THE FORGOTTEN MINORITY

FIFTEEN PERCENT OF DALLAS IS HISPANIC, YET MEXICAN-AMERICANS HAVE LITTLE VOICE IN CITY AFFAIRS. AN EMERGING CADRE OF HISPANIC ACTIVISTS PLANS TO CHANGE THAT.

Too long a sacrifice Can make a stone of the heart. Oh when may it suffice?

-W.B. Yeats



IT WAS A SMALL MEETING ON JULY 9, with only eleven people clustered in an auditorium on the Southern Methodist University campus. No television crews recorded the event with their minicams. No bright youngsters from the Morning News scratched pithy quotes onto their long, narrow pads. As these things go, it was a non-event. But in two hours of earnest debate that Wednesday evening, the nine men and two women assembled inconspicuously, almost secretly, set in motion a process that may forever alter the Dallas political landscape.

Ranging in age from the early thirties to the middle fifties and in political philosophy from conservative Republican to liberal Democrat, the gathered eleven were nevertheless bound by their common, hyphenated heritage as Mexican-Americans. They also were united in frustration and anger. Why have there been only three Hispanics elected to city council in the history of this city? Why is there but one Chicano on the Dallas Independent School District Board? Why has no Mexican-American ever served Dallas in the Texas Legislature? And then, finally, what can be done? That night were sown the seeds of a lawsuit seeking new electoral districts and-for the city council-more single-member districts.

“Mexican-Americans are completely disenfranchised in Dallas,” explained Sanger Harris training director Rene Martinez, the Chicano activist who organized the meeting. “We are 15 percent of the Dallas population, but we have no say in the affairs of this city. It seems more and more like the only way we will get a voice is to force the city to give it to us. A lot of our people would prefer to find another way. We don’t want a confrontation. But it looks like we may not have any choice. I think we’ll probably go to court before the city council elections in 1987.”

Lawsuits challenging the makeup of city government are nothing new in Dallas. One such action, pressed by black leaders in the Seventies, resulted in today’s hybrid city council, with the mayor and two members elected at large and eight seats filled from single-member districts. But the city has consistently discouraged Hispanics from the conflict of litigation. Hispanic rumblings of legal action have spurred the Anglo establishment to grant sufficient concessions to quiet unrest. Waves of Hispanic appointments to boards and commissions typically have followed tough talk from Chicanos.

Now, though, Martinez and a growing cadre of activist Chicano leaders insist that token appointments are not enough. Today, the concerns of outspoken Hispanics have expanded beyond the narrow group of what might be called “minority issues.” They demand a voice in decisions about public education, housing policy, employment, transportation, law enforcement, zoning, streets and gutters, and a whole host of other matters in the public domain. It is time, they assert, to warm the seats of government with Hispanic bodies, to tap the resources of the fastest growing segment of the Dallas population.

By 1990, when the next federal census brings legislative redistricting, Hispanics will likely make up fully one-fifth of this city’s people. In that case, new district lines may assure the election of a Chicano to the state legislature. But it is city government that most directly affects the lives of the Chicano population. The question gnawing increasingly at Martinez and others is, “How can we gain a voice in city government?” Bolstered by a recent federal court decision forcing redistricting to increase Hispanic representation in Chicago, they arrive at the answer: “Sue.”

Almost without exception, Chicano leaders agree that legal action is the only available avenue to change. There is no prayer, they say, that the Anglo establishment in Dallas will voluntarily relinquish any of its hammerlock power to the Hispanic community. Where disagreements arise, they focus on which demands are to be pressed in litigation. Should city council be larger? Should at-large seats be eliminated? These questions trigger debate. Nobody, these days, seems to ask the older question: should we wait and see what happens?

Martinez, a national officer and director of an organization called the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), a likely sponsor of any litigation, urges a pet proposal. He suggests eliminating the two at-large council seats, leaving only the mayor to run from the city as a whole. His plan would increase single-member districts to ten. Each district would include about 94,000 residents, rather than the 118,000 in each current district. One of the smaller districts, carved out of the center of the area now represented by Lori Palmer, would be predominantly Hispanic.

