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Roundtable: Local trailblazers in politics and sports

 January 21, 2022 at 12:00 PM PST

Speaker 1: (00:01)

Changing demographics are a big part of the resistance to voting rights. And as we watch the roadblocks in Washington, hear how Latinos are finally gaining representation in one north county town. And what a week for Willie O re the former San Diego goal is being recognized at the highest levels for breaking hockey's color barrier. We'll talk with the filmmaker who tells his remarkable story. I'm Matt Hoffman, and this is K PBS Roundtable

Speaker 2: (00:39)

Today. Our freedom to vote is under assault in Georgia and across our nation. Anti voter laws are being passed. That could make it more difficult for as many as 55 million Americans to vote 55 million Americans. That is one out of six people in our country. And the proponents of these laws are not only putting in place obstacles to the ballot box. They are also working to interfere with our elections to get the outcomes they want and to discredit those. They do not. That is not how democracies work.

Speaker 3: (01:26)

Any Senator who cannot support the protection of voting rights in the United States of America cannot say that they support the constitution. Stop the hypocrisy, cut the bullish. If you care and support our rights, do the hard work. You can't please everybody, but you can protect all of us and to keep it all the way real, the filibuster death is not working for democracy. Why won't you?

Speaker 1: (01:59)

That was vice president Kamala Harris with an assist for a Motown legend EV wonder. They're hoping that a couple of Democrats or really any Senate Republicans will listen to them while the focus has been on Washington this week, the old cliche, all politics as local rings. True. Just look to the Northern edge of San Diego county. That's where political power is finally shifting in Fallbrook. It was once known as a hotbed for racist violence and Latinos who make up half of the population are starting to make gains will hunts. Barry wrote about it for voice of San Diego. And he's here on round table. Welcome back.

Speaker 4: (02:31)

Will thanks, Matt. Good to be here.

Speaker 1: (02:33)

Okay. So first off, what sort of led you to this story and why do you think it's an important one for people to hear? Yeah, well,

Speaker 4: (02:39)

I mean, like you said, Fallbrook is an unincorporated town in north county and it it's 50% Latino. And so I was really shocked to learn that up until 2020. It didn't have any Latinos on any of its boards. There are four or five boards up there. There had been a, a couple on a couple of boards in the past, but some boards had never had a Latino on them. And in the many decades or, or a hundred years, they'd been in existence. And so, you know, um, I talked to Ricardo fave and, uh, you know, he was the first Latino ever elected to the Fallbrook, uh, union elementary school district. Sorry, it's a lot of words to remember, but that school district is 65% Latino. And so, you know, I was really fascinated by this town, which has such a massive Latino presence, but had very, very few Latino representatives until recently. And I wanted to find out more about it. And

Speaker 1: (03:38)

Speaking of Mr. Ricardo fave, we know that he grew up in Fallbrook during a time of deadly racist violence at the hands of white supremacists. How did that history spur him toward a life of activism?

Speaker 4: (03:48)

Yeah, the history of the white power movement in Fallbrook is really astonishing. And, you know, I've been in San Diego for a few years, maybe some people or very, very familiar with this history, but I think it's a history that often goes untold, you know, through the eighties and the nineties, there was literally a violent white power movement that instead of targeting black people like it did in the south targeted immigrants, many of whom were Mexican and, you know, times they were killed and beaten by different gangs of, of white people. Sometimes that was the KKK. And sometimes it was white youth. You mentioned, uh, Ricardo and his father was an immigrant worker in the avocado groves of Fallbrook, like so many other people. And, you know, his father was surrounded by a, a group of young white people. And, you know, fortunately his father was holding a water key, which is like this long metal object.

Speaker 4: (04:47)

He let those people know he would defend himself and they backed off. But Ricardo told me that, you know, stories like that from the eighties and nineties are super common. And so when Ricardo was in high school, he joined a group group called United pride. And that's a group that started in Fallbrook in the early eighties. And it was a group of Latinos who organized to protect themselves against violence from the KKK. And, and many listeners probably will have heard of Tom Metzker who lived in Fallbrook. He was the head of the KKK for California. He ran for Congress, he won the democratic primary. So there was this clash of groups there, you know, you had United pride trying to protect themselves and you had the KKK and light later the white area in resistance. And Tom Metzker trying to push those people out. And so, you know, this having to fight for survival on the part, Latinos led them to organize really strongly over the decades and, and create a strong political presence. Initially they didn't even want political representation. They wanted to be safe, but, you know, over the years the movement has changed. And so as

Speaker 1: (05:57)

You write, you know, fave was inspired to run for office and he was recently elected to the Fallbrook union elementary school district board, as you had mentioned, why did he choose to run for that position? And what has his win meant for the community?

