Mary Lou Trevis
Latina Woman of the Year

California Assembly District 46


Mary Lou Trevis
Latina Woman of the Year

California Assembly District 46

by Bobbie Logan

State of California
Woman of the Year

"This distinguished award is presented by Members of the California State Legislature to those exceptional individuals who have succeeded in accomplishing outstanding public service endeavors, effectively establishing themselves as role models for others ..."

Mary Lou Trevis is my hero.

I'd known her for a while as a fellow C-PAB member and community activist, but when I heard she was to be honored as Assemblymember Fabian Nunez's first Latina California "Woman of the Year" in our state's Capital it piqued my interest.

I was vaguely aware of Mary Lou Trevis as a woman who seeks to better the City of Los Angeles and the community who lives there. And I also knew that Mary Lou has a deep understanding of how our City works.

She's a hard working, dedicated leader.

But Mary Lou has always presented herself as unassuming so why was she chosen for this award?

The press release issued by the office of Assembly California Legislature says, "Trevis is known in the community for her active role in public safety issues by speaking out against gang violence and limited police resources in East Los Angeles."

Assemblymember Fabian Nunez said, "Mary Lou Trevis is a courageous woman and an important voice in the community. Her leadership and commitment is about making the daily lives of children and families safe in our neighborhoods. I am proud to name Ms. Trevis as my first Woman of the Year since I was elected."

But I wanted to know a bit more, so I met and interviewed Mary Lou recently. I found her story interesting and dynamic, and have quoted her liberally below. I've discovered she has achieved more than we as a community can ever thank or compensate her for.

Mary Lou is a third generation Latina, born to migrant farm workers in Hollister, California. She taught herself how to survive after seeing how her parents were treated unjustly and paid low wages. She knew she had to fend for herself and appreciate even the smallest things aspects of life that might seem insignificant to other people.

At four years old her family moved to Boyle Heights. Once again, her parents felt they were not being treated fairly by "the system" -- the City came in and gave notice to hundreds of community residents that they had to relocate so that the 10 Freeway could be built. Entire families lost their homes with no say in the matter or input of any kind.

As a little girl Mary Lou was seeing all of this, learning how the government treated its constituents and witnessing what little power the community had. Her parents did not want to leave the Boyle Heights area however, as they were comfortable and happy with what they referred to as "their second home away from home," and they made the decision to stay. Since she was a toddler her family has always lived in what's now known as "quadrant one" of the Boyle Heights Neighborhood Council, the area Mary Lou continues to represent.

She would eventually graduate from Roosevelt High School and East Los Angeles College. She's never walked away from the area her heart has always been there, even though she now resides in a suburb of Los Angeles.

Mary Lou's involvement in the neighborhood began at a very young age. Her mother's thought was that they always had to "give back to the community" and she started selling menudo at the parish church. Mary Lou had to be there to help. She remembers her mother giving back to the poor, telling me, "it was always about the poor." Many times her mom would donate part of the menudo to the hungry, then give what money she did earn to the church because she felt it was part of the church after all.

As Mary Lou grew up, she decided that she wanted to help the church like her mother. She became a youth representative, her first exposure to the public. She established programs targeted towards young teens who'd had nothing available to them at all. Little by little she began to notice there were gangs in the neighborhood, but says, "They were certainly not as established as they are now, and they would stick out like a sore thumb at school."

At the age of 19 Mary Lou understood teens wanted to congregate, and she noticed many young men and women hanging out at Boyle Height's Prospect Park. She felt there was a need to "do something" for them and started a group called the "Adelfo's Club." The continental name was derived from the fact that French was a required language in high school.

Mary Lou knew that "outside East LA there was another world" and she wondered, "Why is it that we couldn't be a part of that world? Why is it always negative talk in this neighborhood?" The 60's were over and the 70's beginning, and kids were walking out of their schools and protesting, which confused Mary Lou. She was taught to always want respect and never be a part of a group if you don't know what it is and to be very careful.

Mary Lou says, "Learn about your culture and who you are, always have respect, but know you are part of the United States, you are them."

So when the school walkouts occurred supporting the "Chicano movement" Mary Lou asked herself, "What is this? Where do I belong? What am I?" At that time, not understanding, she wondered, "Are these bad kids because they're going against the government?"

