City of ignorance

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Their chants of "Gon-za-lez! Gon-za-lez!" caught on inside the auditorium, prompting a cacophonous soup of foot-stomping, chair-banging, hand-clapping, and children's squeals.

It was hard not to get swept up in the pro-Gonzalez sentiment--hard to push away feelings of sympathy for a superintendent who had so clearly won this crowd's unreserved, heartfelt support.

It was actually a relief to see Hispanics finally flexing some muscle in the district--an entirely appropriate and necessary phenomenon, seeing as how 45 percent of the district's kids are Latino. Quite frankly, anything that draws the spotlight away from the increasingly irrelevant, morally clapped-out John Wiley Price can only be a positive development for DISD.

But I also fear the demands of a community whose leaders seem blinded to their beloved superintendent's flaws and missteps.

Because the truth is that Yvonne Gonzalez is not worthy of anybody's support.

When the board of trustees emerged at 1 a.m. to convey their decision not to accept Gonzalez's resignation--with the three black board members casting dissenting votes--I figured the stage was set for a dangerous misunderstanding.

After all, this city prefers ignorance to information. We view people as living emblems of race or ethnicity, not as individuals. We cannot conceive of the three black trustees as individuals with distinct views and visions and capacities for judgment. Instead, they are seen as a single bloc with a single motivation--race. Their race.

I know now why black trustee Ron Price was discouraged enough to consider resigning from the position he'd only held since May. Though he announced this week that he'd hang in there after all, he might have come to a different conclusion if he'd sat and read several of Dallas' Spanish-language newspapers.

As trustee Yvonne Ewell said to me this week, "The discourse is at a very low level."

Yes it is. Gonzalez's sudden demise was explained this way in El Heraldo News on September 19--in a story, translated here into English, headlined "Espontanea manifestacion en favor de Gonzalez": "The [Gonzalez] investigations resulted in accusations against primarily African-Americans; therefore, African-American leaders John Wiley Price, Lee Alcorn of the NAACP, Robert Williams of the New Black Panther Party, and the three African-American trustees--Hollys [sic] Brashear, Yvonne Ewell, and Ron Price--began an aggressive criticism campaign and demonstrations against Dr. Yvonne Gonzalez. This resulted in an uncontrollable situation."

I read that particular snippet to Ron Price, a former DISD youth worker. "That's an outright lie!" he snapped back.

The more diplomatic Ewell--a 10-year board veteran who worked 30 years as an educator in DISD, rising to the post of associate superintendent--wasn't too pleased about being lumped together with black militants Alcorn and Price. Although she had voted against Gonzalez's appointment as superintendent, she and the other black trustees deny any role in an "aggressive criticism campaign" against her.

Sadly, these racial misperceptions are echoed in other Spanish-language papers. Said El Extra in its September 18 lead news story, "Renuncio Yvonne Gonzalez": "After the resignation of Gonzalez, board member Ron Price said that this was not a racial question--that it is not a battle of the races. However, history shows that since Dr. Yvonne Gonzalez took office, there have been constant allegations from the African-American DISD board members against her..."

What allegations? Ewell asked me. "I didn't do anything but support Yvonne Gonzalez, publicly and privately," she said. "I try as hard as I can to keep my moral antennae straight--it's very easy to get confused. But why would I want the first woman and the first Hispanic superintendent to fail?"

Harden also gets tossed in with the district cranks in the September 19 issue of La Voz, which quotes a Hispanic activist as follows: "We are all here to protest and support Dr. Gonzalez, but we have made no attack against black leaders, who are the cause of these problems--mainly [Matthew] Harden. Where I come from (Mexico), people never do this, and if he has the capacity to do this, it is because he is a cobarde"--a coward.

(To its credit, Dallas' oldest Spanish-language newspaper, El Sol de Texas, printed a brief--but much more even-handed and factual--account of Gonzalez's resignation in its September 18 edition.)

"All of this stuff seems so ill-conceived," Ewell commented. "It's all race, race, race. And race is a part of it--just because blacks and Hispanics are involved. But people seem to see everything through that glass darkly."

The worst part of the Gonzalez debacle is the realization that we can't expect those familiar racial tensions to subside any time soon. There are at least two things playing havoc with the truth here: the poor quality of the "news" that's being circulated as fact in Dallas' Latino communities, and the romantic view of Yvonne Gonzalez as the personification of an entire culture.

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Julie Lyons
Contact: Julie Lyons