Speaker 4: (06:09)

There's a community in Fallbrook of Latinos and many, many Latinos who are immigrants, they first generation I, and so a lot of times those students have very unique needs in the school system. You know, many of them are what are called English language learners in education jargon, meaning English, isn't their first language. And so, you know, those learners need a certain kind of robust dual instruction. They're not just learning, reading and math and history. They're also, you know, their English is getting up to part to also be able to, to, to learn all those subjects. So that's one reason it was important to him. But another big reason he said is also making sure that Latino history is part of is, is much more part of the curriculum. You know, he talked a lot about how camp Pendleton, which is right next to Fallbrook was previously owned by a Mexican who was really big in politics in Mexico when California was part of Mexico. And then in the us, when it became part of the us. And he talked about how, you know, so few people know that story. And so he wants Latinos to see themselves also really reflected in the curriculum.

Speaker 1: (07:20)

Fave was one of a handful of Latinos among the first to hold his seat on the governing board in Fallbrook, but it might not have happened if it weren't for some significant election changes. Will, can you walk through what happened to allow Latinos to have more of an influence at the polls?

Speaker 4: (07:36)

Sure. So the California voting rights act, uh, forgive the history lesson was passed in, um, 2001. And that act sought to abolish at large elections in municipalities and cities. If those at large elections meant certain groups, couldn't get their candidates selected. And that's exactly what was happening in Fallbrook. If you hold an at large election, that means you vote across the entire jurisdiction and there's no small subdistricts within it. And so because white people had the majority, even as it was a thinning majority, all those years, they were able to win all the seats on the board. And so in 20, uh, people were threatening to Sue Fallbrook union elementary district. And finally, under that threat of lawsuit, they moved to comply with the California voting rights act. So that, that was obviously like a huge change that made this possible. And then I think the question now is with 50% Latinos, you know, is one seat on each governing board of, is that enough

Speaker 1: (08:41)

I'm talking with will hunts Barry. He's a reporter for voice of San Diego. And will you sort of get into fallbrook's history a bit in this piece, especially during the 1980s, when migrants were under pressure from all over San Diego county, how would you describe the experience for Latinos during that time? I mean, I know you touched on Favell's history, but was that like an isolated experience?

Speaker 4: (09:01)

No, I think people in the eighties and the nineties were terrified is, is what they told me. You know, I, I spoke to another activist who graduated from high school in Fallbrook in 1985, EOR Morro. And it was not uncommon for, for people to, uh, for Latinos and immigrants to fear for their lives and for their safety. You know, they talked about hearing stories of immigrants, literally being thrown off cliffs and, and that's not urban legend. Like I wrote in the, the piece back in the eighties, the New York times documented that border patrol agents had said they had thrown immigrants off of cliffs in San Diego county in order to make it look like an accident. And, you know, there was a, there's a report from the California legislature in 1990, that talks about a gang of 17 year olds shooting immigrants in fields. And, you know, there's, there's an other articles that talk about a group of Marines that went on raids and would go, you know, into fields, looking for, for Mexican immigrants usually. And you know, those people in some cases were charged with attempted murder, uh, you know, the violence that it occurred in the eighties and nineties. It's hard to overstate it

Speaker 1: (10:20)

This week. There's a national discussion centered on the refusal of Republicans and a couple of Democrats to support voting reforms. Will, do you see parallels here between the situation in F Fallbrook and elsewhere in the country?

Speaker 4: (10:32)

Yeah, absolutely. Matt. I mean, you know, if you think about some of the voting right stuff, that's going on nationally, you know, I think a lot of those voting rights laws that are in some cases potentially limiting the vote of certain groups are happening in the south. But I think there are parallels in California. You have an organized group of Latino people in north county and Fallbrook in this who have needed political representation for years and have had to fight tooth and nail to get it. They finally did get it in 2019, which is, you know, really shocking that they've been such a substantial part of this community. You know, I mean, Fallbrook has tried to style itself as the avocado cat of the world, right? And on, on the one hand, you've got political structures that aren't meeting the needs of immigrants even while like the town is being built on immigrants.

