Monday, September 25, 2023 Sep 25, 2023
76° F Dallas, TX


By the year 2000, Hispanics in Dallas may outnumber blacks and whites. Their aggressive new leaders are poised to claim a fair share of power. But first, there is work to do.
By Glenna Whitley |

Footsteps on hardwood floors echo through the empty house as Albert Garcia and Theresa Mazuca-Garcia stroll through each room, flipping on lights as they go, taking stock of their purchase: a 1922 two-bedroom home on Marlborough Street in Oak Cliff probably described as having “potential” in the real estate ad. “Do you think we could do this wallpaper ourselves?” Theresa calls from the kitchen. Albert surveys the black-and-white tile in the bathroom. Luckily that style is back in. Just clean it up a bit…

Thirty minutes before, on a balmy January afternoon, they signed their names to a thirty-year mortgage, and it feels good. The house means roots, permanence. To the Garcias, both third- or fourth-generation Mexican-Americans from South Texas, Dallas is the promised land, and they mean to stay. Albert, a thirty-two-year-old lawyer with political ambitions, sees a burgeoning population of Hispanics who need Spanish-speaking lawyers to handle their legal matters, as well as dedicated leaders. A high school English teacher, idealistic Theresa looks at Dallas and sees a generation of Hispanic children in desperate need of positive role models.

But though they are looking to serve the community, they also are searching for the good life. The Garcias drive a Jeep Cherokee and work out at the downtown YMCA. The fenced back yard looks ideal for a dog-perhaps a wrinkly shar-pei. They dream of sending their children to Harvard. They like to entertain. Their Hispanic friends are much like them, though many choose to live in other parts of the city rather than the traditional Hispanic neighborhoods such as Oak Cliff. Predominantly Anglo areas beginning to see a Hispanic influx include Garland, Mesquite, Grand Prairie.

Cynics might call them Chuppies: young upwardly mobile Chicanos. Demographers would call the Garcias and others like them the front edge of foam on a tidal wave, a wave that will crash into Dallas by the year 2000 when, by some predictions, Hispanics will become the largest ethnic group in the state of Texas.

According to a federal report called “From Educational Confusion to Economic Failure In the Year 2000” the Hispanic population in Texas could be as high as 38.7 percent in twelve years, surpassing both Anglos and blacks, Written for federal policy-makers using U.S. Census data by Marcelo R. Fernandez-Zayas, director of the division of bilingual education for the District of Columbia public school system, the study also says that among urban metropolitan areas, Dallas will have one of the highest concentration rates of Hispanics, behind Los Angeles, Miami, Albuquerque, Denver, and New York City. Between 1980 and 2000, the general population will grow by 17 percent; during the same period, language minorities, predominantly Spanish, in the nation’s schools will grow by 40 percent.

Hispanics now represent 12 to 13 percent of the population in Dallas. While San Antonio and Houston have larger His-panic populations, Dallas is increasingly seen as a mecca for Hispanics from those cities and the Valley, as well as Mexico and Central America. The increase can be seen dramatically in the public schools; Hispanics account for about 30 percent of enrollment in DISD, compared to Anglos (20 percent) and blacks (48 percent). While blacks are still the largest ethnic group, the Hispanics are the fastest growing. Almost half the Hispanic enrollment is in grades one through five.

What is fueling the Hispanic population explosion is their high birth rate. At twenty-nine and thirty-two, the Gatcias are very unusual because they married late and as yet have no children. Hispanics tend to begin having children earlier, and they have more of them-a legacy of their culture and religion, which is predominantly Catholic. “Their birth cycle begins at age eighteen and a half” says Paul Geisel, professor of urban affairs at the University of Texas at Arlington. “At current birth rates, an Anglo will reproduce one time and it will take fifty years, A black will reproduce three times in thirty-seven years. But Hispanics, at their present rate of growth, will double every twenty-one years.” Hispanic families with seven or eight children are not uncommon. Statistically, the average size of a Hispanic family is 4.15 persons, compared to an average of 3.23 for the total population.

