Summary of First Forum on Hispanic Heritage Month

Vinson Branch – Houston Public Library

September 23, 2000

2:00 – 4:00 PM



This meeting is the first meeting to provide a forum to the community as a whole to discuss the phenomenon of the growth and importance of our Hispanic population in neighborhoods.

Who would be interested in this topic and why? Our community is a diverse mixture of a majority of African-American households, with a large Hispanic population, and a smaller Anglo and Asian mix. So who in this Community should investigate this topic?

  1. Educators – No group is feeling the stress of coping with our Hispanic population and their children more than our elementary school teachers. Our administrators are coping with the demand of a rapid increase of Hispanic children who may require bilingual teachers and special materials. It is very important for these educators to study this topic so they will discover how immigrant Hispanic families are their greatest natural allies, and how to turn this potential partnership into a real and productive relationship.
  2. Business men/women – If you are going to grow your business at all in the future, you will likely need to learn about the fastest growing sector in our community. Most government projections say that Hispanics will become the clear majority of consumers in Texas by 2025, or sooner. If you sell real estate, for example, you should know that most of your first time buyers are going to be Hispanic families.
  3. Civic groups/PTA groups, etc. – For the reason just mentioned, you will need to understand Hispanics as they will become more and more a vital part of your future. If your organization is seen as irrelevant to their interests, this will be a large opportunity missed. More importantly, how long do you think organizations who do not understand the fastest growing sector in our community will remain relevant to schools where 50-60% of the children are Hispanic?
  4. Politicians – It is clear that our policy makers will need to strive to understand the needs of the fastest growing sector of potential voters. It is interesting that at this moment if two minority groups could identify common ground that they could vote 2 member of city council out of power right now. Also, it would seem obvious that there will emerge those leaders who will understand this potential and organize their vote.
  5. Neighbors – All of us. If we want harmony and understanding for all our families, and do not want to lose ground to crime, delinquency, and bad influences in our neighborhoods we need to work together to identify the common goals we all share. Good news is Hispanics are definitely pro-family and very stable members of society. They are also the type of people who take pride in their homes and constantly fix them up. In short they are they kind of neighbors who will raise property values and add stability to the area.
  6. Hispanic Community – Yes, we need to understand ourselves and our potential, so that we can set a path for our children and our future. It is not only the responsibility of the community to understand Hispanics, but it is also important for the Hispanic community to work together and learn about the opportunities in our area. To not take some initiative means that our children will be alone in their effort to understand a new culture and to make adult decisions.

Speaker: Benny Martinez, life-long member of LULAC, President of the Tejano Association for Historical Preservation, and Hispanic advocate in Houston, Texas. Mr. Martinez grew up in a large, Mexican-American family. Attended a segregated Mexican-American school, and served his country along with his seven brothers. Mr. Martinez has with him an impressive collection of prints marking the history and heritage of LULAC.

LULAC (League of United Latin American Citizens) first met as an organized body in 1929 and elected Mr. Ben Garza as chairperson. The official mission of LULAC is "to advance the economic condition, educational attainment, political influence, health and civil rights of the Hispanic population of the United States." It was clearly important to get organized because at that time and into the twentieth century Mexican-Americans were discriminated against as voters and were not allowed to vote. Mexican-Americans were placed in schools that had inferior resources under the policy of separate but equal. These facilities were in no way equal to white schools. Mexican-Americans have also long been paid lower wages than white workers have. Mexican-Americans have also suffered outrageous hatred and personal attacks from mainly whites. Sadly even some police have failed to defend the rights of Hispanics when they knew of such attacks. LULAC has long fought for the rights of all Hispanics in the face of such discrimination. LULAC formed organizations to help Hispanics learn more about their rights, and to utilize opportunities for education. MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) is the legal arm of the Hispanic community in LULAC. LULAC today is fighting to get amnesty class applications approved to full legal status so that families here legally will have the full rights of being a United States. What I want to tell you today is that you must educate yourself about your rights, and file for your documentation. If you need help you should contact LULAC. If you do not seek your rights as a citizen you will be discriminated against, extorted, raped, and taken advantage (legally and illegally), because you have not embraced your full rights. Please let me know how I can help you, and utilize your library to find out more about these most precious and important rights. Many Hispanics while denied the vote were proud to go off to war, and even died fighting for those rights. Here are the pictures of some of those heroes, let us respect their vision and courage, and defend the opportunities for our children by learning more about what we can do to make sure our families future is as promising as it can be. Thank you.

Speaker: Leonel Castillo, Mayor’s Liaison for Education, and advocate for full educational opportunities for all children to a quality education in our public schools.

Welcome today to everyone. Today I want to share with you some remarkable information that you may not know about your language, and my language – Spanish. Our culture is a very fascinating trail of civilizations, explorations, and always the expansion of our tongue to various parts of the world. Your language is truly a cosmopolitan language, the tongue of many nations. Early trade often went through Spain (Gibraltar) into the Mediterranean, and further south to Africa and beyond. The merchants who sent these ships had to communicate to make the journey safe and sale of their products profitable, so they shared the languages of their motherlands. Spanish early on was spread to the New World of the Americas with the Conquistadors, but also to the far parts of Asia. Japan was a closed nation for very long, but Spanish was received by the Japanese royalty and became part of the Japanese language. Words like Toyota were devised as a mixture of Japanese and Spanish. Many more words are used like this today, and most of us have little idea that our language was such an important part of the history of the world. You can find many influences of cultures like Arabic who use Spanish influences all the time. The Arabic alphabet and Spanish alphabet are very similar. This is because throughout history the cultures have shared trade and commerce for hundreds of years. Clearly Spanish is spoken throughout much of the world, virtually all of South America and Central America. The ability of our language to find it’s way into so many cultures without a doubt make Spanish one of the truly cosmopolitan or world languages. We should be proud of our rich heritage of our language, especially as now the United States begins to realize how important our language is going to become for their future as well. You are an important part of that future. You and your children are now ambassadors of that language to yet another culture. Some things never change.