Speaker 4: (11:29)

And so I think that fight for political power that other people are, are pushing for across the country is something that, uh, people have been pushing for in Fallbrook too, and are gonna continue to push for, because right now they have like one seat on each of the boards, essentially, while they're representing 50% of the population or 40% in certain of the government jurisdictions. But, you know, that's a big, that's a big number. And I think each of these people on the boards, they don't wanna feel like the pressure being the one Latino member of the board speaking for a population that's 50% Latino. So I think their fight is still ongoing

Speaker 1: (12:09)

F Fallbrook union elementary has a higher percentage of Latino than the whole entire town itself. Uh, so with that in mind, what's next for fave who you profiled? Is there anything specific on his agenda or any goals that he

Speaker 4: (12:21)

Has? I think favela would absolutely like to see more political representation. You know, I think when you think about school district, that's been around for many decades, I think a hundred years, in fact, and it's 65% Latino students and it just got its first Latino board member ever. I think there's still ways to go. You know, that's, that's what really brought me to the story. You have a big community of wa Malin, um, immigrants there. And many times they might be indigenous communities who come to California and don't speak English or speak Spanish really well. And so the education of those children requires different means than we're used to with maybe Mexican immigrants. And so I think that's, that's one of the thing that fave and other political representatives there are saying is we need more representation so we can stop treating Latino people. Like they're a monolith in Fallbrook. You know, there there's a diversity within the Latino community, which is healthy and robust and that should be represented on the boards.

Speaker 1: (13:28)

Well, we'll definitely be following up with you to see if there's any more change that's coming up. I've been speaking with will hunts Barry. He's a reporter at voice of San Diego and will thanks so much for your time.

Speaker 4: (13:38)

Thank you, Matt.

Speaker 1: (13:47)

That was a story about one kind of trailblazer. And now here's another Jackie Robinson is a household name, but what about will O re he broke the NHLs color barrier back in 1958, but it took 60 years for him to become a hall of Famer. And this week the accolades are piling on the Boston burns, retired his number 22, and the us house of representatives voted unanimously to award him the congressional gold medal. It's a story that everyone should know. And one with deep ties to San Diego, our next guest tells it in the award-winning documentary. Willie Lawrence, Matthew is the producer and director and she's here on K PBS round table. Hey Lawrence. Hi guys. So on the surface, this film was about a hockey player, but it's really about history and humanity. Is that what you tried to capture with this film and Willie's overall story? Yeah, I think,

Speaker 5: (14:36)

You know, when we first decided to make the film Brian McBride and I who's, my co-producer, we really wanted to tell a story about the importance of diversity in sports in general. And Brian had known Willie for years. He actually was the one who had hired him, rehired him at, at D NHL. Um, as the first black executive, he brought him back to start the, um, diversity program. Bryan was kind of like my, how can I say this? Like the person who, uh, introduced me to Willy. And when Bryan told me he knew Willy, I was like, oh my gosh, like, we need to make this film yesterday. We need to, or this moment and use his story to inspire young people and also tell the bigger story of how important diversity in sports and in general, in, in every aspect of our lives is important to celebrate.

Speaker 1: (15:22)

All right, let's hear the trailer for this film. And then we'll come back and dive right into it.

Speaker 6: (15:26)

In terms of this business of being a Jackie Robinson of hockey, have you had any troubles?

Speaker 7: (15:32)

Willie O re of the Boston Bruins gives the first Negro to play in the national hockey league. 60 years ago,

Speaker 8: (15:37)

Willie O re broke the color barrier in professional hockey. He changed the game forever. Why don't

Speaker 9: (15:43)

We have Willie O re in the hockey hall of fame?

Speaker 10: (15:46)

I had my opportunity cuz of people like Willie O re he was blind in one

Speaker 11: (15:50)

Eye. I played with a lot of guys who weren't very good who had two ice

Speaker 12: (15:53)

, you know, you'd be sitting in the Penley box and you'd hear the racial

Speaker 9: (15:56)

Slur. Someone called me an

Speaker 1: (15:57)

N-word on the ice. I don't stand for that.

Speaker 13: (16:03)

Willie is a hero. He's a hockey hero.

Speaker 1: (16:07)

That's the trailer for the 2019 documentary Willie on the life and career of hockey legend San Diego, Willie O'Ree, we're talking with a director and producer. The documentary starts with Willie reconnecting with old friends in his hometown of Frederickton new Brunswick up in Canada. And just about all of them are white, but it was a much different culture there in the forties and fifties compared to what was happening in the us at the time. Do you think that that upbringing prepared him for what he was to face here?

