By Al Kauffman, For the Express-News : November 21, 2013 : Updated: November 22, 2013 5:02pm
San Antonio, distinctively Latino for all of its history, is naturally distinctive in another respect: as birthplace and incubator for scores of state, national and internationally renowned Latino organizations.
Univision, recently in the news because of controversy over the demise of its original building in San Antonio, is one of many of these. Let's take a look at some, starting with the organization that was in on the ground floor of the boom that has become Spanish-language broadcasting.
Univision developed from KCOR radio in 1946 and KCOR television in 1955 in San Antonio, the first Spanish-language stations in United States history. English language radio and TV stations ignored the Spanish-speaking populations and resisted their development.
However, Raul Cortez and, later, Emilio Nicolas Sr. persevered and built what has become one of the largest media systems in the world.
Nielsen ratings did not include Univision until 2005, and now Univision is the leader in many time slots. The network is best known in San Antonio for its great local talk shows and interviews, exposing the community's leaders and ideas to the broader population.
That original building was not just walls and fixtures; it was a memory of struggle and redemption.
Following this model, the 1965-1975 decade was one of incredible energy and creation in the Mexican-American community, leading to a slew of now-familiar acronyms. Among them: MALDEF, MAUC, MACC, IDRA, SWVRP, COPS and AVANCE (advance, in Spanish).
These community, educational and legal organizations were followed the next decade by the arts organizations, the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center and the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center. Each of these organizations deserves a book to explore its development and impact, but a very short description is still important to help us understand San Antonio and some of its recent struggles.
The Mexican American Unity Council (MAUC) began as an effort by Willie Velásquez to promote respect for Mexican-American students and culture and the Spanish language. It developed into an engine of economic development and an advocate for low-income housing. It was the first affiliate and model of a national organization that became the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), the largest Latino-focused organization in the country, now headquartered in Washington, D.C.
Velásquez then developed the Southwest Voter Registration Project (SWVRP) in 1974 and San Antonio is still the center of its efforts to increase Latino voter registration and participation and to hold Latino elected officials accountable.
Pete Tijerina, Greg Luna and others started the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) in San Antonio. MALDEF began representing the Mexican-American community in courts in 1968. MALDEF is now the most effective and respected law firm for Latinos in the United States, with an incredibly large and diverse set of cases and U.S. Supreme Court wins to its credit. MALDEF's greatest victories involve confronting Texas' long history of discrimination against Latinos in voting, education and immigrants' rights.
San Antonio also led the country in educating the religious community about the Mexican-American community. Bishop Patricio Flores (the first Mexican-American bishop, and later the first Mexican-American archbishop) and Father Virgilio Elizondo, working with nuns and priests, developed the Mexican American Cultural Center (MACC) in San Antonio in 1972 to share Mexican-American culture and language with church officials who had little knowledge or understanding of the communities they served.
San Antonio is also the birthplace and home of the Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA). Dr. José Cárdenas, former superintendent of the famous Edgewood School district, began IDRA in 1973 to study and describe the insidious barriers to equal educational opportunity faced by Mexican-American children. IDRA is now the leading national organization focusing on the education of Latino, low-income and minority children.
IDRA has been the national leader in studies and advocacy around school finance, bilingual education, early childhood education and school retention. It has even replicated some of its programs in Brazil.
AVANCE began in both San Antonio and Dallas in 1972-73; however, the organization was developed into a national force and leader in family education by Dr. Gloria Rodriquez from San Antonio. AVANCE has chapters and affiliates all over the United States and focuses on the importance of educating parents and their children about the importance of parental involvement and the nurturing of their children's development and language skills.
Communities Organized for Public Service (COPS) was the first Industrial Areas Foundation affiliate in Texas and led to the formation of similar groups in other parts of San Antonio, the Rio Grande Valley, Houston and Dallas/Fort Worth. Ernesto Cortez — like Willie Velásquez and Henry Cisneros, a Central Catholic High School graduate — was the first organizer for COPS and still leads its statewide and national efforts.
COPS and its sister groups have had major impacts on funding of projects in Latino and low-income neighborhoods, education initiatives and issues of school finance and school reform. It began with parishes on San Antonio's West Side and has focused on learning the community's needs before setting any agenda. It now has both state and national impact and respect.
Latino arts and culture were long neglected in San Antonio. The Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center (GCAC) was created in San Antonio in 1983 to confront this neglect. GCAC has developed and maintains nationally and internationally acclaimed programs in Latino arts in music, film, dance, visual arts and multicultural programming. While GCAC has had to struggle to fund its activities with a combination of national funds and grants and city support, it has preserved a set of historic buildings on San Antonio's West Side, long the poorest part of our city.
Graciela Sanchez was the lead organizer of the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center in San Antonio in 1987. The Esperanza Center combines its activism to obtain civil rights and economic justice for all with Latino arts programming and advocacy for the LGBT community. Esperanza had to go to court to gets its city funding back after San Antonio ignored its arts advisory committee and cut off funding because of Esperanza's nationally respected advocacy activities.
In 1974, in my first month as an attorney at MALDEF, I worked with Willie Velásquez on voting cases, Dr. José Cárdenas on bilingual education, Dr. Charles Cotrell on voting rights and wondered why so many Mexican-Americans walked around with big COPS buttons. Later, MALDEF gave me the opportunity to work with representatives of all the rest of the organizations discussed here.
I have no doubt I left out many other important Mexican-American organizations formed in the crucible of San Antonio and Texas history. I offer my apologies to those other organizations and their leaders; however, I know they join me in celebrating the city's pre-eminent role in efforts to improve our city, state and country by addressing the barriers erected.
Al Kauffman is a professor of law at St. Mary's University.