Nadine Díaz at her campaign headquarters in Boyle Heights. Photo by Antonio Mejias
If Nadine Momoyo Díaz had to point out a moment in her life that sparked her activism, she would go back to a day in 1995.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority was holding a meeting in Boyle Heights to inform residents along the planned underground construction of the Gold Line that their homes were being taken through eminent domain. Her family’s home on Cheesbrough Lane, along one side of El Mercado, was being targeted for demolition.
Díaz found out about the meeting on the very same day it was being held. A letter had been erroneously sent to her parents in Salt Lake City, Utah, and her mother called to inform her.
“I went to the meeting at White Memorial Hospital, in the amphitheater,” she recalled. “The room was packed.”
She said representatives from the MTA showed aerial maps of the construction zone and indicated that only people whose homes were marked on the maps could stay for the meeting. “I blew up,” she said. “That’s what triggered it.”
Although her home was spared, Díaz was among a group of residents who fought for relocation monies for the 120 residents who were displaced by the construction of the underground tunnel.
For 20 years now, Díaz has been a community activist and advocate for residents in a neighborhood where she has deep roots. She is part of the third generation of a Mexican family that settled in Boyle Heights at the beginning of the 20th century and fourth generation of a Japanese family that had been here long before the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.
As the daughter of a woman born at an internment camp in Tule Lake, Calif., issues of displacement are close to her heart. One of five candidates running for the CD14 seat, she said during an interview this week that land use issues are at the heart of her campaign.
“I believe in progress,” she said. “However, I do believe that those that are directly impacted, whether they’re tenants, residents, small business owners… we need to sit at the table as well. Developers just cannot come in here and say this is our plan, this is going to be the best for you, listen to us, we know what is your future. No.”
Seeking to become the first woman to represent CD14, Díaz said she brings to the race both a lifelong involvement in empowerment issues and a long career in healthcare. She is both a Clinical Social Worker at California Hospital ”“where she often works with homeless patients at the emergency room”“ and a recruitment manager at USC Memory and Aging Center.
Diaz, 52, is the elder of three siblings of a Mexican American father and a Japanese American mother. Her parents were sweethearts at Roosevelt High School and married shortly after they graduated in 1958.
Her mother studied banking and worked to support the family while her father, who was born in Ramona Gardens, earned his doctorate in Pharmacy at USC (he later also earned an MD at the University of Utah).
In her 20s, Diaz was a cartographer for the U.S. government when she became a caretaker for her ailing grandfather, who lived in the house on Cheesbrough Lane. She began her activism then and over the years has advocated for access to healthcare, education and immigrants’ rights, among other issues.
In the late 1990’s, she was co-founder of the Evergreen Jogging Path coalition that was successful in having the city repair the buckling sidewalk around the historic cemetery.
Díaz sees herself clearly as an underdog in a race that includes “two 800 pound gorillas,” referring to the incumbent Councilman José Huizar and the former county supervisor Gloria Molina.
She complained that Huizar is unattentive to the people impacted by developers because he is beholden to his donors. “I don’t have the thousands of dollars that the incumbent has, but I do have the feet that I can walk with,” she said.
She was also dismissive of Molina’s citing the need to bring more women into the city council as one of her reasons for running for CD14. “My question [to her] is, ‘why didn’t you mentor someone all these years, why didn’t you establish an organization for up-and-coming women who want to be in office.”
She said as councilwoman she would create a program to involve young women in civic participation. She also said she supported legalizing street vendors and increasing the minimum wage.
With only about $20,000 raised in campaign contributions, she continues what she calls a “face to face” grassroots campaign, walking the district with a close group of volunteers and carrying a distinct message.
She said her commitment is to “speak the truth, show where the money is coming from and echo the voice of the people.”
Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated Diaz was 56 years old.