Legalize LA and La Quinceanera Liency

There are many human stories that emanate from the struggle of the immigrant rights movement in this country. This is one of them. It involves La Quinceanera Liency Gonzalez, an aspiring medical doctor, the Legalize LA Campaign and a classic Latino immigrant family.

Just recently Liency celebrated her 15 years. As we know reaching the Senorita age is a memorable moment for Latinas and their families. It is celebrated with a mass and a family popular fiesta with the house thrown out the window. Sometime last year her father Ruben Gonzalez, a Mexican immigrant activist and successful entrepreneur, asked his daughter if she “wanted the traditional Quinceanera celebration” on her 15th birthday”. She chose instead to celebrate it in Cancun with her immediate family, her Peruvian Mother and aunts, he siblings, cousins and the Gonzalez clan.

Recently then, the family traveled to Mexico and from the start they took the international beach resort by surprise. The ten children, including Liency and Yamila, all wore the increasingly popular “Legalize LA” T-shirts, massively marketed by American Apparel to promote immigration reform for undocumented immigrants in the US. At the airport and the hotel the employees and tourists stared at them with curiosity. Throughout their first days, as the kids informed the hotel staff, including the restaurant and entertainment employees that “Legalize LA” meant support for immigrants in America, the red carpet treatment became the norm everywhere in the plush resort: the restaurants, the shows , streets, stores and more so with tourists and the people of Cancun. On their first evening at the hotel’s family entertainment club, the master of ceremonies announced their presence and their cause and they got a standing ovation. Everywhere the people gave them the thumbs up sign, while others conveyed stories of their Mexican relatives living in the US and how they missed them. Some they tell burst into tears wanting to join them.

Did they plan this? Of course and with some experience. Just before Cancun this year, Liency an Alhambra High School student organized the distribution of the Legalize LA T-Shirts to one hundred students. In solidarity with the legalization immigrant rights march of May 1st 2009 and organized by the March 25 Coalition in downtown LA, all the students wore them in school. Amazingly on the same day, her eleven year old sister Yamila did a similar thing in her elementary school.

De donde viene esto? Where does this ethnic pride and early display of social consciousness come from? Her mother also named Liency, a Peruvian immigrant, is also a successful small businesswoman. Her Aunt Betsy is a millionaire property owner in Las Vegas. But it is her Mexican father Ruben Gonzalez who has had the most influence on her. On this side of her family they are from the state of Morelos, the land of revolutionary hero Emiliano Zapata and their social activism is carried in the blood. With this background and his tactical skills, since 2006, Ruben has been able to penetrate and debate in the popular Spanish language radio stations and push new fresh ideas. Allegedly, when the 2007 mega march and boycott for immigration reform was being organized -and the media was against it- he was the LA activist who behind the scenes coined the phrase, “PIOLIN TRAIDOR ABRE LAS PUERTAS A LAS MARCHAS/YOU’RE A TRAITOR PIOLIN, SUPPORT THE MARCHES”.  This critical slogan was printed in hundreds of placards and tactically displayed in many events which eventually forced “Pioli”, one of the nation’s most popular Spanish language DJs, to respond and allow on his syndicated morning show, opinions favorable to the march and boycott. That downtown mass march gathered over 100,000 demonstrators and it took place the same day that the LA Police Department Special Force attacked and beat 250 demonstrators at the afternoon three thousand people rally in McArthur Park, organized by the moderate wing.

Additionally though, and probably more profoundly, there are two other events in Liency’s young life that so far have marked her social maturity. One is the death of her Uncle Jonathan Gonzalez. A lifetime seasoned activist in Mexico, Jonathan was the only environmentalist lawyer in the State of Morelos. In 2007, he was representing a city coalition in Cuernavaca in a political war to stop the opening of several gas stations built over water resources, which supplied 80% of the city’s water. The owner of the gasoline stations was a wealthy conservative businessman, well connected and leading member of the PAN and protected by President Felipe Calderon. Jonathan and a delegation from Cuernavaca presented testimony at the International Water Tribunal which that year met in Guadalajara, accusing the government with impunity and violations of international environmental laws. Upon driving back to their city, Jonathan and a female leader of that movement were trapped into an accident with a hauling truck and they were killed.