Other factors influencing the ethnic makeup of the population in Dallas include immigration and the aging of the Anglo population- The median age in Dallas according to the U.S. Census, says Geisel, is now twenty-seven years old for Anglos. For blacks the median age is twenty-one; for Hispanics, nineteen. Thirty-five percent of Hispanics are under seventeen years old.

Migration to Dallas from rural Mexico, rural New Mexico, and rural South Texas has blossomed in recent years, says Joe May, a demography buff and program manager for the Small Business Administration. “That’s a pattern that’s going to continue to the year 2000 and 2010. Right now, 37 percent of Hispanics in Dallas were bom in Mexico, though that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are illegal [residents].”

Immigration reform that went into effect in 1987 was designed to stem the tide of illegals to the United States, but May and some other Hispanic leaders believe the amnesty laws will work in exactly the opposite fashion. “People will continue to come in, especially if the economy picks up,” says May. “As soon as the dirt starts flying again, they’ll come. They now have brothers and sisters who are permanent citizens here and who can provide a safe haven until they can get on their own. And immigration officials will have to be more careful.” The non-English speaking man or woman a migra tries to deport may be a U.S. citizen.

Based on his own research, May doesn’t expect the Hispanic population to surpass the Anglo and black population until well into the 21st century. His estimates indicate that by the year 2000, the Hispanic population of the Dallas area will be 30 to 32 percent. The black population will stay stable at about 30 percent, and the Anglos will make up about 40 percent.

Regardless of whether the Hispanic population actually overtakes the Anglo population, the impact on the city of Dallas of a fast-growing, predominantly young, bilingual, and bicultural population will be significant. It will be felt in all areas of life: politics, economics, religion, education, and culture. The potential benefits to Dallas are great. The Hispanic community’s strengths include cohesive families, stable work habits, independence, strong religious values.

But if the strengths of Hispanics are great, so are their problems.

ALBERT GARCIA SITS ON THE FRONT row in a Channel 13 studio, patiently waiting his turn to speak in a “town hall”-type forum on the juvenile criminal justice system after a live presentation of a locally produced documentary called “Juvenile Injustice.” His conservative suit and tie are definitely establishment, but a tiny eagle is pinned to his lapel-the eagle of the United Farmworkers of America Union. The swept-back black hair curls over his collar and a black mustache obscures his upper lip. He peers out of aviator glasses at the other participants, most of whom are representatives of “the system”-the law enforcement arm of government that attempts to rehabilitate youngsters on the fast track to a criminal career. Garcia practices juvenile and family law, and all too often, he stands before a judge with a fifteen- or sixteen-year-old Hispanic boy, trying to patch the youth’s life back together after the third or fourth run-in with police. Despite the feet that Hispanics make up about 21 percent of the Texas population, 36 percent of youths in Texas on probation are Hispanic. Though 24 percent of the state’s prison population is Hispanic-more in line with their representation in the population-the question is this: what will happen as these youngsters in trouble get older?

As Garcia sees it, the problem isn’t hard to define: more than half-57 percent-of all Hispanics who attend DISD will drop out before graduation, a rate higher than either Anglos (12 percent) or blacks (40 percent). A Hispanic first-grader who begins school this fall has less than a fifty-fifty chance of graduating with his or her class in the year 2000. Most leave school before or during ninth grade to face adulthood with an eighth-grade education and in many cases, very little skill at reading or writing the English language. And he knows from experience as well as statistics that dropouts are more likely to get involved with crime.

“There are probably more Chicanos in prison than in college,” Garcia says. “It’s sad to say, but it’s probably true. It’s a vicious cycle.”

Garcia moved to Dallas in November 1985. He had been director of the American Civil Liberty Union’s South Texas Project in the Valley, doing pro bono work for the farmworkers’ union and earning $7,000 a year, barely enough to live on. While contemplating taking a job as a public defender in Brownsville, he decided to visit one of his former roommates at Texas Southern University Law School. Domingo Garcia (no relation) had opened a law firm in Dallas. Albert and his girlfriend Theresa, from San Antonio, came to Dallas for a weekend visit, but neither had any intention of moving; to them, the image of Dallas was of a place barely hospitable to Hispanics.

