No Browns allowed.
Ben Cantu knows what it is like to walk up to a store or a restaurant and see signs telling him and others that happen to be Hispanic, Latino, or Mexican-American that they are not welcome — period — in their establishments.
That never happened in California as he was growing up but it did in Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico.
Not once in 30 years of public service, five election campaigns, and 20 months in office as Manteca’s mayor has Cantu played the race card. In all of those campaigns Cantu never made a peep about his ethnicity. All that mattered to him was that he was a Manteca resident, a Californian, and an American citizen exercising his birthright to run for office in pursuit of goals he firmly believe will make Manteca a better place for everyone.
So it was more than a little disconcerting this week that out of the bowels of the Internet came a posting that the mayor supposedly dealt from the bottom of the race deck by allegedly telling the previous City Manager Tim Ogden to get rid of Police Chief Jodie Estarziau on the premise “she was a racist against Mexicans as were her officers.”
Cantu confirmed he sent an email to the chief questioning whether profiling was in play when his grandson and a friend were pulled over by officers. Cantu noted he had that happen to him when he was younger based on him simply being young, Hispanic, and driving a car. His concern was that he wanted to make sure such a practice wasn’t happening in Manteca.
All he did was raise a concern without tossing on gasoline, let alone light a match. He asked the question not by calling a news conference and not by slamming the Manteca Police Department at public venues as being racist. Cantu does not believe the MPD is racist but there are some that want you to believe that he does.
That is not to say that there are not flaws and faults. Anyone that declares an organization or individual are free of them are only lying to themselves.
Burning someone at the proverbial political stake because they simply express a concern and do so in a discreet manner is something you do when you need a fire to cover up incriminating evidence or lack thereof.
Cantu without a doubt has drawn more political lighting than any Manteca mayor in recent history except for perhaps Trena Kelley who was recalled for being part of a majority that dismissed a popular police chief for what turned out to be solid reasons and Carlon Perry who adhered to a shrink government discipline that was sharpened by what could be described as a “take no prisoners approach” when pushing for what he believed in.
And while at times he may come across as a history professor lecturing on what he believes are past municipal missteps or seemingly too willing to challenge staff assertions especially in the realm of planning that he did as an employee of the city he now helps oversee when it comes to policies and spending, Cantu has never been painted as a racist or one who would use inflammatory charges to get his way.
And that is exactly what is going on here. Cantu is being painted a racist by alleging he is playing the race card.
You can only speak from your own experiences, but given the history of the last 70 years during which time Cantu has been alive you could not fault the man for expressing concern that profiling might be going in and not simply because it involved his grandson.
I’ll admit I had my eyes opened real wide when I was 19. I had stopped in Delano on the way to Los Angeles and entered a store to buy a soda. I got a few stares but thought nothing of it given I wasn’t from Delano. As I went out the front door with my Pepsi, an elderly gentleman came up to me and expressed surprise that I had entered a Mexican grocery store that at the time apparently was on the wrong side of the freeway. It was a major abnormality apparently back in 1975 for someone who was white to do so.
I fault my upbringing for my naivety. I was raised in Lincoln in Placer County where the mayor was Louis DeArcos, the police chief was Robert Jimenez, the high school star quarterback was Jessie Flores and a third of my friends had names like Enrique Martinez, Ralph Ayala, Raymond Gonzalez and Louis Cardenas mixed in with others such as Mike Halford, Marvin Hata, Ron Burns, Ronald Asazawa, Terry Miller, and Mike Brooks.
I never even considered anyone could treat someone who happened to be Hispanic as somewhat different simply because they were Hispanic until I was exposed to a much bigger world than Lincoln. I will concede there were times in high school when we played suburban schools in the foothills of both Placer and El Dorado counties you would hear some opposing teams’ fans shout out the derogatory terms such as “Spics” and “Spic Lovers” at us. But then again they had a low opinion of Lincoln to begin with as it was a solid blue collar town at the time by referring to us as “welfare recipients.”
While they might of have gotten that opinion from the condition of some of the aging housing stock, the facts said something else. We didn’t have the highest welfare rate in the county by far nor did we have the lowest. Most people supported their families with blue collar jobs where you got dirty and worked up a sweat to earn a modest but honest paycheck.
Cantu’s background is similar but even more rooted in hard, honest work and the pursuit of the American Dream.
You may disagree with what he wants for Manteca. You may not like his persistence and tendency to lecture at times.
But he does not deserve to be the target of embellishment for what are either purely political purposes or someone playing a hatchet man for slighted grown adults pulling down six figure incomes on the taxpayers’ dime by daring to ask a reasonable question of those in authority and to do so in a discreet manner.