David Figueroa Ortega made quite a name for himself in San Jose, since coming to the city in 2008. The Mexican consul successfully balanced what might have been a tense relationship with local officials, the San Jose Police Department, and immigration authorities, as well as with immigrants of all stripes and local civil rights activists. After three years on the job, he is heading down south to Los Angeles, to serve as his country’s consul general there.
Figueroa’s arrival in the U.S. began unexpectedly. A resident of Sonora, he ran for that state’s governorship in 2006 on behalf of the National Action Party. At the heart of his campaign was a promise to combat the drug cartels that terrorize the local residents. The cartels fought back and tried to assassinate him in 2006 and again in 2007. A third attempt was already being planned, so in 2008, at the request of Mexico’s president Felipe Calderon, he packed up his wife and young children and moved to the relative safety of San Jose.
It was a tough position to fill. His predecessor had developed a testy relationship with the SJPD, which culminated in him criticizing them openly for what he perceived as racial biases. Figueroa’s job was to mend bridges while serving a poor, largely itinerant community of Mexican nationals in the city.
He succeeded in doing both, to the benefit of both his constituents and the South Bay area. It was his prodding that convinced Volaris Airlines to schedule regular flights to Mineta, adding yet another route to the oft-struggling airport. He also developed personal and personable relationships with the police, along with representatives of the La Raza Roundtable, and had the independent police auditor visit the consulate regularly to meet with Mexicans who had run-ins with law enforcement but were afraid to complain publicly.
During his tenure, he moved the consulate from its cramped downtown offices to a sprawling campus in North San Jose. No matter where the consulate was located, however, it had trouble meeting the needs of Mexican farm workers, who could hardly afford to take a day off work to take care of business. For them he created consular vans, which offered everything from passport renewals to basic health care right where the immigrants work.
Figueroa says he looks forward to the challenges of working in his new posting in Los Angeles. The region he will be covering has an enormous Mexican population, estimated at 6.6 million. Still, he says, “I was very content here and will miss San Jose.” The people of San Jose, regardless of their ethnicity, will miss him too.