What they saw surprised them. The two met other Hispanic young professionals from Brownsville, Houston, San Antonio, Austin, moving to Dallas in search of a place to shine. They were all seeing the same thing: a burgeoning Hispanic population with a scarcity of Hispanic doctors, lawyers, and dentists. Untapped markets. Political power vacuums. In a word, opportunity.

In 1985, Domingo Garcia was jumping into politics in a big way. About to run for state representative against five-term Democrat Steve Wolens in District 103, Domingo over the weekend persuaded Albert to move to Dallas and join his law firm. On the October night Albert decided to make the move, he proposed to Theresa. Moving to Dallas and getting married seemed a cementing of his future. “I liked Dallas and I saw the opportunity here not only professionally, but also for work in the community,” he says. “There’s so much to be done.”

Albert moved shortly thereafter, but he and Theresa didn’t marry until a year later. During that time, Albert assisted Domingo in his run for state representative, which he lost decisively. A week after a big cathedral wedding in San Antonio, complete with mariachis and a prayer for the farmworkers, Albert began his own campaign for a seat on the board of the DISD, less than eighteen months after moving to Dallas. He had served on the school board in the Valley and knew it was almost a full-time job. But even though his law career was just getting off the ground, he felt compelled to make the run. Competing against two other Hispanics, he garnered about 19 percent of the vote, forcing a run-off between incumbent Robert Medrano and Rene Castilla, the eventual winner. But Garcia has no doubt that he will run again. “It sounds like a thousand cliches, but I love kids and I care about their future.” No education, no future.

In many ways, Theresa and Albert Garcia are Hispanic aberrations. Not only have they yet to have children, both have college degrees, and he has a post-graduate degree in law. Twenty-one percent of the white population in Texas have college degrees, compared to about 11 percent for blacks, and only 6.8 percent for Hispanics.

Another major difference is their strong command of the English language. Son of an Air Force career serviceman, Garcia was born in Selma. Alabama, and didn’t learn to speak Spanish until his family moved to the Valley when he was seventeen, a fact that at one point made him bitter about missing a slice of his heritage. Theresa grew up speaking Spanish at home-in the days when children in Texas were slapped for speaking Spanish in school-but is not proficient enough to teach it academically.

A major reason for the educational under-achievement of many Hispanics is the language barrier, says Rosa E. Apodaca, special assistant to the general superintendent in charge of special populations for DISD. DISD has fifty-nine language groups. By far the largest group of “Limited English Proficiency,” or LEP students, are Spanish-speaking. For the 1987-88 school year, 15,833 of 17,356 total LEP students were Hispanic-about half the total Hispanic enrollment of 38,209. The majority, says Apodaca, are new arrivals. Some have never attended school before, though they may be the age for fourth or fifth grade. “This population has unique needs,” says Apodaca. “The student can be at the beginning level of language acquisition in the ninth grade as well as kindergarten.”

Bilingual education-mandated by the Texas legislature in the early Seventies-is a start, but though DISD has 300 bilingual teachers, it needs twice that number, Apo-daca says. And because so much of success in education is dependent on parental involvement, the school must try to involve parents who often don’t speak English. DISD sends home newsletters in the language of the home, but the administrators have discovered that Hispanics are wary of direct mail, a technique used a great deal in America. They rely more on word-of-mouth, and Apodaca says DISD is now using interpreters’ aides to spread the news of school functions in the Hispanic community. And the district recently made a videotape showing parents how they can interact with schools and teachers.

Apodaca says studies show that not only are new arrivals dropping out, but second-, third-, and fourth-generation Hispanic-Americans are leaving school before graduation. The reasons vary: they need to work, teen pregnancy, lack of encouragement from home, failure and subsequent loss of self-esteem.

