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A Vigil for the Esperanza Center ESp era!, za Center . AFTERWORD Huevos by the Case BY BARBARA RENAUD GONZALEZ rr he Esperanza Center for Peace and Justice is a place of hope for all those who’ve never worn a cowboy hat in their lives. Or wanted to. But that takes courage and huevos. The Center, which has both, sued the city of San Antonio last year, and is now waiting for a federal judge to decide whether the City Council discriminated against Esperanza in discontinuing its funding during an arts budget rollback in 1997. City Hall observers predict that Esperanza will winbut also that the city will appeal the ruling at the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. “They’ [the city] have an unlimited legal budget,” says San Antonio Express-News columnist Carlos Guerra, “and they will cut off their nose to spite their face.” “Gente clecente they’re not,” says writer and proud Esperanzista Sandra Cisneros, explaining why the Center is fighting back. “They don’t believe in being the stereotypical good folk who are polite, decent, and say ‘thank you’ for scraps.” San Antonio native and Yale graduate Graciela Sanchez heads the 13-year-old center, and sees it as hewing to “the great tradition of Latin America, where art is not seen as separate from politics.” Housed within a nondescript beige brick building on San Pedro Street \(whose interior is as alive with center sponsors pottery workshops and film festivals. But Esperanzistas also attend City Hall meetings and speak out on issues affecting women, gays and lesbians, immigrants, and the community as a whole. Sanchez’s determination to confront her home town’s storybook melting-pot self-image, its Catholic fanaticism and its military conservatism, has earned her a dozen homophobic cartoons in the city’s newspaper, racist attacks, death threats, and even a night in jail Back in the summer of 1997, Esperanza was the only arts and cultural organization that lost all of its city fundingafter a protracted homophobic campaign by antiabortion and anti-gay activists targeted the Center as controversial and obscene. Although the vanguard organization had received the highest possible ranking from a peer review panel, the Council voted unanimously to discontinue funding after a latenight, non-public meeting at City Hall, during which members played musical chairs to prevent the appearance of a quorum. Immediately after the City Council decision, Amy Kastely, who would serve as Esperanza’s lead attorney, began recruiting other San Antonio women lawyers to assist in a First Amendment lawsuit. None of them, including Kastely, was a specialist in constitutional law. The lawyers spent three years preparing the case, mostly at night and on weekends. Meanwhile, the Center never let up. In the first year alone after the lawsuit was filed, the center staged 24 events, including “Out at the Movies,” a lesbian and gay film festival that was at the center of the right wing’s attacks in the furious summer of 1997, a serieS of panels, plays, pldticas, dances, readings, a tour of the city’s poor and rich 22 THE TEXAS OBSERVER JANUARY 19, 2001 4