Photo: Racial Diversity Compton, California
Compton City Councilwoman Janna Zurita owes her Hispanic last name to a grandmother from Spain, whom she never met. Zurita considers her mother black and said her father “wants to be black” even though he “looks Latino.”
Zurita, the mayor pro tem of Compton, sometimes jokes with her sister about their racial roots.
“She always tells me I look just like a Mexican: flat booty, straight hair. You know, just all kind of – how Mexicans used to look. You know, now they have big booties,” Zurita said in a legal deposition in November. “You know, little jokes about it.”
While Zurita takes a sometimes-playful approach to her racial identity, it became the serious subject of a recent lawsuit under the California Voting Rights Act. In January, a judge ruled that a trial would be necessary to figure out whether Zurita could be considered Latina and whether that means Latinos have a voice on the council. The city settled the suit late last month.
The legal gymnastics in Compton illustrate California’s far-reaching law, which bars local governments from diluting the voting strength of minorities. The law has become the foundation of a burgeoning onslaught of legal threats that could upend the racial makeup of elected bodies throughout the state.
Armed with 2010 census data, a network of attorneys is increasingly targeting local governments – from cities and school boards to hospital and community college districts – for not reflecting the demographics of their constituents.