CQS 25th Anniversary Tribute: Hector Becerra

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Hector Becerra (Summer 1997)
Morning assignment editor
Los Angeles Times

I joined the Los Angeles Times as a reporter in 1999, covering everything from crime and cultural trends to municipal corruption and child abuse. I wrote narrative and breaking news dailies.

About three years ago I became an editor, working mostly with young reporters who cover breaking news and report and write enterprise stories. I was one of the assignment editors who helped coordinate coverage of the mass shooting in San Bernardino in December 2015. Several of my reporters were heavily involved in covering the tragedy, for which the paper won the Pulitzer Prize for breaking news.

You miss writing when you become an editor. At least I did. But I’ve had a chance to write a few pieces in the last few years. One seemed especially timely after Donald Trump’s campaign heated up – and never more so than after he won the presidency.

His rhetoric about immigrants and other minority groups disconcerted me less than the effect it could have on Americans who might act out on his sometimes bombastic words. It was, and is, hard to say exactly where Trump’s words will translate into actual actions, for good, bad or neutral.

But it seemed easy to predict that the words of the president would move many Americans. The only question seems to be: How?

This increasingly made me think about the conversation I had with my father in which I urged him to become a United States citizen. He had come to California illegally from Mexico and was a legal U.S. resident by 1980. My siblings and I nagged him through the years to take the citizenship exam. I remember how I tried to scare him by foreshadowing the possibility of a greater xenophobia descending on the country. I can’t say I really believed this was going to happen, though I thought it could. And I certainly didn’t foresee a juggernaut like Trump’s successful campaign.

My father’s citizenship was not to happen. Though he aced the practice exam, he died before ever taking the test.

Late last year over the course of a day, between my editing duties, I pieced together the story about my father. My boss, California editor Shelby Grad, was supportive of it. The story was published on Jan. 1, just a few days after I filed it.

I received dozens of emails, including from conservative readers. I got only one negative email. Of course, it’s always different in the comments sections. But I think the majority of readers, at least the ones I heard from, understood that the essay was not so much about immigration as it was about humanity.

Also by Hector Becerra: A column about his family’s early years in California, in which the Dodgers and broadcaster Vin Scully played a unifying role.

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