Speaker 5: (16:34)

Yeah, that's an interesting question. I think there's, uh, this idea that Canada was sort of this, you know, free of racism country, but that's not entirely true. Um, Canada does have kind of a shameful history as far as, uh, indigenous people are concerned and there was definitely racism in Canada. The difference though, was that there wasn't sort of, of a Jim Crow system in place, which mean that Willy was allowed to play sports with his friends. You know, there was no like segregation as we had known it in the United States. And so I think that definitely the fact that Willy had sort of integrated the community. Normally if I can use that word without the restrain of race, a meant that he, you know, had never really experienced what he was about to experience going in the United States. And he actually tells that story really well in the film when he went down to Georgia to play baseball, cuz Willie also was a baseball player and uh, he had gotten a shot at played in a minor leagues and he described that experience as being horrific, uh, arriving in, in Georgia and you know, like, and for the first time, uh, having to use a black only bathroom and the, uh, the team being segregated by color also was something he had never experienced before.

Speaker 5: (17:49)

So I, I do think that coming from Canada definitely did not prepare him for what it, he was about to experience at the same time. I do wanna say that he came from a community of people who loved him and supported him, people who were allies. And I think that gave him strength encouraged to persevere. And it was part of the reason why he, he pushed through the

Speaker 1: (18:09)

Film, includes the stories of younger hockey players of color, including female players while maybe not as frequent, they still get slurs and verbal abuse thrown at them. How does Willie try to help them overcome the sort of same issues that he dealt with so long ago?

Speaker 5: (18:23)

Yeah, it's interesting for me, it was very important to include women in the film. Uh, I wanted to ensure that this was sort of a transgenerational film where we would not only know about Willie's story, but understand that these issues are very real today and affect younger people and that women are part of this equation. Women do play hockey, even though we don't see them that often. And there's a huge hockey culture in the us and in Canada and more and more women of color are playing. And though, so as for, as Willie's concerned, his relationship to young people was very interesting. There was a time where the NHL would sort of fill him in when they would get reports of racism within different youth leagues. And he would literally call parents and young people on the phone to sort of have conversations with young people, tell them to not, I'd give up, let them know that, you know, if they let the hatred get in the way, then that's gonna affect them.

Speaker 5: (19:15)

And so I think Sydney kinder says it well in the film, she in the end, you know, was inspired by Willy and decided to do this for herself. And it took her to college. So she didn't, she didn't let all the, the negativity get in the way. And she, she, she pushed through and, and she achieved her goals. And so I think Willie's message still resonates with young people, especially women, because you have to, to overcome that additional barrier of being a woman in a sport where, you know, you don't get that much attention. And so it's sort of a double battle. And if you're a woman of color, it adds a layer of difficulty.

Speaker 1: (19:49)

You and your crew were filming at Willie's homes, San Diego, when he got the call back in 2018, that he was going into the hockey hall of fame. Now, obviously that's a very special moment for him, but take us into the mind of a filmmaker here. What was it like to be present during a moment like that? So that's an

Speaker 5: (20:04)

Interesting moment. And thank you for asking about this Brian McBride and I were at Willie's home when we were, he was waiting for the call and we actually weren't sure if he was going to get the call. And that's interesting as a filmmaker because you think, oh man, I hope he gets the call because that's sort of the climax of the film, right? Like he gets the call and you know, it's happy ever after, but what if he doesn't get the call and we sort of waited and waited and waited and, and the call, you know, in the film, there's this sort of, of buildup where you we're sort of waiting and waiting and the calls are coming and that buildup is, is real, you know, sometimes in edit rooms, you have to build sort of a bit of drama around the scene, but we, we literally waited.

Speaker 5: (20:45)

And at some point I think Brian and I were texting each other in the living room. saying, do you think he's gonna get the call? What if he doesn't get the call? You know? And so I thought to myself, if he doesn't get the call, it's still a story because it's a missed opportunity to celebrate him while he's still here. And it'll still be an important moment. And I was, as I was thinking, this, the phone rang. And so it was just a gorgeous moment. And you know, when Willy got the call, he hung up and he came to hug me and I was filming with a camera. So I was like, obviously didn't make the, the cut. But, um, it was just, uh, really unique to be with him and his family and to get to experience that with him. And I'll never forget it.

Speaker 1: (21:25)

Yeah. Sounds like a very cool moment. And part of the reason that we have interest in this story is Willie's connection to San Diego. We know that he played for the gold hockey team here for a number of years. Did he tell you why he chose to stay in San Diego when his playing days were done?

