Random Lengths News
The San Pedro Roots of Orange County’s Transformation
“You can’t just fight injustice in one area of your life”
— Ada Briceño
Orange County’s transformation from the heartland of homogeneous Goldwaterera conservatism it once was to the diverse, increasingly progressive place it is today had many different causes, all of which needed to be brought together to achieve such sweeping change. Connecting people, issues, and causes together has long been a way of life for Ada Briceño, co-president of UNITE-HERE Local 11 and now chair of the Democratic Party of Orange County — the first Latina to hold either office — so she’s a perfect representative of that transformation. But in a way, it all started in San Pedro.
Her family fled Nicaragua in 1980 when she was just 6, and because of a car accident, her father lost out on a longshore job he’d been offered here. So Briceño began working at a very young age. And that’s where her lifetime of activism, rooted in the labor movement, all began.
Random Lengths News interviewed her about her history of activism, how she became the first Latina president of her local at age 26, how her union activism broadened to working in and with other organizations, eventually leading to becoming party chair, all the way up through the 2020 elections, the recent recall election and looking forward to the future in the 2022 midterms. The full interview is online at RandomLengthsNews.com.
Briceño wears two hats, that of UNITEHERE Local 11 co-president and the Democratic Party chairperson of Orange County. She’s worn the first hat for a much longer period. The longtime labor activist got her first taste of fighting for workers rights in San Pedro when a labor activist stood up for her when she was a teenager working at Ports O’ Call Village.
“Mr. Solorsano was his name,” Briceño recalled. She noted he had recently died from COVID during the pandemic.
“I couldn’t help but really remember and cherish the moment when he stood up for me,” Briceño said. “Though, of course, my mother had stood up for me before.”
Briceño recalled working at Bob’s Old Fashioned Ice Cream shop in which the store looked like a banana dipped chocolate. It was just one of a few jobs she held while in San Pedro, including Ante’s Restaurant and the Sheraton Los Angeles Harbor Hotel. The longtime labor activist described how the store owner’s son was inappropriate with her.
“I couldn’t understand it because I was very naive and very young. He would say very inappropriate things,” Briceño said. She recounted incidents where the young man would go to the adult store that was once at Ports o’ Call and return to show off his haul, “that was not necessarily in good taste.”
Briceño said she wouldn’t dare tell her mom, but her friend and co-worker told her dad.
“She called me one day, and said, ‘Dad is taking you up with me and we’re going to Bob’s Ice Cream place.’”
She remembers Mr. Solorsano had marched the two of them to the store, and he said, “They quit!” She recalled the father yelling at the ice cream shop owner the whys and the what fors of the two girls quitting.
When he was finished, the girls marched out after him with their heads down, but never looked back.
“That was an important lesson for me,” Briceño said. “I’m thankful for him and I honored his life for having the courage to take somebody else’s kid and standing up for them.
Another life lesson came when she was employed at the Sheraton LA Harbor Hotel. Today it’s the Crowne Plaza Los Angeles Harbor Hotel between 6th and 7th streets.
“It was walking distance from my home,” Briceño said. “I got a job there, and I made a couple more dollars an hour then I had [earned] at either Ante’s or any of the other places I had worked. I had my best meal of the day there, and finally I had healthcare.”
She said the best thing about her experience there was that she understood that the labor contract provided her labor rights. She was 18 years of age at the time and was just finding her voice.
She remembered being happy reading through the contract and asking for the shifts she wanted. She learned how to stand up for herself during that time.
“It was not difficult because I quickly made friends with others around the hotel, [like the] the cooks and dishwashers,” Briceño said. “But the people who really took my heart in the hotel were the room attendants.”
“As a front desk clerk I was often communicating with them. I was the only bilingual front desk clerk, therefore everybody would ask me, ‘Is room 1918 clean?’ and so I had to call the room attendants and ask them. And at lunch time I made friends with them. They started telling me their problems.”
“The funny thing is that in addition to working at the front desk — they had hired me for a part-time position at human resources, filing away stuff,” Briceño recalled.
She described feeling bored and a little nosy. So, she read people’s discipline records.
“I would look and read, and I thought, ‘How unfair is this?’ Room attendants work so hard and are getting disciplined, for not finishing the room for example.”
“I saw how they sweat, and I’d see how difficult it is. So that really opened my eyes, and it wasn’t hard for me to want to stand up for them.”
Briceño noted that not only was it easy for her to stand up for them, she learned it was better that she taught them how to stand up for themselves.
“When we teach someone to stand up for themselves in one area of their lives, there’s other areas of their lives that are affected,” she said.
“At some point in my career, early on in my leadership, is what really drew me and kept me in the labor movement, and specifically in my union.”
For the rest of the interview, starting with how she came to work for the union, go to RandomLengthsNews.com