Dallas Area Rapid Transit board member Trini Garza believes that a better plan would increase council size to thirteen, adding two single-member districts but leaving at-large seats in place.

Though these differences remain to be resolved, the only visible dissent from the underlying idea comes from Chicanos like attorney Bob Estrada, who argue that it is not possible to draw predominantly Hispanic districts in Dallas. But if it can be done, their attitude seems to be, then we ought to do it.



JOE MAY SHUFFLES HIS SHEAF OF CENSUS TRACT MAPS LIKE A deck of cards, turning up one after another to illustrate his point. Each map bears a Rorschach of color splashed across West Dallas and Oak Lawn and then dribbling off into Oak Cliff, East Dallas, even North Dallas as far as Walnut Hill. At the bottom of each is a legend: Hispanics = 47 percent, Whites = 28 percent, Blacks = 26 percent, or some similar series of equations.

“See, it can be done,” May says proudly. “We can draw a city council district that has enough Hispanics to be a safe district. There is a way to put this together so we can elect a Chicano.”

For four years, Dallas statistics have been Joe May’s hobby. Though he earns his living buying and restoring East Dallas houses, his passion is to draw the perfect Chicano electoral district. Constantly, he studies population charts, breaking the numbers down as fine as individual blocks to discover exactly where Mexican-Americans with voter registration cards can be found. Each time he spots a likely block, he rushes to a map and paints a spot of color with a felt-tip pen. Where the spots are close together, he tries to draw a district. It is no easy task.

Scattered through Dallas, 1980 census data say, are some 150,000 Hispanic citizens. If they all lived in one compact area, they could form a city with a population as great as Mesquite and Richardson combined, nearly the size of Arlington. They could elect their own mayor and council, a school board, a state representative, and anyone else they damn well pleased. They could hire a city manager, a police force, a road department. They could even qualify for the tasty perks of federal funds.

The trouble is, Hispanics in Dallas do not all live in one place. This city has none of the barrios you’ll find in San Antonio, Brownsville, or Houston. It’s true that certain sections of Dallas-Little Mexico, East Dallas, Oak Cliff-hold the greatest concentrations of Chicanos, But you have to examine the city as May does, block by block, to find overwhelmingly Hispanic settlements. Only some thirteen census tracts in all of Dallas County list no Mexican-Americans among their residents.

Look at it one way, and these facts suggest that Dallas has made great strides in ethnic assimilation. The city has not driven Hispanics into ghettos, as it has blacks. Instead, it has offered homesteads to Mexican-Americans in whatever part of town they choose to live, provided they can afford it. You’ll find Hispanics in Preston Hollow and Lakewood as surely as you’ll find them in State-Thomas or Ledbetter. Even more than many of the great northern melting pots, Dallas has opened housing opportunity to the brown minority.

View it from May’s perspective, though, and this same assimilation becomes a problem. It is virtually impossible to draft a plan ensuring Hispanic representation on such bodies as the Dallas City Council. Because blacks are packed tightly into a few areas, they can elect leaders to watch out for their interests. But who speaks for Chicanos? Who pounds the table in objection to a plan demolishing Little Mexico, the spiritual center of Hispanic Dallas despite its small population? Who demands pothole-filling and new curbs and animal collection for the Ledbetter neighborhood? Who protests the continuing police hostility to Hispanic suspects?

“We don’t have the political power to say to our city council person, ’Come and do this or I’ll cause your defeat,’ ” says DART board member Garza. “We cannot deliver votes in some strength as other groups do. There is no place in Dallas where our numbers are great enough that we can demand to be heard. We can beg, we can protest, we can lobby for opportunity, we can form coalitions and cooperate with the establishment, but we can never be sure we will be listened to. We are so scattered through the city that we are not able to be effective.”

