all these elementary schools and Chabot College. I don’t know what is going through his head…I’m surprised the environmentalist haven’t gone after him.”
He next added another opponent, Dr. Jennifer Ong, to the mix. “With Walmart, here’s an area where we desperately need jobs because you have people who are unemployed and what does Quirk do? He doesn’t do what’s best for the community and Jennifer Ong goes along with it, as well. It shows these people are completely out of touch with the community.”
“She wants to help the community? She would have helped them a lot more if we had Walmart to hire people in this community. What is Jennifer going to do when she’s in Sacramento? Give them all potted plants and oven mitts? What’s Mark Green going to do? Get a second job if it doesn’t work out?”
For a man raised without some of the creature comforts many of his constituents take for granted everyday, he has without a doubt, lived a life through a lens most Republicans choose to ignore. Whereas, the national party has sought to marginalize people, many Republicans could probably take a lesson from Reynoso, especially if they ever hope to attract the quickly growing Latino vote in America. And his fervor for forcing change really hasn’t changed much since that 8-year-old boy saw visceral change replete with bloody faces and crushed bones in the streets of Guadalajara. “Every time I see a demonstration, even the occupiers, it makes me so proud,” he says wistfully. “I almost feel like kissing the ground. Only in America can you do this. Only in America can you protest without getting shot. I may not agree with what you’re protesting, but it makes me proud.”