Over 300 community leaders participated in the Town Hall Meeting
to give grass roots support to the idea of a Black/Hispanic Coaltion.
country and to change public opinion.
"The town meeting is not an exercise
in futility," Dellums emphatically stated
amidst loud applause.
Another member of the coalition subcommittee, U. S. Rep. John Conyers,
from Michigan said, "What we're doing
is every bit as significant as the Arab-
Israeli treaty signed earlier this year. It
ought to have the significance of a Camp
David summit-it is a multinational
event inside Black/Hispanic America."
Conyers emphasized the importance of
organizing from the bottom up, not the
top down. He asked each person in the
room to organize his/her community
into a grass roots effort to connect into
a nationwide network.
civil service time and are going to do
things as they have been doing them, regardless of what you and I do," Smith
said. "Nothing is going to change from
a statistical point of view."
The Reverend Henry Hudson, who
introduced himself as a "member of the
small group of Black preachers who don't
drive Cadillacs," emphasized that black
census takers were needed to interview
in black communities.
"The people are more likely to be
open with a black interviewer and to give
the information needed," Hudson said.
This idea was reinforced by A. Madde-
son from the School of Public Affairs at
Texas Southern University. Many of the
TSU students did not participate in the
"I have scars on my brain, my heart, and my
hands from working for our rights. If we get
together, we will no longer be a minority, we
will be a majority/' —Christia Adair
A specific solution to the lack of
political power felt by the two minorities
was offered by U.S. Rep. Bob Garcia, a
Puerto Rican from New York and chair
of the Census and Population Subcommittee in the House of Representatives.
"The Census determines how seats
are reapportioned and how political
power is distributed," Garcia said. "We
need to be counted and make sure our
voices are heard."
According to Garcia, more than eight
percent of blacks in America were
not counted in 1960, and the U.S. Census
does not even have an estimate of how
many Hispanics were not counted.
Garcia emphasized that in order for
minority communities to get their share
of Federal Revenue Sharing, they need to
be counted in the census.
"We are going to work our fool heads
off for you in the 1980 census," Garcia
said, "and we are calling on you,
members of the community, to help us
make sure that everyone is counted."
It was at this point that the town
meeting lived up to its name. People
lined up three deep at the available
microphones to respond to Garcia's
Chuck Smith, a member of the audience who identified himself as a two-
term member of the advisory committee
for the Bureau of Census, said the biggest
problem was the unit heads at the Census
'These individuals have yean of
1970 census because they were unsure
about what the information would be
used for, Maddeson said.
"Can the census guarantee confidentiality?" she asked.
Garcia responded by saying that the
penalty for giving out Census Bureau
information to any individual or agency
was a $5,000 fine and a five-year jail
When Garcia polled the audience to
see how many had not been counted in
the 1970 census, approximately 25 percent raised their hands.
"You are the leaders in your community," he said. "If you were not
counted, how many others must there
Dr. C. L. Washington pointed out that
the census is vital to Houston because
soon Houston will have single-member
districts. Minority participation will depend on the accuracy of the census, he
Reyes emphasized that the Hispanic
community needed enumerators who
spoke Spanish and "not textbook Spanish
either," and it was suggested that the
budget should be increased to hire
minorities to participate in the census.
But the people had other concerns to
air besides the 1980 census. As members
of the audience continued to line up at
the microphones, Leland decided to
abandon the agenda.
"Instead of following the program, let
us think about the reality of a black/
Hispanic organization," Leland said.
"Let's agree to disagree.
"We represent the worst treated
people in America's history. Those of us
on the steering committee represent an
idea of coalition unless you tell us *you're
stupid and you ain't got no business
messing around with those chicanos or
blacks,' Leland said as he opened the
meeting to discussion of the feasibility
of a political coalition.
When a question about what the Hispanic community proposes to do about illegal aliens was raised, Leonel Castillo,
head of U.S. Immigration, spoke on the
"You are probably going to continue
to see folks coming," he said.
Castillo explained that the border
patrol have a force approximately the size
of the Houston police force, but their
territory extends from Texas to California.
Castillo suggested that the U.S. government come to an agreement with the
sending countries about how many
people to allow and how to protect U.S.
workers' jobs. He also suggested a program to allow persons who have lived illegally in the United States for several
years and have not broken any laws to
"Both of these ideas require congressional action," he said.
"One of the things you see in my job
is that people are so hungry to come here
that they walk from Laredo to San
Antonio. We deport them-they walk
again. For years, I have had trouble getting people to walk one block from their
house to the polls," Castillo added wryly.
In recent weeks, there has been pressure from American citizens who are poor
asking for deportation of immigrants who
are destitute, Castillo said, adding that it
was one group of miserable people being
pitted against another group of miserable
Speaking in reference to the 1980
census, Castillo said that if the blacks and
Hispanics could get accurate numbers, including immigrants, they could get programs started to help.
One member of the audience, A.
Wiley, questioned the motives of the coalition. "Is this to be a coalition of control or participation?" he asked.
Wiley added that coalitions are noted
for creating patronage jobs, but a coalition to control would be a new kind of
"It should be a coalition that has no
permanent friends and no permanent
enemies, just permanent interests," Wiley
Leland said they were trying to get
beyond political patronage with this co
alition, and hopefully, beyond the confines of the Democratic party.
Several attendees asked how to organize a local grass roots effort to start
the nationwide network that the steering
Conyers suggested that the 300 members of the audience represented 300
organizations. "Each of you can start
with your own organizations," he said.
"Every church, sorority and civic group
should have a political action group,"
Conyers added. "If you have any influence, use it in your community."
Dellums suggested that everyone organize a dramatization of the effects
of budget cuts in their community.
"What programs were cut back? Who was
hurt? Children? Elderly people? Get the
press to cover it," he cajoled the audience.
The idea for the Black/Hispanic Democratic Coalition was born at the Memphis
Mid-Term Conference of the Democratic Party in December 1978.
According to Alfredo Duran, the coalition was conceptualized in "the middle
of the night" in a meeting between the
blacks and Hispanics at the convention
who felt they were not represented by
the Democratic party.
"We decided to form a coalition of
economically disadvantaged people to
become a strong force-part of the good
life of America," Duran said.
In January, the coalition met in Washington to discuss the course of action for
the future. At this meeting, the coalition agreed to conduct a series of regional
town haU meetings to determine the most
critical substantive problems facing the
two groups as well as to build support for
The Houston meeting was the first of
these regional gatherings. The enthusiastic
response to this first meeting suggests the
community leaders of the minority
groups in Houston are ready to form a
coalition that will give them greater
effectiveness in the political arena.
At the end of the meeting, Leland told
the exhausted but excited audience
that the results of other scheduled town
meetings will be compiled and sent to
House committees dealing with the problems discussed.
Other steering committee members
of the new coalition include U.S. Reps.
Shirley Chisolm of New York, Balatazar
Corrada of Puerto Rico, Walter Faun troy
of the District of Columbia, Colorado
State Rep. Polly Barragan, and Luis
Lauredo, president of the National
Coalition of Cuban Americans.
Shirley Kowitz is a freelance writer and a
reporter for the Fort Bend Mirror.