For young leaders such as Martinez and May who seek guarantees of Chicano representation, the problem presents more aspects than mere geography, however. Data suggest that only about a third of eligible Hispanics in Dallas are registered to vote, and only a fraction of those go to the polls.

Sam Moreno, recently appointed the first Hispanic assistant city manager in Dallas history, offers two reasons for the poor voting record among Chicanos. First, he says, those who gained citizenship fairly recently may not be in the habit of participating in government. The political system in this country is strange to them. But far more important, Moreno says, is a disillusionment common among second- and third-generation Mexican-Americans.

“There is a certain amount of cynicism about voting that you find in the Hispanic community,” Moreno explains. “There is a feeling that it doesn’t do any good to vote, that voting doesn’t make any difference. People who have worked hard for candidates and who have gone to the polls feel that they have been ignored. They drop out, and that hurts not only the Hispanic population, but the whole community.”

Other demographic factors also work against Hispanic candidates. For example, the average age of Mexican-Americans in Dallas is only about twenty, compared to a mean of twenty-eight for the city as a whole. Chicanos, mostly staunch Catholics, have more children than are typical in the rest of the population. Consequently, even where Chicanos form a majority of a district, those of voting age may be a minority.

For example, in District 2, where Hispanic Ricardo Medrano was elected in 1981, Chicanos lead slightly in population. They are about 33 percent of total residents. Whites are roughly 32 percent. Blacks are 30 percent. But in 1985, Joe May was trounced in a city council race even though three whites divided the Anglo vote. Neighborhood advocate Lori Palmer landed the seat, but a gay candidate and a businessman, both white, also garnered more votes than May.

“Look at the demographics in that district, and you’ll see the problem for a Chicano,” says May in explaining his loss. “The whites are mostly either gay adults or elderly adults. For every ten people in the Anglo population, eight or nine are old enough to vote. But Chicano households usually have a mother and father and three kids. Out of every ten, only four are voting age.”

May argues that this wrinkle can be smoothed by redrawing district lines to increase Hispanic percentages and to ally Chicanos with blue-collar white neighborhoods where Big Wheels clutter the driveways. “If we’re in a district where people have kids, we won’t have the same disadvantage,” says May. “People with children care about the same things we do, especially education. We can work with them better.”

But other Hispanic leaders point to the geographic and demographic factors as evidence that a so-called safe district for Hispanics cannot be designed in Dallas. Martinez, May, and others who insist the way to Hispanic representation lies in redis-tricting are whistling in the dark, they say.

For that reason, the word “coalition” crops up often in conversations with Hispanics. Old Guard, established leaders such as Adelfa Callejo, chairwoman of the Coalition of Hispanic Organizations, Joe Botello, state director of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), former city councilman Pedro Aguirre, and Assistant City Manager Moreno preach coalition-building most often. But younger leaders moving up to replace them also recognize a need to forge alliances with the business establishment, with neighborhood groups, and with other minorities.

Assistant City Attorney Sol Villasana, head of the Dallas Hispanic Issues Forum and one of the new roster of young leaders, concludes that cooperation is the key to the future for Mexican-American citizens. “We are beginning to realize that power is going to come by the building of coalitions between blacks, browns, and progressive whites, something like Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition,” says Villasana, who likes to recite the lines from Yeats quoted at the beginning of this article. “My cousin [Rene Martinez] thinks it may be possible to win representation by redis-tricting. In the long run, though, I think we are going to have to work with the establishment.”

Apparently, key members of the establishment have reached much the same conclusion. Within the past year, Mayor Starke Taylor has fashioned a new strategy to welcome Hispan-ics into the mainstream of Dallas government and business. He has declared the election of a Mexican-American to the city council as one of his top priorities. Taylor reasons that if 15 percent of the population continues to be excluded from the seat of decisions, frustration could erupt into “confrontational politics” inconsistent “with what I like to call the Dallas way.”