Speaker 5: (21:40)

Yeah. I don't know if you've ever been to Nova Scotia, but the winters are very long and it's very cold. And so, you know, I think Willie had had a phenomenal career with the goals. Um, he was one of their best players. I think he, he left an, an impression in San Diego and sort of like a legacy and, you know, he, his family had settled in and I think his daughter was born in San Diego, his youngest daughter. And once he was done with this career, there was no reason to leave. I mean, that was his home and, you know, I've been to San Diego and I always think I'd like to move there. So I, I understand um, so yeah, I think that's why he chose to

Speaker 1: (22:18)

Stay. You mentioned Willy not getting into the hockey hall of fame, would've been a missed opportunity. Why do you think it's taken this long for Willie to get into things like the hall of fame and get some of these, like the ones we've been seeing coming out this week?

Speaker 5: (22:31)

So it's interesting. You're asking this question, cuz I had this conversation with ack who, uh, is a former NHL player and also, uh, a Haiti descent he's black and was telling me that, you know, for a very long time, accolades in hockey were based on your stats. And so it was kind of like if you had had 20 seasons, uh, in the NHL and a ton of points, this is when you'd be inducted into the hockey hall of fame. There was no recognition for the meaning of your presence in the league. If I can put it that way. And it's only a few years back that they started, um, having a category for builders. So people who have had an I an impact on the game that is lasting. I think it was just a moment in time. You know, Trump had come into an office in two 16, 2016, and then there was a lot of sort of tension in the United States at that time.

Speaker 5: (23:25)

And I think it had awakened some minds to the, the fact that diversity matter. And it's important to celebrate it again. I think what we've seen this weekend, um, with the retirement of his Jersey, you know, is really kind of a celebration of courage. It's showing that you can leave a lasting impression by representing at a time where no one else was representing or you weren't allowed to represent in the NHL and him just being there. You know, he didn't have like a, uh, a 20 year career in the NHL, his presence, the fact that he was the first meant that he opened the door and that took enormous amount

Speaker 1: (24:00)

Of courage. Can you remind our listeners of how they can watch the film? Yes. Uh,

Speaker 5: (24:03)

The film can be watched on the NBC pock, which is a streaming service and you can also catch it on ESPN plus online and on their, uh, ESPN plus streaming platform.

Speaker 1: (24:13)

Something to definitely check out, especially with all his recent accolades. I've been talking with Lawrence, Matthew, she directed and produced a documentary Willie it's about hockey hall of Famer and San Diego. Willie Obry thanks so much for your time. Lawrence, thank you

Speaker 5: (24:26)

So much for having me guys,

Speaker 1: (24:35)

Willie O'Ree could not travel to Boston this week due to concerns about the pandemic. Now in his eighties, he's staying active here in San Diego. Back in 2015, I got a chance to meet a him at the sports arena. Here's part of that story back within

Speaker 14: (24:49)

Two lot of time here, Jeff four to two, our score 1656 left in

Speaker 15: (24:53)

The third. Hockey has a rich history here in San Diego dating back to the late 1940s when the Skyhawks played at glacier gardens downtown, but it wasn't until the goals arrived in 1966, that hockey was truly established in San Diego. Willie Orrie was the first black man ever to play in the NHL and he would spend seven seasons with the goals starting in 1967. He remembers what it was like on a typical weekend.

Speaker 12: (25:16)

I knew, um, I knew the, the, the, the fan appreciation how the, how the fans supported the, uh, supported the team because when I come down in the weekends, they'd have full or 14,000 here in the sports arena.

Speaker 1: (25:36)

Thanks so much for tuning into this week's edition of K PBS round table. And thank you to my guests will hunts Barry from voice of San Diego and Lawrence, Matthew who produced and at the documentary. Willie, if you missed any part of our show, you can listen anytime on the K PBS round table podcast. I'm Matt Hoffman. Join us next week on round table.

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Willie O'Ree is presented a jersey by the San Diego Gulls. The hockey hall-of-famer broke the NHL color barrier in 1958 with the Boston Bruins and later played several seasons for the San Diego team.
San Diego Gulls
Willie O'Ree is presented a jersey by the San Diego Gulls. The hockey hall-of-famer broke the NHL color barrier in 1958 with the Boston Bruins and later played several seasons for the San Diego team.
Latinos in Fallbrook overcome a racist history to secure elected office on local government boards and congress recognizes Willie O'Ree, the first black player in NHL history who now calls San Diego home.

KPBS reporter Matt Hoffman talks with Voice of San Diego reporter Will Huntsberry about the political power Latinos are starting to realize in Fallbrook following decades of racist violence and underrepresentation in local government. Also, a discussion with Laurence Mathieu-Legér, the producer and director of the documentary "Willie," on the life and legacy of Willie O'Ree, who broke the NHL color barrier in 1958 before finishing his playing career with the San Diego Gulls.