She didn't want to be a part of the group because religion was very important, and respect was always a part of that.

She didn't participate in the walkouts. But she found herself wanting to be a part of that other world that everyone was talking about, that world "they" were claiming she could not be a part of. In that sense she was being rebellious, saying to herself, "I am American and I am going to be a part of that American dream."

The Adelfo's Club would venture out to Orange County to go ice-skating, and they went to Redondo Beach and learned how to surf. They were doing the things that no Latino in East LA would imagine they could ever do. They were out there, more than 30 members strong, and even had the courage to form a band called "The Latin Sound" where Mary Lou was the lead singer.

Eventually Mary Lou decided she wanted "to have a voice" and needed to find a way to become more popular. Forming a band seemed the natural progression with Mary Lou's father playing guitar and taking care of his little girl. Wanting to be a little more daring, and with the desire to perform at more that just weddings and family functions, Mary Lou got a contract with the County of Los Angeles doing exactly what she is still doing now -- volunteering her time.

The band was able to play for the less fortunate, and those were the prisoners at the Chino Correctional Facility. They performed during Christmas and special occasions with Mary Lou being treated only with the greatest admiration by the men there, young men "who took the wrong road but yet were very respectful."

That was the first time the government noticed Mary Lou, and her first exposure to what would become a long and eventful relationship.

Over time there was a greater need for the bigger cities to recognize some of the smaller events only known previously to East LA, like Cinco de Mayo. Mary Lou's band, wearing the conventional Mexican Mariachi costumes her mother made for them, would perform traditional Latin music during the summers at Hollenbeck Park with the winter performances focusing on more "all American girl" popular music.

The more Mary Lou volunteered her time the more she started to notice there were other needs within her community. In her early 20's she was recruited to become a part of the original Adelante Insight Study, the first group to present her an award her for her participation.

The purpose of Adelante, which still exists, is to encourage change within the community everything from cleaner streets to the reduction of crime. Early goals were met when Mary Lou first became involved, but she feels so much more could have been done if they just had the funding and resources they needed to be more effective. She says this is a problem they suffer even more so to this day in these tough, economic times.

One of her more personal and satisfying projects in Boyle Heights was the State Street Park Recreation Center. Formally a day-care type center, it was burned down to the ground, and the City said it had no money to rebuild the facility. Mary Lou was concerned about the growing State Street Boys gang and their increase in membership. Because of her desire to keep any more children from becoming members, she contacted newly elected Councilman Richard Alatorre and voiced those concerns to him.

The Councilman listened.

As a result State Street Park has a beautiful center and it has made a difference. Gangs no longer have ownership of the park, small children play there with their parents, and Mary Lou's participation was a well-kept secret -- until now.

As time passed Mary Lou started to become very conscious of crime in Boyle Heights. She noticed that it was starting to get out of hand. At first she dealt with it by simply minding her own business. But one day she was approached in her own home by a young police officer from Hollenbeck Division, Sergeant Mike Barrela. He told her he was new there and had a big job ahead of him -- and he said he needed to organize a community based policing program.

Mary Lou asked, "What is community based policing?"

He explained it to her and she found it to be very interesting. Sergeant Barrela was very much a people person, very well liked by everyone with a charisma that motivated everyone. He deeply respected the community, met with its members and got the job done.

One thing Mary Lou wishes to this day is that officers would come back to community members and report to them the results of their combined efforts.

Mary Lou and Sergeant Barrela eventually created the Neighborhood Watch Advisory Council. They were able to pinpoint every member of every watch not only throughout Boyle Heights, but in Lincoln Heights and El Sereno as well. Working together they had other activities going on too, -- "fun" activities, where sometimes 400 Neighborhood Watch members would attend from the three areas combined.

The Neighborhood Watch Advisory Council eventually died off with the launch of the Community-Police Advisory Boards (C-PABs) in 1993. Mary Lou was one of the founders. In the beginning members were meeting three times a month, working on what direction they were going to move towards, developing their goals and philosophy and attending seminars. After a lot of hard work the new mature organization was born.

It's been a hard and bumpy road and Mary Lou feels that word still needs to be spread throughout the City that the C-PAB system exists, especially in order to promote new membership.