But Hispanic leaders like Garza, Martinez, and Villasana fear Taylor’s gestures may be little more than empty posturing. In the absence of a predominantly Hispanic single-member district, the mayor’s only sway involves the at-large seats now held by Annette Strauss and Jerry Rucker. It may be that Taylor can persuade the Anglo establishment to help elect a Chicano to one of those seats, but Hispanics are not optimistic.

Among Chicano leaders of all political persuasions, Al Gonzalez, co-chairman of the successful 1985 city bond campaign, is seen as the great brown hope for an at-large seat in 1987. Gonzalez is successful, articulate, and likable; a coalition builder. He also offers the added plus, from the point of view of the business establishment, of carrying Republican credentials.

If any Chicano can win the support of a broad spectrum of Dallas voters, Gonzalez is the one. Not only does his business, Gulf-Tex Construction and Development Company, put him in constant touch with Anglo business leaders, but his rhetoric is one of determined compromise. “I do not want to be seen as the Hispanic candidate,” says Gonzalez. “I bring the ability to speak Spanish and communicate with other people who speak Spanish. But other than that, my agenda for Dallas is the same as anyone else’s. I’m glad that the establishment likes me. But I’m also glad that [grass roots leader] Maria Portillo likes me. I’m glad that some people in the neighborhoods like me.”

Adds Gonzalez: “I would be crazy to run against Rucker or Strauss. But if one of them decides to seek some other office, I probably will run for city council.”

If Gonzalez deals himself in, though, his chances of success will be remote. Martinez, one of several Chicanos pleading with Gonzalez to run, sizes up his candidacy this way: “Several things have to happen before Al Gonzalez can run a respectable race. First, he has to get Mayor Taylor’s support and at least $200,000 on the table from the business establishment. Then he has to be in a race where (here is no viable white candidate and no homeowner candidate. He has to have strong black support. And 90 percent of the registered Chicanos in Dallas have to vote for him. If all that happens, he’ll have a fifty-fifty chance.”

From where Martinez sits, it is a bleak picture. Thai’s the reason he is mustering forces to sue the city. It’s why Joe May pores over his census maps, studying blotches of color, trying to draw a safe district. A district that could be reasonably sure of electing a Chicano. A fifty-fifty chance, even if it develops, isn’t good enough.



PEDRO AGUIRRE COMMANDS A LARGE, RICHLY APPOINTED office in a high-rise building on Empire Central near Stemmons Freeway. He heads a successful architectural firm that bears his name and also manages banking interests and other business endeavors. Throughout the Metroplex, doors of corporate power open to him. By any measure, Aguirre is well fixed.

Because he has made it, and because he is one of the three Hispanics who have served on the city council here, white leaders trot out his name often. Along with former councilmembers Anita Martinez and Ricardo Medrano, Aguirre is proof, they say, that the Dallas establishment does not lock out Chicanos. More than that, he is living testimony in behalf of their argument that a Mexican-American who understands the Dallas system and works diligently within it can be elected to high public office.

But Aguirre doesn’t buy this hopeful rhetoric. He depicts himself as a throwback to an earlier era in Dallas. Hispanic demands are sterner today. The political system is tougher to crack.

“When I ran for city council [in 1973],” says Aguirre, “we were able to negotiate for ourselves a position on the ballot. We could kind of go along and get along. I wasn’t elected because I am a great political leader. I was elected because the establishment decided to let me be elected. I wasn’t any threat, and having a minority on the council helped head off community tension and a serious push for change. You could say that I was a token, that I was co-opted.”

But Martinez, the first Hispanic councilmember, and Aguirre were elected in the days before black leaders went to court and came away with single-member districts, Aguirre points out. All councilmembers were elected at large. The Anglo establishment could afford to give away a vote or two. Only six councilmembers, a majority, were needed to control any issue. The establishment always mustered a majority.

