Early morning at a gathering place just east of downtown Los Angeles known as Mariachi Plaza, day laborers huddle and gripe as they sip coffee, smoke cigarettes and keep an eye on someone who might hire them. They gripe this morning not about the work, or lack of it, but about how part of their daily lives has been disrupted.
Their mornings have been seriously disrupted without the voice and personality of the on-air personality Eddie “Piolín” Sotelo — whose popular radio show “Piolín por la Mañana” — was yanked by Univision last week, apparently amid sexual harassment allegations by a male co-worker.
“Life is sad in the mornings without Piolín,” says one of the men in a lament that is met with nods and universal agreement by the other men – and seemingly beyond Mariachi Plaza here in Boyle Heights. You hear similar complaints around the predominantly Hispanic Eastside of Los Angeles.
On and off, Piolín Sotelo was the most popular radio host in Southern California – bigger even than “American Idol” star Ryan Seacrest on his daytime gig – and it was because of the region’s mushrooming Latino population, especially among immigrants like the day laborers at Mariachi Plaza and throughout the city.
“He is us,” says Pepe Guerra, a 28-year-old from Monterrey, Mexico who says he had been listening to “Piolín por la Mañana” for a decade. “He was everything you could become in America. He dreamed big, and so we dreamed big.”
Piolín Sotelo – the voice of immigrants
If ever there was a man of the people in Immigrant Los Angeles – and there’s an estimated two million, half of them without legal papers in Southern California – it was Piolín Sotelo, the celebrity who wielded incredible power through his radio show and became a major public figure in his adopted hometown.
Until he was pulled from the air without warning last week, Piolín hosted the nationally syndicated “Piolín por la Mañana” radio program, which aired locally on Univision Radio’s KSCA-FM and about 50 stations from coast to coast.
In the time since pulling him off the air, Univision has been playing Mexican regional music during “Piolín por la Mañana's” former drive time slot, and his former listeners aren’t happy.
“I wish we could do something,” says day laborer Ramiro Campos, one of those hanging out at Mariachi Plaza. “But we have no power. We’re invisible here. Piolín was our power.”
Not far away at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, two women felt they were doing something about the cancellation of Piolín’s show – offering prayers and lighting votive candles Wednesday morning.
“Pobrecito,” said one of the women, making the Sign of the Cross as she talked about him. “He has come here to help us. Now we need to help him.”
The women at the church, like the men at Mariachi Plaza, say they understand that Piolín Sotelo was accused of sexual harassment. They say they don’t condone wrongful behavior in the workplace, nor anywhere else.
“What I don’t understand,” said one of the women, who would only identify herself as Caridad, “is that this is a country in which one of the great things about it is that when you’re accused of something, you are innocent until you’re found guilty. And today, especially in the workplace, it seems that it is so easy to accuse someone of touching you or talking to you in the wrong manner, but how do you know if it’s something that really happened of if it’s not something someone is saying or doing for greed.”
Piolín’s attorney, Jeffrey Spitz, issued a statement Monday that allegations made by a performer on “Piolín por la Mañana” — Alberto “Beto” Cortez — were false and motivated by money.
It is unclear whether Cortez will file a discrimination lawsuit against Piolín Sotelo, and/or Univision, or try to settle the complaint privately.
Cortez has also alleged that Piolín Sotelo ordered his production crew to inflate the number of letters from U.S. citizens he claimed to have gathered in support of an immigration reform campaign he promoted in 2007.
Piolín presented the letters to members of Congress.
“Piolín was a symbol among his fans as an immigrant who made it, and if he lied to members of Congress that could be potentially more devastating to his career,” Adam R. Jacobson, a Miami-based consultant and strategist for Latino media, told the Los Angeles Times.
But among his listeners, his former listeners for the moment, Piolín Sotelo remains if not a fallen saint, at least someone in whom they haven’t lost faith.
“If he’s not a saint,” said the parishioner Caridad, “so what? He never said he was. Our saints are here in church.
“For heaven’s sake,” she said, crossing herself again. “He was someone on the radio who was funny and entertaining. Have we lost our sense of humor?”
Originally published on VOXXI as Immigrants pray for return of Piolín Sotelo to their mañanas