As part of continuing abuse by many, Danyelle contends a local authority figure recently approached her and two Hispanic friends and exclaimed, “You Mexicans need to go back across the border.” This struck her like a punch to the gut.
“I can’t help the color of my skin,” Danyelle said. “I can’t help the way I look … but I am going to be in this (LULAC) program because this has to stop. I’m tired of seeing people get hurt because they aren’t like other people. We are all made in God’s image. If God wanted us all white, don’t you think he would have made just white people? No. God wanted the rainbow. He wanted some beautiful colors.”
The George West teenager relayed her dismay while voicing her intent to join this new, local LULAC chapter. This chapter, meanwhile, is perched atop a precarious political situation. There are three local investigations going on right now — a local watchdog group’s allegations of city and city manager wrongdoing; LULAC’s investigation into alleged racism against the city manager on the part of that watchdog group; and the city attorney’s investigation into the entire situation.
The new LULAC group is expected to serve all Live Oak County (and possibly Bee) when fully formed and after a board of directors is selected. Potential members gathered at the George West Chamber of Commerce offices Saturday, where they met with Dr. Nick Adame, chairman of the LULAC national civil rights committee for 2014, and Ramiro “Gambi” Gamboa, Civil and Human Rights Committee chairman for LULAC Council No. 1 out of Corpus Christi.
“From here, we want to educate people that LULAC is an educational organization, a proponent of civil rights and immigration rights and with those who cannot help themselves,” Gamboa explained to a reporter after the meeting.
Only a handful of people attended Saturday. Gamboa said a much larger group was expected to attend, but there were last-minute cancellations.
Danyelle’s account of the bullying and discrimination she suffered because of her race was sobering to many in the room — especially coming at a time when racially related conflicts are running rampant on the national level.
On Aug. 9 — more than 970 miles to the northeast — a caucasian Ferguson, Missouri police officer stopped an unarmed African-American teenager for walking in the street, then shot and killed him minutes later, sparking a firestorm of protests, rioting and looting in that town. In Staten Island on July 17, Eric Garner, a black man, died after being placed in a chokehold by primarily white police officers, an incident captured on videotape and circulated virally online. Garner’s alleged crime was selling loose cigarettes.
While not as overt as those episodes of violence, LULAC representatives said they believe a more subtle racism is deeply ingrained in the city of George West. Or, as the late American politician, educator and author Shirley Chisholm said, “Racism is so universal in this country, so widespread and deep-seated, that it is invisible because it is so normal.”
Gauntlet thrown down
Tensions bubbled to the surface in George West starting in May, when the civic watchdog group Friends of George (FOG) leveled 10 allegations of wrongdoing against the city — primarily aimed at the specific alleged actions of City Manager Sandra Martinez.
These original allegations ranged from claims that Martinez lives rent-free on GW property to contentions that GW officials are refusing to tell residents how much money the city has in its coffers.
The city manager has said many of FOG’s allegations are politically based and are largely misinterpretations of fact or misunderstanding of the duties of her office.
But she has also acknowledged some of the problems mentioned by FOG — such as infrastructure disrepair, bad roads and malfunctioning fire hydrants — are legitimate and are being addressed.
But the tone and tenor of these allegations and the attacks on her charter online attracted the long-distance concern of Adame and Gamboa. In June, both men appeared before the George West City Council and announced that LULAC was beginning an investigation into FOG to determine if members of that group are attacking the city manager because she’s Hispanic.
Since then, the city manager has said she was not the one who contacted LULAC or brought the situation to their attention.
But the city manager did reluctantly recount to a reporter several incidents she said led her to conclude she is being targeted by FOG for racial reasons. These included one seemingly small May incident with huge implications: She contends a FOG member asked her and the city council to change the Cinco de Mayo celebration into something “less Hispanic.” This was followed up by several members who visited her in his office and “suggested” the same thing.
FOG representatives deny this is true.
City attorney inquiry
In the third development, City Attorney Dwayne McWilliams recently announced he is conducting his own inquiry into the dueling allegations of municipal wrongdoing and racism. McWilliams has said he fears the back-and-forth allegation situation with LULAC, the city manager and FOG might spin out of control at some point.
