By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Sitting around a table in the back room of the Charco Broiler in Pleasant Grove, the three men and one woman fidget a bit, aware of the tape recorder's little red light. All four are members of LULAC--the League of United Latin American Citizens--and they are a little uncomfortable talking to a reporter.
"I hope you can understand, it's hard," says Alfred Carrizales, a longtime Dallas activist, above the blare of the big-screen TV in the dining room.
"This is for the good of the community," Gehrig Saldana chimes in, lapsing into a comfortable Spanish flecked with English. "Me da pena...It's painful trying to bring up these kinds of things," he says.
It takes some nerve to bring this information to the media, they admit--an acknowledgment that the "U" in LULAC isn't all it's cracked up to be. And their faces betray their thoughts: Speaking out will cost them. They know they're in for a mean time.
As the waitress brings out burgers, however, they start to ease some. The awkwardness fades, and tongues slowly start wagging. What follows is a bull session--marked by shades of pain and trepidation--in which they offer a litany of grievances.
Most of all, they complain about what Carrizales and Saldana see as a severe lack of inclusion in LULAC. They claim that their LULAC chapter, the fledgling Council 4496, is being kept in the dark by the area's most established chapter--Council 100.
While high-profile Council 4496 members such as Carrizales and Jesse Diaz battle on the front lines for the rights of Latino students, teachers, and staff in the Dallas public schools, the leaders of Council 100--where the membership roll reads like a who's who of Hispanic Dallas--stand at a dignified distance, seldom bothering to wade into such messy matters.
Meanwhile, Saldana and Carrizales say, Council 100 hauls in big bucks from its annual Tejano concert series--money that's supposedly earmarked for LULAC scholarships--yet no one seems to know how much money is made or where it goes. The only scholarships that have been handed out, the four claim, went to relatives of Council 100 members.
All in all, the men say, the dearth of information has caused them to suspect that Council 100 is misusing LULAC funds and misleading folks about its fundraisers. They offer no documentation to support their claims, just a pained recitation of failed attempts to obtain information from their sister council--tales of phone calls that have gone unreturned and letters that have gone unanswered.
"If you're out there saying 'Raza this' and 'Raza that,' and all it amounts to is a press conference so you can get additional funding from corporations, it's a real problem," Carrizales says, beginning to vent.
"They want to be the big shots," Council 4496 member Dolores East says of Council 100 in a separate interview. "If you're not somebody they want to let into their exclusive club, they won't let you in. LULAC is about inclusion, about equality, and they're violating all that."
Even while LULAC's numerous local chapters appear to have united in support of Dallas Independent School District superintendent Dr. Yvonne Gonzalez, it seems that a bickering war is going on behind the scenes, one that bears no resemblance to LULAC's credo: "All for One--One for All."
LULAC, founded in 1929 in Harlingen, Texas, is the country's oldest and largest civil rights organization for Latinos that's been in continuous existence. In North Texas, 28 councils make up LULAC District III, which stretches from Wichita Falls to Corsicana. Each of these councils operates independently, with its own officers and budgets.
Dallas' Council 100, although not the oldest in the area, is the most established LULAC chapter. Founded in 1978 in the back yard of current president Rene Martinez's mother's house, Council 100 claims some of Dallas' most prominent Latinos as members: Hector Flores, Adelfa Callejo, Jake Fuller, and Martinez, to name a few. Flores is well known for his bilingual-teacher recruiting for DISD, and Callejo has been a lawyer and activist in Dallas for many years. Fuller does consulting work for local politicians, and Martinez is a banker.
If Council 100 represents Dallas' oldest, most successful Latino families, with an impressive record of civic activism and achievements, Council 4496 is the snot-nosed younger sibling. Founded in 1990 by Jesse Diaz and Alfred Carrizales as a response to gang problems in their area, 4496 has carved out a role for itself through high-profile activism in the Dallas public schools.
Diaz, a real estate agent in working-class Pleasant Grove, says that being a three-time victim of drive-by shootings made an activist out of him. "We weren't seeing our needs being addressed" by other councils, he says. So they started their own.
Council 4496's current president, Gehrig Saldana, is community program manager for the Dallas parks department. Carrizales, the council's second-in-command, works for a door company, and Dolores East is a community liaison for a West Dallas elementary school.
Council 4496's problems with its sister council began when a member, Rebecca Salinas, heard some radio spots in June for a summer Tejano concert series sponsored by LULAC. For the past two years, Council 100 has produced the series to raise money for scholarships.