In order to reduce the dropout rate, for two years DISD has operated HILT-High Intensity Language Training-in middle schools and high schools for students who are in higher grade levels but still having difficulty reading and writing English. This fall, DISD will begin two programs also aimed at reducing the dropout rate. One, the International High School, geared toward older students, is a joint project between DISD and the Dallas Community College District. For students seventeen and up-over-age for their grade level-it will provide flexibility for work-study. The Newcomers Center will be a one-year program designed to take new language-deficient students in at the middle and high school level to provide an individualized curriculum. Continued cultural training of teachers, including Spanish lessons, also is a priority.

Garcia says he doesn’t know all the answers, but he wants to be part of the solution. Since mid-1987, he has been a member of the Hispanic Advisory Committee for DISD as it has grappled with issues ranging from the selection of a new superintendent to the district’s application for unitary status in its ongoing desegregation court supervision. “The dropout rate is our [Hispanics’] most pressing issue,” Garcia says. “If we can’t find a way to reduce the dropout rate, and [increase) the rate of going on to college and junior college, everything else will be twice as hard.”

AFTER AN AFTERNOON FILLED WITH checking court dates and filing mo-tions in divorces at the courthouse, Garcia winds his way past the exposed brick and glass walls of the law offices of Garcia, Alonzo & Garcia in a renovated furniture warehouse on West Jefferson Boulevard. The office is buzzing; it seems everywhere you look there are young, attractive Hispanic women carrying documents to be copied, letters to be signed. More of the activity seems related to campaign strategy than to a law firm’s everyday business.

All of the firm’s five Hispanic attorneys are politically involved; they have either run for office, plan to run for office, or are helping someone else run for office. “As students you have all these dreams,” Albert Garcia says. “You want to make the world a better place. You get out and you realize the continued daily struggle.”

Garcia didn’t run for office this year, but he acted as his partner Juan Jasso’s campaign treasurer. Jasso, a short, slight man of thirty, ran, as did Domingo Garcia, against Steve Wolens in District 103, which encompasses part of Oak Cliff and West Dallas- a heavily Hispanic area. But few political observers, even in the Hispanic community, gave Jasso much chance of unseating Wolens, a respected incumbent, and joining at-large city Council member Al Gonzalez and DISD school board member Rene Castilla as Dallas third Hispanic elected official. Texas boasts more Hispanic public officials than any other state, but in Dallas, political power remains tantalizingly elusive. Money is hard to raise, and some frustrating demographic realities get in the way.

May, the demography buff, can look at a map of Dallas and pinpoint exactly why the Hispanic numbers are hard to convert into political clout. Hispanics, unlike blacks, are spread out over the city and that dilutes their voting strength. Though traditionally concentrated in Oak Cliff, West Dallas, and parts of East Dallas, only about 60 percent of Hispanics live in those areas. Forty percent have settled in areas that are predominantly Anglo and are pushing into older Anglo neighborhoods in suburbs such as Mesquite, Grand Prairie, and Garland.

Not only only they spread out, they are younger and in some cases not eligible to vote because of their citizenship status. May says that of ten Anglo residents on a block in Lori Palmer’s Oak Lawn district, which was drawn as a minority district, almost all will be eligible to Vote. Often Hispanic residents, only four will be old enough to vote.

For many years, May has spent much of his time collecting data on where Hispanics live in order to gerrymander a safe city council district in which Hispanics could elect one of their own. He has yet to succeed. Though Gonzalez is Hispanic, May and other Hispanic leaders feel a single district is important because in hip at-large position, Gonzalez must represent the entire city’s interests. They want someone who can champion Hispanic issues ranging from fixing potholes in Hispanic neighborhoods to opposing the “English Only” movement that would declare English! the official language of the U.S. “Besides, should the only Hispanics allowed to be elected be ’Super Hispanics?’” asks May, pointing out that Al Gonzalez owns a construction firm and has business ties to the North Dallas establishment.

