By Daniel Larios
August 25, 2014 – For more than 20 years, Maria Loya has been fighting for a number of progressive political organizations whose focuses range from environmental justice to immigrant rights.
She has been a longtime member of Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights (SMMR), working phone banks to help boost the group’s membership and help tenants fight displacement and evictions.
“We can’t just stand by and be spectators,” Loya says. “We have to get involved, and that’s something I really believe in.”
Now, Loya believes she has what it takes to win a seat on the Santa Monica College (SMC) Board of Trustees and, for once, affect policy from the inside.
It seems, however, she may have to win without the endorsement of SMRR after having served on the group’s powerful steering committee for the past nine years.
At the Lazy Daisy Café in the Pico Neighborhood, the mother of two small boys sits and watches the Lunch rush diners around her, many of whom may not know who she is or why she is running or that there is even a College Board election in November.
“I feel confident I’m going to be successful in November,” Loya says as she sips her iced tea. “One thing I carry with me is the importance of education in the sense of changing your life and being able to break the cycle of poverty.
“They say that ‘Education is the Great Equalizer,’ and I truly believe that,” she adds.
Loya feels she can reach voters with her campaign message -- to provide support for Santa Monica residents so they continue their education.
“What’s needed on the Board is the focus on local students,” says Loya.
Loya would like to see preferential enrollment for local students, as well as internship and employment opportunities in the high tech industry that has earned Santa Monica the reputation as “Silicon Beach.”
Loya’s campaign platform also includes working to close the achievement gap, establish good neighbor initiatives between SMC and the City and provide funding for Emeritus College.
“I think the issues that I’m raising are really resonating with residents and families in Santa Monica,” says Loya, who lives in the Pico Neighborhood. “Families want to see their children on a clear path towards higher education because right now the state of higher education is a little shaky.”
This is not the first time Loya runs for local office. In the 2004 City Council race, she placed 7th out of 16 candidates with 11,460 votes, despite having won SMRR’s endorsement.
“It was a good race and we ran a good campaign, but it was difficult to campaign against Ted Kennedy,” jokes Loya, citing the fact that the popular Massachusetts Senator was stumping for his nephew, then-city council candidate Bobby Shriver. “That was difficult to compete with, you know?”
However, Loya did win a unique victory. “Bobby Shriver was able to win every neighborhood in the City, except the Pico Neighborhood,” says Loya. “I won the support of the Pico Neighborhood.”
“Even though I lost, I thought, ‘At least he didn’t beat me in my own neighborhood,’” she laughs.
While she calls Santa Monica home, Loya was born in Cuidad Juarez, a border town located in the Mexican state of Chihuahua and was raised in El Paso. After graduating from high school, Loya attended El Paso Community College.
“I think Community College for me was important in ensuring a clear pathway to a four-year institution,” Loya says.
Soon after, Loya transferred to the University of Texas in Austin, where she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Economics.
While in school, California passed Proposition 187, which blocked undocumented immigrants from health care, public education and other social services in the state.
While Prop 187 sparked an anti-immigrant movement by Texas legislators, it also sparked Loya’s interest in political activism.
“There were a lot of lies being put out,” she recalls. “And I took that personally because they were talking about my family members.
“Once I started getting involved, that’s when I got bit by the organizing bug,” she says with a smile. “Once I got on that path, I made a conscious decision to make a lifetime commitment to social and economic justice.”
After graduating, Loya worked for the Austin-based environmental justice group People Organized in the Defense of Earth and her Resources, or PODER (Spanish for Power).
It was with PODER that Loya got her initial training as a community organizer, fighting environmental racism, which occurs when environmentally hazardous facilities are placed in low-income or minority communities.
From there, Loya worked as the director of community development with El Buen Samaritano (Spanish for Good Samaritan), working on statewide legislative campaigns focusing on immigrant rights, including fighting an effort to eliminate bilingual education in the state.
A few years later, Loya moved to Santa Monica, where she began working with the LA Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE) as a campaign director, tackling worker’s rights.
Loya also began to volunteer with the Pico Neighborhood Association and eventually became Vice-Chair.
“It’s very difficult for me to live in a community knowing that there are issues affecting children, families, and neighbors,” she says. “I felt compelled to get involved to try to improve and address issues.”
While working with the PNA, Loya helped found the Mothers for Justice, an advocacy organization founded at John Adams Middle School after a Latino student was charged with assault with a deadly weapon during a bare knuckled fight. Loya helped lead the organization’s effort to change the School District’s disciplinary policies.
While Loya did get the SMRR endorsement ten years ago, she failed to receive it this time around, both from the organization’s voting members at the SMRR Convention and the group’s steering committee, which subsequently endorsed Louise Jaffe, but failed to back a fourth candidate.
“I’m disappointed that I didn’t get the endorsement considering all of the work I’ve done in supporting renter’s rights,” she says. “But I accept the decision by the Steering Committee, and I’m moving forward with the campaign.”
After the quick lunch, Loya hits to the campaign trail.
“Right now, my hobby is talking to voters and talking about the importance of higher education,” she says.