A firm believer of the "broken windows theory," Mary Lou has worked tirelessly on abatement programs (and was even nicknamed "The Bulldozer").

Last year she and other Hollenbeck C-PAB members were approached by Boyle Heights, Lincoln Heights and El Sereno community members to help them address the increase in the local homicide rate and the absence of narcotics officers throughout the City. At their request, they helped these residents organize a very influential peace march, and Mary Lou participated in a presentation at the Police Commission.

But activism of this type this is nothing new to Mary Lou

Back in 1992, after a nearly eight-year battle, she was instrumental in finally defeating a state prison being built near Boyle Heights, a prison that was to be specially designed for the criminally insane.

It was the prison issue that first united Mary Lou Trevis with Monsignor John Moretta of Resurrection Catholic Church. Father John founded and named the newly formed group the Mothers of East LA in 1984, and the fight continued, making "the Mothers" legendary.

Some of the most active community leaders and some of the most well known organizations didn't want to join forces with Mary Lou and Father John against the state prison issue because they said it was "a done deal" and nothing could stop it. The Governor had made his decision. Many thought Mary Lou and Father John were crazy, as they marched against the measure.

But in the end they won the day. The prison idea was abandoned, and the campaign was, according to in the Los Angeles Times, "recounted in classes from Harvard to UCLA as an example of a powerful grassroots movement."

The Mothers of East LA is still going strong and has targeted many other issues.

The first time Mary Lou actually saw the difference she made in the community was when a young man she had helped in the past, but hadn't seen since he had graduated from the 8th grade, came to her house to visit her. Hugging Mary Lou he told her about the new car he was buying.

A week later she found out that he had been shot and killed in a gang related shooting at the corner of 1st and Boyle. Bereaved and distraught at this young man's funeral, she began to attend the burials of other gang members, even amidst threats against her own life.

Many gang members knew she was part of the Neighborhood Watch program and that she was motivating people to report crime. But she took the risk of attending these funerals to make a strong statement saying, "everyone is important, whether you are a member of a gang or not, every life is important."

People were beginning to pay more and more attention to what was happening in the community, and Mary Lou started to feel that she did have a voice, not only to parents of young children, but also to the community at large. She started to really draw the attention of the resident and elected officials.

She knew she was making a difference when she came out strong in calling attention to the rise in crime not only to her local police, but also to the City Attorney's office, occupied at the time by the man who is now Mayor, James Hahn.

In 1994, while he served as City Attorney in Los Angeles, he awarded Mary Lou the Justice Panel Community Service Award for her involvement with the Neighborhood Prosecutor Program.

"Crime is a big issue," says Mary Lou, "and it has drawn the attention of not only our Councilman, but the Mayor's office and the City Attorney's office. They are all aware of our crime problem."

Mary Lou feels so much more still needs to be done. More recreation centers need to be built, more police officers need to be recruited, and more community members need to help to do their part for public safety. But she feels the city is back on track now with the reestablishment of LAPD's Senior Lead Officer program and has every faith that crime in Boyle Heights, and throughout the entire city, will be reduced.

Mary Lou currently sits on many boards including the Chamber of Commerce and Hollenbeck's C-PAB. She's been newly elected to the Boyle Heights Neighborhood Council and is President of the Mothers of East LA. The group was founded to help the youth of the community, and being the President of "the Mothers" continues to give her the strength and motivation that she needs to continue to these good works.

The Mothers of East LA focus on quality of life issues for youth and have many fundraisers in order to help assist the education of the children they help support through scholarship programs with what little money the organization has. They also provide education to the community to encourage and help them become homeowners.

When I asked, "What would you say to a young Latina woman just starting out, who lives in Boyle Heights, who does want to make a difference?" she replied, "There is more to life than what she sees around in the neighborhood. She needs to strive and she needs to believe, first of all, in herself. She can't reach any goal or any dream that she has if she doesn't believe that. She's got to continue her education. She has to."

And she continued, "It's very important in order to survive. We can no longer, as a Latina woman, feel that we have to depend on a man. We have examples, examples of women in the government. Gloria Molina, the Sanchez sisters, Sylvia Saucedo these are women and they are leaders. And if they did it, you can do it. Finish you education and you will succeed."

Mary Lou Trevis is my hero.