Why a hate-filled 30-year-old letter targeting Latinos in Santa Monica is relevant today

“Even though Santa Monica is seen widely as this very progressive and very liberal city, [Santa Monica City Councilman Oscar de la Torre] believes that there are many times where the white power structure will decline to share power with Latinos and will decline to actually take Latino issues, such as this hate crime, seriously,” says journalist Jean Guerrero Photo by Brian Hardzinsk/KCRW

Santa Monica has a reputation as a paradise for lefties. Jane Fonda’s former husband, the 1960s activist Tom Hayden, represented Santa Monica in the California State Legislature. More than 80% of its residents voted for Joe Biden in 2020.

But appearances may be deceiving. The city isn’t exactly welcoming to Latinos. That’s according to Jean Guerrero, an author and journalist who wrote about a shocking racist incident in Santa Monica that happened 30 years ago. A hate-filled rant, written on Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District letterhead, was sent to nearly 800 Latino families in the city. The perpetrator was never found.

The typed, one-page letter was filled with anti-Latino slurs. A heading on the paper stated it was from the Association for the Advancement of Conservative White Americans. 

“It called them ‘brown animals.’ They called them ‘the most lazy and ignorant race in the world’ and many other horrible things,” Guerrero tells KCRW. “It also had numerous death threats. It said, ‘We'll gas you like Hitler gassed the Jews.’”

During her investigation, one Santa Monica city official told Guerrero that the letter is the largest unsolved hate crime in the history of the city.

Although the incident happened 30 years ago, Guerrero says it’s being used as a learning opportunity by Santa Monica City Councilman Oscar de la Torre. He is advocating for the creation of a hate crime prevention awareness week and wants to highlight the anti-Latino letter.

“He believes that the fact that it was never solved reflects a systemic indifference to Latino issues in Santa Monica that persists to this day. So even though Santa Monica is seen widely as this very progressive and very liberal city, he believes that there are many times where the white power structure will decline to share power with Latinos, and will decline to actually take Latino issues, such as this hate crime, seriously.”

At 19, de la Torre also received a copy of the letter. The year before, he served as the student body president at Santa Monica High School (SMHS). 

“The letter singled him out, as was one other Latin American classmate, saying that he had been elected student body president only because of his Mexican-ness and it insulted him. It called him one of many ‘wild beasts,’” Guerrero says. “He wants to bring it up again, because he wants a sense of resolution that these families were never given. He wants Latino families in Santa Monica to feel that their issues are being taken seriously. And he wants healing.”

Later, De la Torre worked at SMHS as a counselor. At the same time, future Donald Trump advisor Stephen Miller attended the school. Guerrero says that while he was a student, he parroted a lot of the same language from the hate-filled letter on campus and at school board meetings.  

She says his brand of racism is similar to what is seen in Santa Monica today: a vocal minority of combative and intense conservatism.

“It's also about liberal white supremacy, which is what Oscar de la Torre is trying to shed light on — this willingness to help Black communities, but less so with initiatives for the Latino community, because of the fact that the Latino community poses a greater diluting threat to the primarily white power structure. We have to be talking about the Black agenda. But we also need to talk about the brown agenda in Santa Monica.”