Linda Lopez
CPP Magazine

The American Dream

Connecting New Angelenos to LA's Diverse Community

By Clay Fowler

Recent changes to U.S. immigration policy have complicated and increased Linda Lopez’s work. But it’s all the more reason for the Cal Poly Pomona alumna to stop and admire the impact of her position as the chief of the Office of Immigrant Affairs in Los Angeles.

Lopez (’92, political science) enjoys the fruits of her office’s labor at the dozens of annual U.S. citizenship ceremonies at the LA Convention Center, a tangible and emotional event for the newly minted Americans.

“It’s really powerful. You have 5,000 people from all over the world in this space, and they’re waving their flags, and it’s this moment, this culmination,” Lopez says. “For me, it’s really empowering because it’s part of the American dream. Citizenship is that ultimate culmination.”

Facilitating U.S. citizenship is one of many initiatives for the Office of Immigrant Affairs, which Mayor Eric Garcetti re-launched after he was elected in 2013. Lopez, the daughter of Ecuadorian immigrants, was one of the first people he hired outside of his immediate staff.

In a city where one in 10 residents is an immigrant, Lopez is charged with integrating new Angelenos, both documented and undocumented, into the fabric of the city. That mission has become more complex with escalating fears among the immigrant community, which includes people from Mexico, Central America and Korea.

Lopez shepherded the New Americans Initiative, which uses public libraries to guide Angelenos through the U.S. citizenship process. It’s been so successful that New York City and Philadelphia have adopted the model.

To help quell fears and improve collaborative communication, her office utilizes trusted leaders of the immigrant community to tell their friends and neighbors about the city’s programs for healthcare, accessing food and growing their small business.

A report conducted by Americas Society, Council of the Americas and the Fiscal Policy Institute shows that 64 percent of all “Main Street” business owners in the Los Angeles metro area are immigrants. Small business is just one of many ways they contribute to the community.

“They’re the local engines of economic development for our city,” Lopez says. “How do we provide the
tools needed for immigrants to scale up some of these businesses? We’re thinking through a strategy that would help support that.”