Olga Diaz is using her position as the first Latina on the Escondido City Council to fight the anti-immigrant policies that have made the municipality north of San Diego famous.

Diaz, who is married to a police lieutenant, said in an interview with Efe that the experience of her Mexican parents, who participated in the Bracero program and later worked in meatpacking plants in Chicago, has spurred her defense of Hispanics in Escondido.

The owner of two coffee shops that serve as a base from which to create social networks among her neighbors, the mother of four has converted the council into the only counterweight to her conservative colleagues.

"I moved to Escondido seeking a city similar to Salinas (where she grew up) with regard to the weather, but cheaper. I never focused on the politics of the city. It wasn't until I was a witness to the way in which the police beat young students who were demonstrating against laws that threatened their parents with deportation that I began to get involved," said Diaz.

It was then that Diaz began to attend city council meetings and, surprised by the lack of sensitivity of the councilors to the needs of Hispanics, she decided to get involved in politics.

Diaz, who is seeking reelection in November, aims to become the first Hispanic mayor of Escondido in 2014 as well as helping to get allies elected to the council with an eye toward transforming local politics.

Among the controversial measures adopted by Escondido that have brought legal challenges are the checkpoints on highways that have disproportionately affected undocumented immigrants without driver's licenses and an unusual collaboration between the municipal police and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement that has increased deportations.

"The other councilors don't understand that they can't just offend undocumented people without also offending those who have documents, since the families have a mixed status," Diaz said.

The councilor said that her victory in 2010 changed the tone of the conversations at city hall, and instead of talking almost exclusively about immigration or day laborers, they began to discuss the city's economic development.

Escondido has a population of 145,000, of whom 48.8 percent are Hispanics - up from 39 percent in 2000 - and 40.4 percent are non-Hispanic whites.

It is expected that Latinos will comprise 60 percent of Escondido residents by 2016.

"Since it's the first time that the whites have been exceeded by another group, they feel threatened and the elected officials have devoted themselves to promoting fear. The inability to reason with the councilors was one of the reasons I entered politics," said Diaz.

The lifelong Democrat was elected despite the fact that Escondido has twice as many Republicans as Democrats.

"While I was driving with my kids in the car, there were drivers who pulled up beside me to shout insults, or on the street to tell me to return to Mexico. If this can happen to me, I can only imagine what people who speak with accents are experiencing," Diaz said. "Those are the things that motivate me, putting myself in the place of the victims." 

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