Amin David, 76, has spent at least one morning a week for 27 years with his amigos. But these Hispanics—Los Amigos, as the group has become known—are more than friends; they are partners in a mission to tend to important issues in the Latino community in Orange County, California.
Down went their forks as attention shifted from pancakes and eggs to the stammering student standing before them. "People told me I could find help if I came to you," Christian Rios told the 30 mostly Hispanic diners gathered at the Jägerhaus German Restaurant in Anaheim, California.
The young man owed more than $10,000 in high-interest student loans and didn’t know how to renegotiate the rates arranged by a disreputable vocational school. Members of Los Amigos of Orange County, a loose-knit group of volunteers, quickly started offering ideas: consult the Legal Aid Society; ask the lender to adjust the interest rate; file a complaint with the state about the school.
That’s the sort of solution-driven energy generated for every problem—no matter its size—that comes before the Amigos during breakfast every Wednesday.
Amin David, 76, has led the 29-year tradition, which weekly draws 20 to 50 people, including elected officials, union leaders, and school administrators. "If our work means people will stop and listen, it has been worth the journey," says David, who often wears a guayabera for his role as leader and moderator. The group’s slogan is "Nos gusta ayudar"—"We like to help."
That assistance has been recognized by people such as U.S. Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-California), who thanks the group for "its exceptional service and work."
"As a Latina from Anaheim and a member of Congress, I am fortunate to represent a district that has various community-based organizations ready and willing to provide assistance and advocate for the needy," Sanchez says. "Every Wednesday morning, without fail, Los Amigos meets to discuss new ways to help our community. That attitude and determination are exactly what will give us the motivation to move forward." "Como Latina de la ciudad de Anaheim y miembro del Congreso, me siento honrada de tener la oportunidad de trabajar con Los Amigos ... Sin falta, cada miercoles por la manana ... se reunen ... discutiendo nuevas maneras de ayudar a nuestra comunidad. Esta actitud y determinacion son exactamente lo que nos va a impulsar a seguir adelante."
David, the owner of two plumbing and building materials companies, came as a child to the United States from Chihuahua, Mexico, with his mother and dentist father, a native of Lebanon. Now with four children and seven grandchildren of his own, he has become a pillar in Orange County, as his group helps battered women find shelter and raises funds for immigrant students seeking bachelor’s, master’s, and even doctorate degrees. Two nonprofits, one providing college tours for kindergartners and another helping immigrant doctors get licenses, have spun off from Los Amigos.
"My district is fortunate to have Los Amigos because the group provides a resource for residents who may not know how to find help," says California State Assemblyman Jose Solorio, who represents Anaheim, Garden Grove, and Santa Ana. "You leave their meetings with a good feeling that comes from Los Amigos’ warmth and conviction."
Los Amigos have also taken on controversial issues. In 2007 it successfully led a recall effort against a local school-board member whose opinions were considered racist. They have sparred with a county sheriff who trained deputies to enforce immigration law, spurred people to run for city council, and considered getting measures on local ballots.
Yet its composition remains loose, with no formal board of directors, dues, budget, or bank account. David was propelled into community service by his observations of workplace discrimination in the 1970s: Latinos getting passed over for promotions, seldom rising to supervisory and management positions, and being the last hired and first laid-off. The possibility that discrimination still exists, he says, helps keep the group honest and united.
Perhaps what most shapes the culture of Los Amigos is the lengthy "Yo Yo" portion of the meetings. David asks attendees to talk about themselves, their "yo." How did they meet their spouses? Why did they pick their careers? He follows up by congratulating them on their successes."We want them to get a serene sense of belonging," David explains. "We want them to feel like they have [dropped] an anchor here."
The meetings always end with attendees forming a circle and holding hands. Some “throw something in the middle,” David says, such as prayers for a sick member or neighbor.
At a recent meeting, Araceli Cazales, 52, accompanied by Rodolfo her husband of 29 years, threw in a prayer for everyone who is a part of Los Amigos: "They always have open hands and hearts. As a Latino, this is the respect you always look for. Amin David goes above and beyond. He works to encourage us all, especially young people, who are our future."
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