Mark Alvarado, the new director of PUEBLO—the political and social service organization that’s sought to provide a grassroots voice for immigrants and Latinos on the South Coast—will be trying a less adversarial approach than his predecessors. Alvarado, who grew up in Santa Barbara, graduated from high school here in 1982, and performed with a local band until leaving town, said, “We’re still going to call things out when we see it, but we’re going to do it in a more diplomatic way. It’s all about building relationships.”
For the past 17 years, Alvarado lived in El Paso, Texas, and for eight of those years, he worked in Neighborhood Services. As such, 95 percent of his workload dealt with low income Latino neighborhoods in which gang violence was a major issue. Where his predecessor at PUEBLO, Belen Seara, was outspoken in her criticism of the gang injunction recently adopted by the City of Santa Barbara, Alvarado proved more agnostic. “Where injunctions have been embraced by the neighborhoods, they work,” he said. Given that people not affiliated with gangs have been getting killed by gang members in the past year, he said he understood the political pressure behind the injunction. Even so, he said, more outreach could have been done. “I’d like to see the City Council hold a special hearing on the issue,” he said.
In recent years, PUEBLO has been seen as an unofficial adjunct of the area’s Democratic Party. Alvarado said he needs to sharpen the group’s political focus and make it more independent. He said he also needs to focus on the group’s social-service agenda. PUEBLO has recently taken on Sheriff Bill Brown over his collaborative relationships with federal immigrant officials, who initiate deportation proceedings against immigrants picked up on minor offenses. It’s locked horns with Santa Barbara Police Chief Cam Sanchez over the department’s car-impound policy for unlicensed drivers, which PUEBLO activists charged disproportionately targeted undocumented workers.
Alvarado said he hopes to expand that discussion, recasting the terms of the debate from “illegal immigrants” to “working families.” The people PUEBLO serves, he stressed, contribute to the economy but get the short end of the stick. “Who could be more American,” he asked, “than the people who pick our fruits and vegetables?” Seara stepped down after three years at the helm to move to the Bay Area where she’s threatening to attend law school.