The other was the recent deportation of her uncle in law Moises Gonzalez. A contractor with 16 years of residence and work in Los Angeles, he made the mistake of trusting the Immigration and Customs Enforcement-ICE and appeared for an appointment at the federal building for his final interview to obtain his permanent residence. His wife Diana, big Liency’s sister, also a Peruvian immigrant, is a US citizen and they have three US born children. Like tens of thousands of other immigrants, instead of giving Moises the well deserved and coveted green card, the infamous ICE courts had him arrested on the spot and immediately ordered his deportation. He had neither legal representation nor a criminal record

Diana went into shock and suffered a nervous breakdown. She was taken to the Long Beach Memorial Hospital for mental treatment and interned for weeks. They have three children and one of them, little Moises, was born with epilepsy. His father, the sole family supporter now resides in Tijuana waiting until immigration reform is approved. He used to pay for all of Little Moises’ medical treatment and medicines. No more. They now receive public assistance.

At the beginning I mentioned that this is the story of a classical Latino family, and it is. Sixty seven percent of the 47 million Latinos in this country have one or more undocumented members in their families. There are also two million citizens now married to undocumented spouses. There are an additional estimated  5 million US born children with one or both undocumented parents. More, presently there are an additional 500,000 women and men with an order of deportation, and finally, like Moises, in the last ten years, over 100,000 fathers and mothers with US born children were deported from the US.

At 15, Liency has already been exposed and participates in one of the most important struggles for empowerment in this country and for that matter also in the planet, because however it concludes, it will have a resounding impact internationally. Additionally, through the execution of her uncle Jonathan, she is now aware of the lack of democracy and the violations of human rights in the country of her ancestors. In today’s world of capitalist globalization, she has entered the level of internationalism.

Moreover, she is already making plans for medical school. With all respect and humility I’m going to suggest to her parents and to her to consider applying for the international medical program in Havana, Cuba. It is considered one of the best in the world and it’s totally free. She would not graduate with a $250,000 debt as in the US, the paragon of democracy. I am confident that if she does, her education will go hand in hand with the principles of compassion that at her tender age she is already living and practicing.

Today Liency and the clan live in Las Vegas and of course whenever they wear the T-Shirts on the strip, the thumbs up human sign is always there. So where ever you may be in the not too distant future and you wear your Legalize LA T-Shirt, do like Liency, wear it with pride and defiance and don’t forget Moises and Diana.

*Javier Rodriguez, a progressive journalist, has also published for the LA Times, La Opinion, Eastern Group Publications, Uno Mas Uno-Mexico, syndicated with Hispanic Link,, and STN’s He is now writing his experiences and perspective as a leading activist in the Immigrant rights movement, including the making of 25 March 2006. A  Media-Political Strategist, he is also a co-founder of the National Coalition for Fair Immigration Laws and Practices 1973-78, C.A.S.A 1971 -78, the Coalition for Visas and Rights for the Undocumented 1982-90, California Latinos for Jesse Jackson 1984, the March 25 Coalition 2006, May 1st National Movement 2007 and Parlamento Migrante in Mexico City 2007. Email [email protected]


*Ruben Gonzalez is a member of the March 25 Coalition. He and his family now reside in Las Vegas. On April 30th 2009, unsuccessfully he attempted to purchase the Legalize LA jerseys at the downtown factory. The M25C intervened and with AA’s staff assistance, then provided the 125 T-Shirts for Liency and Yamila.

American Apparel is the largest garment manufacturer in the country. It is a rebel company that promotes corporate social responsibility for the environment and its 90% Latino immigrant workforce. For the millions of undocumented in the US, it perennially campaigns for legalization and immigration reform. During the brutal right wing years of George W. Bush, the LA based corporation openly defied ICE by marching and boycotting the economy since 2001 and it surrounds its headquarters with 100 ft long banners that say “Legalize LA” and “Immigration Reform Now”. In March 2008 ICE inspectors began to monitor the company to Everify the workers and it was believed a raid was imminent throughout the campaign year. Approximately two months past, the corporation announced 1,800 workers without documents would be laid off. Dov Charney, the founder and CEO is a recent Canadian immigrant.

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