With today’s system, establishment control is chancier. Only the three at-large representatives, including the mayor, are reasonably safe. Even those occasionally wriggle from under the thumb of the so-called public-private coalition when voters opt for a maverick like Jerry Rucker. Remaining positions may fall to blacks, to homeowner groups, to the occasional one-issue nut. No faction has a guaranteed majority. “When you’re grappling for six,” says Aguirre, “you can’t afford to give up anything.”

In a sense, however, the establishment apparently did make a legitimate effort to assure a voice for Hispanics when single-member districts were introduced. Lori Palmer’s District 2 originally was intended as a safe Hispanic seat. DISD board member Robert Medrano was largely responsible for drawing the district, modeling it after his own. Ricardo Medrano, Robert’s brother, subsequently represented the district.

In retrospect, Chicano leaders now say Medrano won only because he was part of a family dynasty that, for years, single-handedly bridged the chasm between Chicano and Anglo power. But the dynasty has faded. Though Robert Medrano is currently the only Hispanic elected official in Dallas, the Medranos no longer command respect among fellow Chicanos. The family lost face, in fact, partly because Ricardo Medrano helped design District 2, where he lost a re-election race in 1983 and May was drubbed in 1985. If Medrano had done his homework, some Chicanos say, District 2 could have been drawn as a Mexican-American bastion. Rene Martinez calls the former councilman “that idiot Medrano.”

Though the Medrano clan, headed by Sixties Hispanic activist Pancho Medrano, has lost sway in the past five years, the Eighties have brought an awakening sense of collective purpose for Dallas Chicanos, A new activism reaches from poor neighborhoods to corporate board rooms. For the first time, Hispanics can claim broad-based leadership with education and financial resources and the savvy to manipulate the system. Where once eleven people might have formed the entire vanguard of the brown minority, the group that met at SMU was but a tiny nucleus of leadership whose influence ripples out into the whole community.

“When I was on city council,” says Aguirre, “I could name every Hispanic in Dallas who you might call a leader. But today, I can go to a meeting and there are dozens of people who are articulate and concerned about Hispanic problems, people who know how to get things done.”

Bob Estrada, a thirty-nine-year-old attorney who formerly worked with Republican Senator John Tower, agrees. “We have a new kind of Hispanic leadership, and it is the most effective kind because it does not depend on just a few people. I remember when Time magazine, instead of picking a Man of the Year, picked a whole group, the graduate. The new Hispanic leadership is like that. You can’t single out one person or a few people. It’s a whole mass of people.”

Social change of this kind is always hard to nail down. It seems likely, though, that leadership burgeons in tandem with a growing Hispanic middle class. Precise figures on economic shifts among Chicanos are not available, but anecdotal evidence and the keen observations of people like Aguirre suggest that college-educated, yuppie Hispanics now make up as much as 15 percent to 20 percent of the Chicano population. If that’s true, it contrasts strikingly with conditions here in the Seventies, when government data revealed that only about 8 percent of Hispanics were educated beyond high school and even fewer earned more than $20,000 a year.

In some ways, of course, middle class success transports those Chicanos who achieve it far from the majority of relatively impoverished Hispanics. Maria Portillo, who organizes poor Mexican-Americans, complains that, “Sometimes we have the community down here and the leaders up there. There’s a gap between the community and the leaders.”

But even Portillo sees advantages in developing a concerned middle class that provides a pool of leaders. It is tough to work for the greater good when you scramble each day to keep the kids in shoes for school, says Portillo, Money and status lend credibility to leadership. They also smooth the way to activism.

Take Dr. Catalina Esperanza (Hope) Garcia, for example. Until she completed medical school and settled comfortably into practice as an anesthesiologist at Baylor University Medical Center, neither politics nor Hispanic affairs interested her. Her only object was to earn a degree and escape as quickly as possible from the poverty that clutched at her family and friends. Now, though, she has joined the ranks of new Chicano leaders as an outspoken advocate of bilingual education, quality housing, and employment opportunity. She serves on the Dallas Independent School District’s Hispanic Advisory Committee and on the board of DART.