May plans this spring to present a new redistricting plan to the city council, which is mandated to review district lines every two years. He will propose several versions of a district encompassed by a circle around downtown Dallas, with a population of about 10,000, predominantly Hispanic; the non-Hispanics included will be similar in age, income bracket, and occupation. That should ensure the election of a qualified Hispanic leader, though the issue probably will be confused and fraught with emotion, as it is every time the subject is broached.

A politician like Albert Garcia, hoping to appeal to Hispanics, must realize that the various Hispanic groups’ agendas often are different. While Mexican-Americans overwhelmingly identify themselves as Democrats, Cubans often are Republicans. Puerto Ricans tend to have the lowest educational achievement, Cubans the highest. Hispanics from Mexico and Central America are likely to disagree on such issues as aid to the con-tras and relations with the Soviet Union.

On the first day Garcia came to Dallas, he began making the rounds, meeting with every significant Hispanic leader or group, careful to pay homage to longtime Hispanic leaders such as Adelfa B. Callejo and Pancho Medrano, patriarch of the Medrano clan, whom he already knew from the farmworkers1 struggles. Garcia was stunned during his rounds to discover that there was such a thing as a Chicano Republican. “You’d hear of them in the Rio Grande Valley,” he says, “but they were off-the-wall and nobody paid much attention to them.” But the Republican party is making inroads with Hispanics. In January, a GOP group called the Mexican American Advisory Committee organized a $250-a-head fundraiser for George Bush at La Botica restaurant to show that Dallas Hispanic Republicans can’t be ignored. They handed George Bush Jr. a check for $5,000, with a promise of more to come.

Garcia’s reception by the Hispanic leadership was very positive, he says, until he filed for the school board slot. “If they didn’t want me here, they didn’t say, until I ran for the school board. Then they let me know. I got more enthusiasm from the poor and elderly that I talked to.” He admits that some His-panics see him as a radical because of his involvement with the ACLU. “Some view us as radical just for using the term Chicano,” he says. “If we’re radicals, we’re competent radicals. Coming from South Texas, we know what we can do. Chicanos that have been here rubbing elbows with the establishment have tried methods that haven’t worked. Give us a try.”

In the year since their marriage, Theresa Mazuca-Garcia has also become very active in the community. She’s second vice-president of the Mexican-American Business and Professional Women’s Organization, one of twenty Dallas delegates to the Hispanic Women of Texas network, and is enrolled in the SMU Mexican-American Leadership Program. Theresa earned a degree in management from the University of Texas and worked in the business world for several years before deciding to make a career change in favor of teaching. She wanted to provide a role model for other young Hispanics. Ironically, Theresa’s literature classes at South Oak Cliff High School are 100 percent black. “At least I’m teaching minorities,” she says, laughing.

Both see building coalitions with blacks as vital. “The black community is very powerful,” Albert says. “A lot of the same issues are important to us: education, health. We shouldn’t be jealous of black power. We can help them and they can help us. Hispanics tell me they’ve tried to work with the black community, and it hasn’t worked. Now they’re turning to the North Dallas business establishment. But I don’t think we should eliminate anyone.”

Whatever approach is used, Hispanic leaders admit that the problems their community faces are pressing ones:

Hispanic children in families headed by a male are more likely to be poor than black or white children in male-headed families. (U.S. House Select Committee on Children, Youth and Families)

●The average Hispanic male has an eighth-grade education, an income of $15,000 to $20,000 per year, and is usually employed in the highly seasonal construction business or semi- or unskilled labor. Hispanics are under-represented in finance, business management, law, and medicine.

●In 1985, Hispanics who worked full time year round were more likely to be poor (one out of fifteen) than Anglos (one out of forty) or blacks (one out of twenty-two). (U.S. Census data)

●In 1986, 39.9 percent of all Hispanic children-2.6 million-lived in poverty. (U.S. Census) The proportion of Hispanic children living in poverty in 1984 was more than double that of non-Hispanic children. (1985 Current Population Survey, as reported by the National Council of La Raza)

●The average Hispanic family income was $19,027 in 1985, more than $10,000 less than the average income in a white (non-His panic) family. (U.S. Census Bureau)

●In 1980, Hispanics accounted for near ly 25 percent of births to unwed mothers, compared to whites with 9.3 percent and blacks with 56.4 percent. As Hispanics be come a more urban population, non-marital births have increased. (La Raza)

Many of the economic problems of Hispanics come back to education, and unless that dropout rate is turned around, more and more Hispanics will slip into poverty. The labor market in Dallas increasingly will reflect the changes going on nationwide: the growing demand for technological skills at the expense of unskilled labor. Those jobs require a high level of literacy.