Speaker: Bala Balachandra, representative from the Long Range Planning department for the City of Houston. Mr. Balachandra is an expert at understanding the trends in population at various levels.

The Hispanic population is becoming a large and important part of our nation, state and certainly our community. At the national level most census projections tell us that Hispanics as a group will become the largest minority group in the United States by 2030 at the latest. Current birth rates are significantly higher than the national average. At the state level Hispanics are now the largest sector of the population in various parts of the state, including large cities like El Paso and San Antonio. The population has tended to focus in the southern tail of the state (the valley), but has begun to move into larger urban areas with more speed (like Houston). There have been several studies of the impact of Hispanic growth on Houston including Stephen Klineberg’s study of Ethnic Population. In this study he outlines that attitudes toward Hispanics is generally favorable at this time. He repeats this survey by calling thousands of households of a cross section of the population of Houston. One indicator of the dynamic of growth especially of the young population is in the schools. Houston Independent School District now has enrollment of over 50% Hispanic citywide. The various parts of Houston show uneven distribution of the Hispanic population with the traditional areas of settlement in the northern and eastern parts of the city. More recently the Southwest and West parts of the city have seen the most dramatic growth. In this community we can appreciate the growth of Hispanic population by once again looking at our schools. A chart of the enrollment of the elementary schools based on enrollment figures shows us that all schools are showing 50% and even some cases of 60% Hispanic children enrollment. Equally noteworthy is the speed that this change has happened. Even five years ago the Hispanic population was still in the 20-30% range. It has in some cases doubled within five years. The impact of the Hispanic population growth has been dramatic and in some ways like a tidal wave. It shows no indication of reversing, based on data. With the very young age of the Hispanic population it likely points to a dramatic increase in adult population in this community within the next 10-15 years.

Speaker: Lon LeMaster, branch manager of the Vinson Branch of the Houston Public Library. Mr. LeMaster is working with the Hispanic community to offer free library services to the entire community and to improve services to the Hispanic community.

Hispanics are a diverse population from counties ranging from Mexico to Spain itself. Virtually all the countries of Central and South America are represented to various degrees in our community. Native Mexicans are still the largest part of this population. Much is not understood about Hispanics due to stereotypes and lack of experience. First and foremost Hispanics are based on the complete dedication to the family. When we say family it is often an extended family. There is a tremendous sense of duty and respect within the Hispanic family. The parents are the decision-makers within the family, but the grandparents hold a position of clear honor. The children are often demure, and hesitant to act out on their own. Mothers are the lifeline of the entire family, working closely to coordinate the family while the father is the provider. Hispanic fathers are very faithful, and rates of divorce especially among immigrant Hispanic families are many times lower than the general public. If you go among the homes of Hispanic families you will always see the fathers working on some improvement, painting the house, working on the car. Hispanic fathers usually speak Spanish, and leave much of the child rearing to the mothers. This is also a form of clear respect and division of responsibility. Finally Hispanics highly respect education. The reason why most Hispanics come to the United States and leave their home is because they want better for their children. The living standard in Mexico is nowhere near what it is here. Hispanic immigrant families absolutely demand their children to obey and do well in school. In many ways Hispanic families are not perceived to be assertive. Warning: Hispanic mothers absolutely will demand that their children go to school and learn! While the parents may not speak English, the children learn very fast, and often test out of grades, because they may have had a good education before coming here. It may seem especially frustrating for our educators for the inclination is for Hispanic families to just hand over the formal education of their children to schools and not to participate in school programs. This is often misunderstood. To the Hispanic family it is an act of respect for educators, who they hold in high esteem, to leave the educators to do their job and not meddle. Harmony and balance in the Hispanic family survives because all members know their place and do not try to tell the others what to do. In this way the Hispanic family is being respectful, not disinterested.


I want to thank all the speakers who came here today and shared their knowledge with us. I hope that it provokes to seek out more understanding of our own future relationships with the Hispanic community. From the visionary past and present of LULAC we see some of the hope for obtaining our rights to become more meaningful and fully vested members of society, we see how our language has been so richly preserved throughout the world and how it continues to grow in influence to this day. We see how the growth of the Hispanic population is beyond denial and shows all sign of expanding even more, and at this time already clearly commands the attention of our schools. Finally we see the opportunities that the Hispanic family presents to us as a community if we are ready and willing to build relationships that will last.

It is clear that in the near future our Hispanic population is going to increase its power through education and experience. Local organizations and businesses that strive to embrace this population will far outgrow those that don’t. Whole new groups that "get it" will crop up and quickly outstrip those who don’t.

At this time we as a community still have time to study this opportunity, and identify the means to communicate and help make the transition of our area a constructive and meaningful one. We ought to identify the major advantages that Hispanic families present to us:

  1. Focus on family, stability, and harmony
  2. Ethic of hard work and support for education
  3. Important partnerships, including the future power of the Hispanic vote

Thank all of you for being a valuable part of this discussion on a most important part of our present and unquestionably a significant part of our future. Welcome to our community – bienvenidos amigos.