Battle for the barrio

Dallas Hispanic Republicans fight historic allegiances -- and a few slashed tires

"If Bush can do the same or better in Florida and California [he received only 18 percent of the Hispanic vote in the California primary]," says Dallas County Republican chairman Bob Driegert, "he can carry those states and win the presidency."

Bush's ability to penetrate the barrio should be enhanced by the RNC's $7million-$10 million ad campaign targeting the nation's 30 million Hispanics. A Spanish-language TV commercial, a test ad for the presidential campaign, is now running in California. It features a Latino woman describing the struggles of her immigrant parents as they worked hard, learned the language, raised a family, and dreamed American. The woman says that she will consider voting Republican to continue that dream.

Commercials like this only reinforce the message that Hispanic Republican activists like Leo Landin and his 40-member organization have taken to the streets. "Hispanic Catholics are conservative by nature," Landin says. "Once we start discussing the Republican platform [pro family values, pro business, anti-abortion], 80 percent of the people agree with us."

Leo Landin, president of the Dallas Hispanic Republicans, is fighting for the hearts and votes of Hispanics in the barrios.
Peter Calvin
Leo Landin, president of the Dallas Hispanic Republicans, is fighting for the hearts and votes of Hispanics in the barrios.

Counters Adelfa Callejo, "The day the Republican Party puts civil rights and affirmative action and English Plus [learning English as well as another language] into their platform is the day they make some inroads into the Hispanic community."

A Republican presence, however, is already being felt in local working-class Hispanic neighborhoods. "Some of my closest friends are turning Republican," says Arcadia Park Democratic activist Rachael Alonzo. "This past election was the first where you saw [Dallas Hispanic] Republicans standing in front of grocery stores, passing out literature or going door-to-door. It's really unfortunate."

And local Republicans have plans to build more GOP infrastructure within the Hispanic community. "There are only 13 Hispanic Republican precinct chairmen in Dallas County," says Joe Pena, who heads the Dallas chapter of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly of Texas. "Yet there are over 400 empty chairs in mostly minority neighborhoods. I'm setting a goal to fill every empty chair with an Hispanic and then to train each one myself."

The battle for the barrio is far from over. Demographics have forced George W. Bush to jump into the fray, and his sturdy coattails have assisted Hispanics such as Texas Supreme Court Justice Alberto R. Gonzales in winning the recent Republican primary, and Railroad Commissioner Tony Garza in winning statewide election in 1998. But Republican gains could be wiped out if a country-club exclusivity operates to deny a broader base of Hispanics access to positions of power. Or if those Hispanics who embrace the party decide that conformity is more essential than diversity.

"After we started our organization," recalls Leo Landin, "I felt lonely and isolated. Suddenly I was known as an Hispanic Republican. I felt like I was less-than because I wasn't just 'a good Republican.' If it was up to me, I'd just want to be a good Republican."

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