The city attorney said he is currently not at liberty to provide many details about his investigation. But whatever the results — if the city or FOG have done something wrong—he said the public will learn about it.
“If we want to move forward as a city, we need to know what the money is like — we have to know,” Walker said. “We need to be able to be comfortable. We need a five-year plan for the city, police and fire department.”
Martinez did not attend Saturday’s LULAC meeting, although her mother, Dora Martinez, and her father, former Bee County Judge Jimmy Martinez, were there.
After the meeting Saturday, Gamboa said he can’t believe FOG would be pursuing the city manager so vigorously if she were white or even a man. Therefore, it’s LULAC’s duty to determine if she were wronged, he said.
“LULAC is not a gangster organization — we are a patriotic organization,” Gamboa said. “We helped create single member districts in George West. … We all pay taxes, and we all need to be heard. Sandra Martinez is Hispanic; she’s a woman, and she’s doing a good job.
“Put yourself in her shoes. She has the education, the qualifications and the ability to do her job. But FOG doesn’t like her. Why is that?”
Friends of George
It has been less than 20 years since LULAC sued the George West ISD to create single member districts to promote better representation and hopefully prevent discrimination. Incidentally, John Walker, the central organizer of FOG, shares mutual history with LULAC in that regard. He was a member of the George West ISD board in 1995 when LULAC filed their voting rights lawsuit against the George West Independent School District and several other Texas districts in an attempt to create single member districts. The GWISD settled with LULAC out of court in a 1996 agreement that did exactly that.
FOG members say their mission is solely to promote transparency in city government. FOG has extended an open invitation for The Progress to attend their meetings, which are very cordial in nature — if a bit impassioned by the exasperation members say they feel with the city manager.
During a recent such meeting, FOG members were adamant the allegations leveled against them are largely political and not based in truth.
Members strongly believe city hall is stonewalling them in their attempts to gain access to city documents that should be public information.
“I’m going to ‘dumb down’ my requests to the point where Barney Fife could fill them out,” one member said.
Flooded with requests
The concerns FOG members have about city officials and the city manager revolve around alleged discrepancies in numbers and auditing procedures employed by the city. Members believe the city is preventing the release of that information — either through ineptness or design.
The city manager has responded that all open record requests are dealt with as quickly as possible. She contends members of the group are flooding them with open record requests that have to be addressed in the order in which they were received.
Walker, who leads the discussion during FOG meetings, said attaining this information is crucial if change is to be realized.
He said the city needs to implement five-year plans in the management of the city, the police department and fire department.
Walker takes issue with the city manager’s initiative for infrastructure improvement along the four corners of U.S. 59 and Interstate 37. It is there that new stores have been able to locate and open, because of the efforts of George West, using special grant monies procured with the help of Live Oak County Judge Jim Huff.
“Just doing business and trying to get the convenience stores out there, that’s a plan, but in the long run, what does that do to our water system, our sewer system?” Walker said.”We need to have priorities and good solid accounting.”
New LULAC chapter
Danyelle was much more relaxed after the friendly and affectionate reception she received from LULAC members during Saturday’s meeting. She relaxed a bit during a follow-up conversation with Adame after the meeting. As the George West ISD teenager wiped her eyes, she beamed a smile that brought grins to many of the older members at the table.
Gamboa and Adame said members of the group will meet and select board members for the Live Oak LULAC chapter in the next few weeks, prior to concluding their FOG investigation.
Adame said LULAC members intend to become a positive and productive presence in George West and Live Oak County.
“We have the concerns of the citizens in mind, and we want to see George West take a much more positive direction,” Adame said. “We would like to think that, as we educate more people, we see much less of what’s happening now. My take on this? We still see evidence of discrimination in George West.”
Ben Tinsley is a reporter for The Progress newspaper. He can be contacted by email at email@example.com or by phone at 361-786-3022. Tinsley can also be followed on Twitter at www.twitter.com/BenTinsley, Google at http://plus.google.com/+BenTinsley or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ben.tinsley.12.