Photo by Shel Hershorn ATTENTIVE LISTENERSAt the rally several chicano youths listen closely as a speaker discusses the Del Rio situation. In the foreground is Salvador Rodriguez of El Paso. federal funds that support VISTA and MM workers. It is the position of Kashanski and the other VISTA-MM workers that involvement with MAYO is exactly the sort of work they should be doing. They contend MAYO is not a political organization but is dedicated to instilling pride among Mexican-Americans, an awareness of the wrongs that are aimed at them, and a determination to fight such injustices. The VISTA-MM people were to set up self-help projects in the barrios of Del Rio and spread the word about services available to residents from various government and private agencies. The federal workers are doing this to some good effect, it appears. But they conceive of their function in broader terms. Getting food packages to poor families is OK, one VISTA told the Observer, but far more important, he belives, is instilling self-awareness and self-pride in Del Rio’s poor, who for generations have humbled themselves. 4 April 11, 1969 THE SIMMERING unrest broke into public view in February, when the county commissioners formally requested the community action agency to discontinue the VISTA and MM programs. After a four and one-half hour meeting attended by some 700 persons the poverty war board decided to refuse the request. A while later the board fired one VISTA worker and two MMs. The three dismissed workers were Carmen Benavides of El Paso and Raul Sanchez and Aurelio Montemayor, both of Del Rio. The main complaint against them was involvement in MAYO activities, most specifically, a MAYO demonstration in January at the federal courthouse in Del Rio to protest a grand jury’s no-bill in a case in which a highway patrolman had been accused of beating a MexicanAmerican couple, Mr. and Mrs. Natividad Fuentes of Uvalde. In February the county commissioners, decided to send the county attorney, John Pettit, to Austin to brief himself on perti nent OEO regulations. The state VISTA office had questioned the dismissal of the three Del Rio workers, asking that the local poverty board provide more definite charges against the VISTA-MM people than “political activity,” and offer proof that the workers were involved in such activity. In early March Del Rio Rep. Hilary Doran arranged a meeting of four Del Rio residents and Governor Smith. Doran said he did so because of Del Rio people having trouble getting appointments with OEO people in Austin. Smith at this meeting said he could do nothing about the VISTAMM situation without action by local officials. ON MARCH 10, after Pettit had reported back to them, the county commissioners unanimously voted to request that Gov. Preston Smith terminate the VISTA-MM programs in Val Verde County. The commissioners asserted in a resolution that the county’s poor are being “exploited politically.” Pettit had conferred with Sthith during his visit to Austin. Later that week Smith announced he was complying with the commissioners’ request, pursuant to a statute passed by the Legislature in 1967 and a federal law. Smith said staffers in the two federal programs “were doing more harm than good.” He said he was “in no way condemning the overall VISTA program,” adding “Abdication of respect for law and order, disruption of the democratic process, and provocation of disunity among our citizens shall not be tolerated by this office.” It was not at first clear whether the governor is required to request termination of the programs or is just entitled to do so. At first it was Smith’s position that in the face of the commissioners’ request he is legally bound. The federal statute in question, the State-Federal Relations Act, is discretionary not mandatory, however, reading, “the governor of such state agency established for such purpose shall take whatever action . . . [he] deems necessary or appropriate to meet the needs of such city, county, school district, hospital district, or other political subdivision.” Galloway Calhoun, Smith’s legal advisor, said “I’m not in a position to say it is mandatory that the governor follow the recommendations of the commissioners’ court. From a practical matter he could not force the county commissioners to operate the programs.” In Austin OEO people have indicated that unless Smith or the commissioners change their minds the VISTA-MM programs are to be ended this month in Val Verde County. Those who opposed Smith’s action complained that the governor was acting without determining both sides of the question. “There were no riots, no arrests, no civil strife, here,” Calderon, the antipoverty chairman, said. “If the governor had had the decency to send someone here to talk to the poor people themselves or to personally make an investigation I would accept
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