“I wouldn’t have done any of this a few years ago,” says Garcia. “I wouldn’t have been able to afford it. I wouldn’t have had the time. But now I can take the time and I can afford the risk of offending a few people if that’s what I have to do. People like me who have more funds, who have more time, are starting to see that you have to give something back to the community. We are getting involved in trying to give other Hispanics the opportunities we were fortunate enough to have.”

With a broader base of leadership and the mingling of yuppie values and minority concerns has come a new diversity within the Hispanic community. When leaders were few, issues were distilled to their simplest essence. Now, though, Republicans like Bob Estrada and Democrats such as Sol Villasana approach the same questions from opposite sides.

Similar concerns, such as jobs for Chicanos, filter through distinctly different lenses. Maria Portillo, for example, describes the need as “employment opportunity.” But Sam Moreno turns the same thought on its ear. What’s missing, Moreno says, is access to formation of capital. Garcia, with her place in DART, calls for better transportation to get minority laborers to the work sites.

“The dispersal of leadership is one of the most excellent things that can happen,” says Father Justin J. Lucio of St. James Catholic Church in Oak Cliff. “We can have much more impact when we are part of different parties and organizations. We no longer must look for leadership to the prophet crying in the wilderness.” Reflecting a pervasive sense among Hispanics that change must come from within the system, Father Lucio adds, “You’re either going to be part of the structure or outside the structure. You have to infiltrate the structure to effect change.”

As part of his effort to infiltrate the power structure, Father Lucio, usually described as a grass-roots leader, served on the Mayor’s Dallas Housing Task Force. He joined other task force members inside city hall July 9, when preliminary recommendations were unveiled, Outside the building, Maria Por-tillo, another grass-roots leader who often joins Father Lucio in speaking for the Chi-cano poor, marched in a tight circle of blacks and Hispanics to protest task force recommendations.

In fact, the growing numbers of Hispanic leaders unite, divide, shuffle, and reunite like pieces of colored glass in a kaleidoscope. Two individuals may stand together on one issue and part ways sharply on another. Factions often oppose each other. Inner-city Chicano leaders sneer at fellow Hispanics who settle north of Mockingbird. Younger leaders find older ones ineffective and out of touch. The extremely poor and those who have made it share few perspectives or concerns.

Of course, there are certain problems that might legitimately be labeled “Hispanic issues.” Food, housing, and medical care for the poor are high on everyone’s list. Employment opportunities, bilingual service in public agencies, and minority business development also are universally important. Chicano leaders unite in chiding the city because only four of 126 executive positions are filled by Hispanics.

If you ask two dozen Hispanic leaders to list the three most important issues, however, you will hear little overlap. The need for quality public education is the only item ranked on every list, Bilingual teachers and administrators who can work both with children and with parents who read and speak only Spanish are achingly few. Improved opportunity for Hispanic students to participate in special programs for the disad-vantaged and the gifted, is a must. Extracurricular activities ranging from sports to the debate team deserve emphasis.

In general, Chicano leaders agree that immigration policy is paramount, but they split over whether illegal aliens should be controlled and whether U.S. employers ought to be penalized for hiring illegals.

Splits occur on other issues as well. Adelfa Callejo, perhaps the most effective Hispanic leader this city has known, speaks loudly against police brutality toward Hispanics. But Al Gonzalez, the would-be city councilman, heads a police support organization. Joe May says Gonzalez is too conciliatory and Callejo is out of touch, though his own position on law enforcement is unclear.

Other disagreements are even more basic. For example, many Mexican-Americans apparently entertain an abiding dislike-something akin to racism-for the roughly 5 percent of the Dallas Hispanic population not rooted in Mexico. It is Cubans, many say, who deal drugs in the neighborhood of Ross Avenue and Fitzhugh and who commit crimes and give Chicanos a bad name. And those from countries such as Colombia? They’re just different.