The Hispanic population boom also has some positive economic reverberations. A study by Rinc6n & Associates, a Hispanic-owned research firm in Dallas, indicates that Hispanics already are a major economic force and are being recognized as such by major U.S. corporations. The study on the Texas Hispanic population was commissioned by the Tomas Rivera Center, a Hispanic think-tank in California.

Edward Rinon and Baltazar Acevedo, authors of the study, say that companies are realizing that Hispanics have considerable pocketbook clout and are doing some hardball marketing to capture their dollars. “Hispanics not only have larger families,” says Rincon, “they spend a lot on food and consumer items. They are very brand loyal.” In 1986, advertisers spent $398 million to advertise to Hispanics; in 1987, that figure had gone up 23.2 percent to $490.7 million.

But Hispanics are not only consumers, they are producers. More often today, Hispanics don’t wait for the jobs to come to them; they set up their own businesses. In 1982, there were 61,540 Hispanic businesses in Texas, with $3.4 billion in gross sales, according to the study.

Statistics also show that the Hispanic work force is remarkably stable. More than 80 percent of Hispanic men sixteen and older were either working or seeking work in 1985, as compared to 77 percent of white men and 71 percent of black men. (Only 49.4 percent of Hispanic women were employed or seeking employment, compared to 54.1 percent of white women and 56.5 percent of black women.)

Many Hispanic leaders see several dozen young men and women who will be leading their community into the 21st century. The SMU Mexican-American Leadership Program helps to identify and groom Hispanics for positions on boards, volunteer groups, and, perhaps, elective office. The Garcias are seen as shining lights. Among many other future leaders are Patricia Arrendon-do Banerjea, an accountant in the Latin American Division of Texas Instruments; Rick Moreno, corporate controller for Coulter’s Barbecue; Michael J. Brito, an attorney with Haynes & Boone; and Adele D. Cardenas, an engineer with the EPA.

Whether or not Albert Garcia and the other attorneys in his firm fight their way to the front of the; Hispanic phalanx, it’s certain that Dallas will become more and more aware of the Hispanic community in the next twelve years. The city will be changed by them, and they will be changed by the city.

Garcia has seen these changes in just the two years he has lived in Dallas. For one thing, he sees little Hispanic Protestant churches springing up everywhere, like mom and pop groceries. A Catholic, Garcia can’t imagine ever leaving the church that is so wrapped up in his culture, that has such a hold on Hispanics in the Valley and in Mexico. But [in the big city, aggressive evangelicals have made such inroads in the Hispanic community that the Catholic church is fighting back, aggressively pursuing the flock.

Inevitably, especially as Hispanics climb the economic ladder, there will be other changes. Some of the changes will be good-a softening of the “macho” image for men, loosening of strictures on women. But there may also be an erosion of traditions, a loss of community identity. Theresa and Albert say they don’t want that to happen with their children.

“Ideas are changing, but our traditions are still pretty much intact,” says Albert. “I feel real strongly about that-knowing where we came from and where we are going.” They plan to teach their children about the history of Hispanics in Texas, that the Texas Rangers were not heroes but vicious murderers of their people; that Emiliano Zapata was not a gangster, but a great leader; about Hispanic art and music.

“You have to go a little out of your way to do that in Dallas.” he says, “but we will.”

Related Articles


The Dallas Dozen

We salute the city's most important players in 2011. They made a difference and inspired others to do the same.
By Jeanne Prejean

Souvenir of Dallas

"The Mighty, Mighty Hands of Mayor Tom Leppert"