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Hispanic Power In the Panhandle By Louis Dubose Hereford TWO YEARS AGO, on January 24, county law officers here executed a stack of arrest warrants and brought in 72 suspected drug users identified by undercover agent Raul Sanchez. Most arrested were young, poor and Hispanic and after the first two of the defendants who elected to go to trial received 25 and 70 year respective sentences, others began to bargain, offering pleas of guilty in return for more lenient treatment. When the final case was adjudicated, Amarillo Globe-News reporter Jane Thrall calculated that together defendants had paid fines of more than $60,000 and were sentenced to a total of 659 years in prison. Chip Formby, news director at Hereford radio station KPAN, said the drug busts were “not right when they arrest 80 people and don’t even recover four pounds of marijuana and minute quantities of hard drugs.” Texas Civil Liberties Union Director Gara LaMarche described the proceedings as “sham trials.” And Amarillo attorney Selden Hale, who studied transcripts and then submitted a friendof-the-court brief at an appeals hearing, called them “political trials . . . Salem witch trials.” Hale said that those convicted were “for the most part small-time marijuana users.” Responding to criticism of the drug prosecutions, District Attorney Roland Saul cites failures of defendants’ appeals as proof of the validity of the charges and described the sweep that consummated nine-months of undercover work in the Hispanic community as “an excellent operation.” Hereford Mayor Wesley Fisher said that the drug bust proved that “drug use is not considered a misdemeanor in Hereford.” Yet because of what occurred here in January of 1986, many argue that political life in this hardbitten and windswept Panhandle town will never again be quite the same. Lines here have been drawn in the dirt and the 8,000 Hispanics who account for about 50 percent of Hereford’s population have stopped mourning and begun to organize. Concerned Citizens of Deaf Smith County began with a meeting of three, all family members of young men arrested in the 1986 drug bust. Irene Cantu’s husband had been sentenced to 30 years for delivery of .02 ounces of heroin. Bessie Mendoza’s husband is serving ten years for possession of marijuana. And Pete La Fuente’s 17-year-old son had received a ten-year probated sentence, and a $2,000 fine for possession of marijuana. The group first met, after court proceedings were concluded, at La Fuente’s house. “We knew we couldn’t do anything to change the outcomes of the trials,” La Fuente, who owns a local bookkeeping service, said. “But we thought that we had to have some kind of political organizing to change things for Hispanics here.” The citizens’ group has outgrown its singleissue focus and 30 to 35 dues-paying members now draw from 80 to 150 local citizens at monthly issues forums. At the top of a growing agenda that now includes such issues as bilingual education, the Hispanic dropout rate, parks and recreation, and the standard curband-gutter civic questions is a two-word imperative by which many remember Chicano activist Jose Angel Gutierrez: seize power. “What we realized,” La Fuente said, “is that things will not get better for Hispanics as long as Hereford is run by the growers, the country club and the courthouse. Hispanics have been kept out of power and some of it is their own fault. Hispanics here don’t want to get in on the ground floor and work their way up.” y ET THE GROUND FLOOR is precisely where most Mexican Americans in Hereford remain. Unlike El Paso, Laredo, or the towns of the Lower Rio Grande Valley, in Hereford there is no indigenous Hispanic aristocracy, no professional class, no power brokers. And though the New Mexico state line is only 60 miles to the west, there are no links to the old Hispanos of that state. Most Mexican Americans in Hereford trace their origins to the migrant farmworkers who since the 1940s have provided growers here with a conveniently elastic supply of labor. And people settling out of the “migrant stream” is a trend that is likely to continue, according to Herb de la Rosa of the Hereford office of the Texas Employment Commission. De la Rosa, who works with migrants, said that the local Hispanic population will continue to grow as agriculture becomes more mechanized. The new population, he suggested, is not inclined toward political participation. “It’s going to take a lot of political education,” de la Rosa said. The migrant labor pool is the only class of Mexicans that ranchers and growers who govern here have come to know firsthand. There are few real avenues of communication and no mechanisms for the sharing or transfer of political power. A more accurate model of the dynamic of ethnic relationships here will be found in deep East Texas where blacks live in complete segregation in neighborhoods that to this day are called “the quarters” or the “colored quarters.” Other writers have not been so kind in their description of ethnic and class division in Hereford. “South Africa” and “a boil on the Panhandle,” Molly Ivins wrote in her column in the Dallas Times Herald. And “South Africa in Hereford” was the headline of a one-page essay that Gara LaMarche wrote for the Civil Liberties Union Reporter. The school mascot here is the Whiteface and haircuts are $6.00 at the Whiteface Barbershop on Third Street. The world’s largest concentration of feeding cattle fatten on local grain in feedlots strung along State Highway 60: Jack Brand of the Griffin & Brand transnational produce company maintains a home and office here and Mayor Wes Fisher owns one of the region’s largest onion and potato sheds. Hereford is a growers’ and ranchers’ town. And the growers and ranchers who have held political power here are not inclined to turn it over readily to the hired help. Growers’ fights with Texas Rural Legal Aid attorneys, who set up an office in Hereford in 1978, are the stuff of legend. Lawyers for the TRLA, a federally-funded branch of the Legal Services Corporation, do most of their work on behalf of farmworkers, usually -filing against growers and shed owners for minimum wage violations. Inside Legal Aid’s Hereford office is a collection of grapefruit-sized rocks thrown though the windows before heavy wire mesh was bolted in place to protect the workers and property. One former sheriff promised “a one-man-war” against TRLA and for a while delivered. And according to TRLA attorney Steve McIntyre, lawyers are still run off the road by hostile drivers and there are still threats by telephone. McIntyre also said that one TRLA lawyer was recently threatened at gunpoint and a paralegal was chased from a labor camp by a contractor swinging a chain. Labor contractors, who are pressed to bring in field and shed help at bottom-dollar wages, often serve as point men for the growers; it is the contractors who most frequently position themselves between migrant farmworkers and the attorneys sent in by the federal government to serve them. And though elected officials are no longer so vitriolic in their public attacks against Legal Services attorneys, the relationship between TRLA and local government remains at best adversarial. Several years ago, Legal Aid attorneys won a wage settlement 10 JANUARY 15, 1988