"It's our turn to be heard"

With Hispanics the majority among Dallas schoolchildren and a Latino superintendent in their corner, Jesse Diaz and other activists say

Carrizales says the group had submitted an earlier version of their plan to Woolery, and got an "anemic" response.

Gonzalez's attitude is entirely different.
"I think she's the best thing to ever happen to the district," Jesse Diaz says. "We've never had a voice before. We are so far behind, and she knows it."

While Gonzalez may be viewed as savior for Dallas' Latinos, she has already clashed with black leaders. Instead of seeking common ground, the city's blacks and Hispanics have been drifting farther apart.

The conflicts rose to the surface a year ago when Woolery hired Yvonne Gonzalez away from her job as superintendent of the Santa Fe, New Mexico, school system to be his deputy superintendent. Hispanics hailed it as the most constructive move Woolery had made to accommodate the district's growing Latino population. They saw Gonzalez as more than a voice in the administration; she was a symbol of Hispanic power.

Black activists immediately demanded that Woolery elevate a black person to the same level as Gonzalez--something that perplexed Hispanics, because there were still twice as many black top-level administrators. Woolery caved in to the demand, but ended up irritating black activists anyway when he promoted assistant superintendent Shirley Ison-Newsome to a newly created position as chief of staff. NAACP president Lee Alcorn and Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price likened Ison-Newsome's position to a "glorified gopher." Then, ironically, when Gonzalez eliminated Ison-Newsome's "gopher" position, Alcorn and Price were offended all over again.

Tensions mounted last May when the school board voted Anglos--Bill Keever and Kathleen Leos--into the board's two leadership positions. The three black board members, who have long complained that their concerns are ignored by the white-controlled board, successfully lobbied for the creation of a second vice president post to be held by an African-American. Hispanics then demanded that a third vice president position be created for them. Black board members refused to back this proposal on the grounds that Hispanic interests were already being served by Leos, who represents a mostly Hispanic district.

Shortly after their elections as board president and vice president, Keever and Leos sat down to parley with Price, Alcorn, and other black leaders. The meeting got off to a bad start when Leos began talking about the needs of Hispanic students.

Alcorn interrupted her. "I don't give a damn about Hispanic children," he said. He was there, he added, to talk about African-American children.

Leos, stung, got up to leave but was persuaded to stay. Alcorn later explained that he felt justified in making the remark, because Leos was getting off the subject. "Hispanics don't talk about African-American concerns when they meet," Alcorn said in his interview with the Washington Post this fall. "They are very selfish about their interests."

In December, Alcorn further alienated Latinos by demanding that the district furnish a count of Hispanic children who were not legal U.S. residents or citizens--information the district is prevented by law from obtaining. Says Diaz: "He was so stupid, because you're supposed to educate all children. That's the law. That was the second time he insulted our children. I want an apology."

Hispanic activists have not exactly ingratiated themselves with blacks, however. Frustrated with black protesters shutting down board meetings, Diaz and Carrizales called on Keever last May to arrest anyone who caused disruptions. When Keever had three members of the New Black Panther party arrested after they refused to sit down, some Hispanics, including Diaz and Carrizales, cheered.

Then at a particularly riotous board meeting in January, Carrizales yelled at one black protester, "To hell with your black ass!"

Clearly, this fight is about color.
Says Carrizales: "We don't have a problem with Anglos on the board. They are the majority of residents in the county. They pay the most taxes. Shouldn't they have someone there representing how their money is spent? We're for the education of all our children.

"I'm sure the African-American community has legitimate issues on education," he adds. "I just wish they could be more exact about what they are. Maybe we're on the same page. We're not saying give us equity based on color, but on needs."

Michael Gonzalez, former head of the Hispanic Citizens Council, says he was close to Alcorn in the late '80s, when Alcorn headed Grand Prairie's NAACP. But lately, he and Alcorn have been at odds. "It's what's ours is ours, what's yours is negotiable," Gonzalez says. "We can't negotiate with people on that basis. Everything they've wanted, they've gotten. They had a black superintendent, who we supported. They got a second vice president on the board, and they got a promotion for Shirley Ison-Newsome. They have three votes on the board.

"I submit to you that they are overrepresented. When they deal with us, it's apples and orchards. They want us to have the apples, and they want the orchards."

When the Observer caught up with Yvonne Gonzalez last Monday, she was dashing off to a secret location to meet individually with trustees, as she does every week. Gonzalez, speaking from her cel phone, didn't back down an inch from the promises she'd made to the Hispanic community during her private meeting with the Latino Advisory Council.

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