Coming Out Swinging

Latino activist Carlos Quintanilla's combative style makes enemies, even among his friends

To him, today's crackdown on illegal immigrants is an extension of the racism he fought as a kid. "It's just a continuation of a national psyche that's anti-Mexican and anti-immigrant," he said over lunch in October. "Farmers Branch is just another battle in a long fight."

In recent years, two of his business ventures involving Mexican vendors—one the Garibaldi Bazaar flea market off of Interstate 30, the other a proposed bus depot—ended with numerous parties suing one another. In the bazaar case, Quintanilla wound up with a settlement of more than $1 million. A search under his name turns up five district court lawsuits in the past five years in which he was either plaintiff or defendant. In 2003, he sued the city of Dallas for $1 million, claiming officials killed a deal to turn the Bronco Bowl in Oak Cliff into a Mexican-style market because they didn't want a business catering to Hispanics. He ultimately dropped the lawsuit.

A year later, Quintanilla made headlines again when he complained that a routine $25,000 contract for production of a county brochure should have been awarded to a minority firm, and a shouting match between outgoing County Judge Margaret Keliher and County Commissioner John Wiley Price ensued. Several months later, he complained in news reports that police unfairly singled him out after a summer fiesta at a market he owned in Irving drew noise complaints from neighbors.

Carlos Quintanilla, the champion of in-your-face activism
Carlos Quintanilla, the champion of in-your-face activism

Quintanilla concedes that he can be combative, but he counters that he's achieved results."I think if you look at my life, I've done good," he says. "I'm proud of myself, my family's proud of me, and most of all my community is proud of me."

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