Jewell Hooper could sense that her neighborhood of Valencia Park, once majority African-American, no longer was.
“It doesn’t surprise me,” she said when I told her Census data confirmed that black residents continued being replaced by Latinos in large numbers. “Now practically every house that goes up for sale goes to Latinos.”
But when I asked her whether she thought those changes would make it harder for African-Americans to continue electing a black representative to the City Council, she was visibly annoyed.
“You know what I say to that?” she asked. “So what? Why people continue to think that they have to have a person of their own race as their elected official I will never understand.”
Hooper’s perspective isn’t shared by all of San Diego’s black community. Some of its leaders are lining up to influence the city’s redistricting process, hoping to ensure that southeastern San Diego’s Fourth City Council District remains a safe African-American seat.
But at 91, Hooper is one of southeastern San Diego’s oldest and longest tenured black residents, and her perspective is shaped by the shoe-leather role she played in helping her community’s African-Americans — and its Latinos, for that matter — gain the electoral influence they enjoy today. Not having the numbers to elect a black representative doesn’t sound so bad to Hooper, compared to the past, when she couldn’t vote at all.
When she moved to southeastern San Diego in 1957, Hooper had elections on her mind. Never mind that in 1919, the year she was born, American women could not vote. As an adult resident of Washington, D.C., she hadn’t gotten to vote either. It wasn’t until the 23rd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified in 1961 that Washington residents, regardless of race, got a vote in presidential elections.
So when she moved to San Diego, Hooper not only registered, but started working for the Registrar of Voters. She said she canvassed the neighborhoods of southeastern San Diego, Logan Heights, Barrio Logan, by bus, car, and on foot registering black and Latino voters. Organizers like her slowly cultivated the black electoral voice that would help San Diego’s black community elect its first representative, Leon Williams, to the City Council in 1971, two years after he was appointed to fill a vacancy.
But the hallway of Hooper’s home in Valencia Park is also lined with mementos of the years, she said, when San Diego’s black and Latino communities worked together more closely. Latinos from nearby Logan Heights and Barrio Logan supported Williams’ appointment, and Hooper pointed to a plaque she was awarded by Peter Chacon, who in 1970 was San Diego’s first Latino elected to the state Assembly.
The emphasis back then, in the early years of the black and Latino communities’ political mobilization, she said, was in African-American and Latino collaboration. Hooper’s wall also displays a picture published in the San Diego Union. It’s of a young Hooper standing on the site where State Route 252 was almost constructed through southeastern San Diego, threatening homes, businesses and the community’s identity. Blacks and Latinos worked together to stop it.
A popular Latino supermarket, Northgate Gonzalez, now stands in the path the freeway would have taken.
San Diego’s blacks and Latinos were just realizing their political influence back then. They were cooperating, she said, to achieve their shared interests. So it annoys her (“It’s stupid!”) that there is so much focus on electing a black representative for blacks, or a Latino representative for Latinos.
“I don’t necessarily need the representative I’ve got,” Hooper said. “People should elect representatives that care about their communities.”
That’s why her neighborhood’s declining black population doesn’t concern her much.
“I know my Latino neighbors across the street just as well as I know the Afro family next door.”