While Pomona has always had a large Latino population, the city did not elect its first Latino mayor until 1993 when it elected Eddie Cortez. He arrived to a city hall that was full of infighting and negativity. His years of experience as a peacemaker enabled him to give back to the city. He crusaded against gang violence and worked as a community activist against racial profiling. He became Pomona’s longest serving mayor, serving until his death in 2005.
Cortez was born in Mission, Texas and came from a family of farmworkers. He and his family moved to Pomona in the early 1960s. It was here that Cortez experienced the harsh reality of gang life when he witnessed gang activity right outside his window. He moved his family to the northeast part of the city, but it did not take long for him to realize that gang violence was not so easy to escape. Cortez, concerned for his family’s safety, decided that he would not be a bystander. He began his fight against gang violence by volunteering at a school where he had witnessed younger children being pressured by older kids to get into gangs.
Despite his efforts in helping the community, Eddie Cortez could not keep his son from gang violence. After his son’s death from an overdose in 1987, Cortez created the group Community Action for Peace. The purpose of the group was to help other families who were affected by gangs but could not move away as easily as he was able to do. From leading marches to communicating directly with gang members, Cortez and community Action for Peace focused on bringing solutions to the problems that were affecting their lives. Cortez was so determined to serve his community that he ran for mayor and won.
As Mayor Cortez continued to focus on the issue of gangs and gang violence, he brought back the Pomona Youth Commission and created a gang task force with the hope of preventing youth from joining gangs.
Cortez was elected mayor in 1993, but his title did not make him immune to discrimination. In the summer of 1993, Cortez noticed a raid occurring at an auto shop on Mission Boulevard. He decided he would drive down a little further to a day laborer site, where he believed the Border Patrol agents were headed next. Cortez was wearing his mechanic overalls and driving his beat-up pickup truck when he was pulled over by the agents. The mayor was frustrated but not surprised, as he believed the agents practiced racial profiling. Raids had become a frequent issue in Pomona, with many legal residents being targeted.