Page 23


Irene Cantu and family Silvana Juarez tive.” Juarez has been a quiet member of the commission, thus far devoting much of her time to constituent service and learning the workings of city government. According to Stravato, even members of the Hereford Hispanic community might be underestimating Juarez. Stravato described the campaign that Juarez organized, with the help of her family and Concerned Citizens, as very efficient. “And Silvana’s mother is a real force in the community, a real Jefe,” Stravato said. According to Stravato, the election of a single commission member was itself a considerable achievement. “The city,” she said, “made it as difficult as possible to vote.” Stravato described a city election in which voters were required to vote on a local sales tax referendum at precincts, then in another central location cast votes for mayor, district and at-large city commission members, and school board trustees. “And,” Stravato said, “at the central polling place each voter had to enter and exit three separate times to complete their voting. And many of the Hispanics were voting for the first time.” Stravato said that Richard Martinez of the Southwest Voter Registration Project had much to do with the Juarez victory and laid the groundwork for future electoral success. “Until I got involved out there,” Stravato said, “I never really understood the concept of empowerment. What Martinez taught me is that without a history of belonging to some type of organization, people don’t know how to use power. And in Hereford, power is new to them. Stravato said that the new political leaders in Hereford now have the confidence to question. “In December of 1986,” she said, “everyone was shy, with heads and shoulders down. But a lot has changed in a year. A real sense of local leadership has developed..” Perhaps the most attractive and articulate leader to emerge from the political whirlwind is 31-year-old Irene Cantu. Cantu became a convert to political activism when her husband was sentenced to 30 years for the sale of .02 ounces of heroin to undercover agent Chavez. She criticized the harshness of the sentence because her husband had agreed to a voluntary commitment for treatment soon after he was arrested. “He was indicted five days after he left the Vernon State Hospital,” Cantu said. “He was seeking help; he was an addict. I’m not saying that what he did was right. I know that he was wrong. But what they did was not just and it didn’t solve the drug problem in Hereford. “When that happened, I was so filled with hate, all I wanted was revenge. They said it was a cleanup of the community, then busted only people from the poorest areas of town. I. think that the other side of town might need c _leaning up too,” Cantu argued. Cantu has been an important spokesperson for the citizen’s group and many here consider a television interview that she did with Amarillo NBC affiliate news reporter Sue Speck as a turning point in the public’s perception of what happened in Hereford two years ago. Texas Civil Liberties Union Director Gara LaMarche, who metwith Cantu at an early Concerned Citizens meeting, described her as “very impressive, a persuasive speaker who is obviously very bright.” But Cantu said that she is not interested in political office. “I don’t think it would work. Too many ‘people here would think that my motive is revenge. But that’s not it. That’s all behind us,” Cantu said. Her motive, she insists, the motive that she shares with other members of the citizens’ group, is to get a fair number of Hispanics elected to local political offices. Cantu is even talking of looking for a candidate to challenge Joe Brown, the county sheriff who Cantu says claims to be a Hispanic. Brown, she insists, is responsible for much of the selective law enforcement directed at the Hispanic community. Selective law enforcement has become a tactic by which elected officials seem to be attacking the leadership of Concerned Citizens. District Attorney Saul has refused to permit the husband of Bessie Mendoza to return on parole to Deaf Smith County. According to Stravato, Saul has made it known that those who were tried will not be allowed to return when paroled. Included in that group is Irene Cantu’s husband, Eddie. And Cantu has suggested that she might have to leave Hereford in order to be reunited with her husband who could be paroled within the next two years. Bessie Mendoza has already left. Stravato, who had to return to her job as an Assistant Controller in Austin, said she hopes that the group in Hereford continues to get some outside help. “They are,” she said, “so close. But it’s so isolated . . . and something is very wrong out there.” Many credit Stravato, for much of the group’s success. “She’s like a patron saint,” LaMarche said. “She was out there almost every day for a year.” Stravato Was living in Amarillo where she was president of the High Plains civil liberties chapter. No one here is talking of a takeover. At least not yet. But in this. High Plains county of 21,000 the political landscape is changing. Novitiate Hispanic political activists lack a single dominant charismatic leader like Jose Angel Gutierrez who led the electoral takeover of Crystal City 14 years ago. And without tested political machinery, they will make mistakes, as they did when they ran a pair of Hispanic candidates against one Anglo in last years’ city commission election. But court decisions, demographics and that odd intangible . that an ebullient George Bush once described as the “Big Mo” seem to be on their side. What the Anglo political establishment did here two years ago might have been more than the injustice that local Hispanics have claimed. The drug raids that have focused national attention on this small Texas town might also serve to hasten the end of an old and paternal system of government. “God willing,” Cantu said, “something good will come out of this.” 12 JANUARY 15, 1988