This prejudice leads to an intensifying controversy over the very word Mexican-Americans select to identify themselves. Just as another minority wrestled with “negro,” “colored people,” and similar terms before hitting upon “blacks” as a symbol of unity and pride, so Mexican-Americans now seek a word of identity. At the moment, there is little consensus.

Widely disliked is “Latin” or “Latino,” the term the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission chooses to point out that Hispanics fill a far smaller percentage of jobs in Dallas than their share of the population would dictate. “It includes everybody, even the Italians,” complains Oliver A. Farres, consul general of Mexico.

But Farres prefers the term “Hispanics,” which makes Rene Martinez cringe. “That’s a word the U.S. Census Bureau made up to include everyone who speaks Spanish,” says Martinez. “I am not comfortable with it. It is not what I teach my children to say. We are Mexicans or Chicanos.”

In the minds of others, though, Chicano, derived from Mexicano, has unfortunate connotations, something like nigger. And so it goes.

Hispanics and their leaders ally and argue, agree and debate. It sometimes seems that while they talk of building coalitions with the Anglo establishment, no coalition develops within the brown minority.

If all of this sounds remarkably like the white community, well, you get the idea. Hispanics in Dallas have no easier time achieving consensus than does the Anglo majority. They are bound by a common language, or at least the memory of it, but by little else.

“We are anything but a monolith,” asserts Aguirre. “Most people expect us to act like a monolith, but our interests and our political convictions are as diverse as any other group. If the Anglo community could understand that one thing about us, we would all make a great step forward.”

Adds Trini Garza: “There is no one issue. There’s a series of issues. That’s part of our problem, The majority community wants us to have a central issue. Because we fail to come up with one, they sort of dismiss us.”

To a large extent, the absence of elected representation now seems to be emerging as an issue with the power to rally diverse segments of the Hispanic community. Whatever their personal perspectives, however they shape their agenda, Chicanos agree that it is from representation that everything else flows. To have a say about schools, you must have a voice on the school board. To gain concessions from the city, you must serve on the city council. It is the way things are done in this country.

“I don’t know if any group is effective until it can elect,” says Garcia. “As I see people serving on boards and task forces, they’re giving Hispanic input, but they’re not really involved in making the decisions. They’re not necessarily decoys or tokens. But I doubt one can be as effective on an arts board as one can be on the city council.”

Through the entire battalion of Chicano leadership, sentiment apparently is mounting for concerted action to boost Hispanics into public office. Even Old Guard stalwarts like Aguirre, who soft-pedal ethnic differences and eschew confrontation, are fed up with the absence of representation. “I have always opposed single-member districts in Dallas,” says Aguirre. “I have never been convinced they served the best interest of Hispanics. But at this point I don’t care what we do so long as we get someone on the council. If that takes a lawsuit, we may have to do that.”

A more deliberate activist is Portillo, who sometimes organizes protest marches to air Chicano concerns. “We could go on negotiating and compromising, negotiating and compromising, for years and years and years,” she says. “We have been doing that and we haven’t gotten anywhere. I think it may take redistricting for us to move fester.”

Not every Hispanic leader agrees that a lawsuit is the best route to redress. Some argue that Mayor Taylor’s new policies signal a new mood of conciliation. A few believe that such candidates as Gonzalez and Domingo Garcia, who intends to be Dallas’s first Hispanic elected to the state legislature, are such compelling candidates that voters white, black, and brown will support them. But even if a lawsuit never reaches a court clerk’s office, talk of it has galvanized the Hispanic community. It has focused attention on the essential right to be represented in public forum. It has, it seems, brought the disparate elements together.

By the time you read this, the gang of eleven who met at SMU will have tapped this whole spectrum to solidify support for legal action against the city. They will have drafted a position paper outlining grievances. They will have worked their lists of establishment contacts to serve quiet notice that conflict lies ahead. Hispanic leadership will be waiting, restively measuring the next move.

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