By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
“We did some research, and I am the first Latino immigrant on the City Council,” says Huizar, who was born in Zacatecas. “It encapsulates the growing Latino population in L.A. that someone like me” — his eyes flutter a bit — “can come to this country, and because of the educational opportunities, represent the community. It’s huge.”
It’s also “huge,” he says, that he sits on the Princeton Board of Trustees, the first and only Latino to do so. He frequently points this out. He also admits that many of his achievements in L.A. politics have been due to his close relationship with Mayor Villaraigosa. Then, without being asked about the topic, Huizar brings up the possibility that he could one day succeed his mentor. “People say, ‘Oh you want to be mayor,’ but I’m happy doing what I do now. I’m very happy being a City Council member,” Huizar insists. “I’ve been dreaming about this since I was a kid. I used to ask myself, why can’t Boyle Heights have the parks, all the infrastructure. Now I can do something about that.”
The whole time, Huizar is fiddling with his cell phone, tearing up a napkin, looking down. Even he seems to hardly believe himself.
In their self-mythologizing, in their unabiding sense of entitlement and, as we’ve seen in Villaraigosa’s leadership style at City Hall, in their intolerance for dissent, MAPs in politics offer a stark lesson. It doesn’t matter what ethnic group politicians belong to, they’re still politicians, working, however nobly, in an inherently corrupt infrastructure built on media manipulation, corporate and private servitude, and the cracklike addiction to power and self-preservation. In Los Angeles, all that has changed are the surnames, the skin color and a few details in the story line. Carnitas instead of cannoli.
Looking for a reason to keep the faith, I decide to look for MAPs outside of politics. After all, they are everywhere these days — on our movie screens and our favorite teams, in boardrooms, cop cars, fire trucks and Humvee convoys. They even sell us real estate.
“I’d be more than interested in telling you my feel-good story,” Lopez says when I tell him I want to meet him. “As long as it’s not an article to try to get me to buy a subscription.”
Realty Masters is a two-story stucco building on a hill overlooking the 60 freeway. Lopez greets me in his long executive office. He’s tall and handsome. He wears a nice watch, and his shoes are spotless. A MAP, no doubt.
“I was brought to this country at the age of 6 and raised in East L.A.,” Lopez says almost right away.
He was born in Jalisco and raised in a two-bedroom, one-bath house near the Ramona Gardens housing project in East L.A., the youngest of 11 siblings. That’s 13 people in a two-bedroom house. “It was not fun waiting for the restroom,” Lopez recalls.
His mother taught him “every time you make a dollar, put half of it away,” a habit that came in handy when Lopez, at age 18, bought his first home, “a hole in the wall” in East L.A. With a $5,000 down payment from his many part-time jobs, Lopez joined the ranks of homeowners right out of high school. Within three years, that $25,000 house sold for $85,000.
“I said, ‘Wait a minute, this is it.’”
Lopez enrolled at Cal State L.A. but never completed a degree. He didn’t have to. In a short time, after being told at a few franchise realty offices that he “didn’t fit the mold” to be an agent (code, he says, for “You’re too Mexican”), J.J. Lopez decided to become his own mogul. He founded Realty Masters in 1996. For six of the last 10 years, his has been the top-selling office among members of the Montebello Board of Realtors. Lopez now runs a staff of 63 associates, an especially noteworthy accomplishment for a nonfranchise operation.
Now Lopez, 42, never has to wait for the bathroom. He owns his own eight-bedroom, 10-bath house in Hacienda Heights.
“People ask me, ‘Why do you need so many bathrooms?’ Because I come from a two-bedroom, one-bath house. My goal,” Lopez says, “was to have as many bathrooms as I wanted.”
How did he do it? Like all other Mexican American Princes who achieve such things. By working hard, setting goals and listening to his mother. Even with a mansion in Hacienda Heights, Lopez hasn’t forgotten the secret brew cooked in cramped Mexican-American homes up and down California. He’s raising two daughters bilingually because a bilingual person, he insists, “makes more money than a single-language individual.”
Thinking beyond his family, he’s also traveled to Washington, D.C., to lobby for loosened regulations for first-time, immigrant home buyers.
“No matter where you go,” Lopez says, “you have to remember where you came from.”
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