Frank Hernandez photo courtesy of the Hernandez family go?’ says Darrell Jordan, a lawyer with the Dallas trial firm Godwin Pappas Langley Ronquillo and a former president of both the Dallas and Texas bar associations, who has known Hernandez since their student days. “He always knew he wanted to be a civilrights lawyer and work for human rights.” Freshly graduated, in 1964 Hernandez traveled to New York City for a weeklong seminar on civil-rights law sponsored by the NAACP. Back in Texas, he began work on what would be the first in a series of modest legal proposals: integrating Dallas County grand juries. While filing a motion to quash the indictment of a murder suspect, Hernandez put the Dallas legal system itself on trial. According to a Dallas Morning News account, during the hearing Hernandez subpoenaed some 60 prominent Dallasites to testify whether they had ever seen a minority grand juror. Although his motion was denied and the case went to trial \(the Hernandez’s efforts later prompted several Dallas County judges to seek minority grand jurors. “That’s a big difference, you know, integrating the grand jury,” Hernandez says. “I bet Tom DeLay wishes he had had 10 Republicans on [his].” Hernandez has become both a political and legal fixture in the Dallas community and a thorn in its side. In 1969 he helped form the Commission on Mexican-American Affairsbetter known at the time as the “Dirty Dozen” a small group of prominent Hispanic businesspeople, doctors, and lawyers who used their status and contacts to change local policy through education, legal work, and a push for greater electoral representation. He helped found the Greater Dallas Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, in 1971, and the MexicanAmerican Bar Association of Dallas. He was a vice-president of MALDEF, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. His work with the League for Educational Advancement and the TriCounty Commission helped lead to the integration of the Dallas Independent School District’s board, and in 1975, Hernandez helped change Dallas’ system of City Council representation from nine at-large voting districts to a singlemember system. He says the change resulted in a more equitable political system for minorities and shook the “captains of industry” who made up the old, lily-white Dallas Citizens Council. In 1999 Hernandez decided that a film festival could help broaden the public’s view of Hispanic life, allowing the legal work he did in the 1960s and 1970s to resonate with Latinos as well as what he calls “majority” culture. Latino culture had changed, as had Latino film, and Hernandez figured people should know about it. “Back in the late ’60s and early ’70s, when Chicano and Latino cinema really started,” says University of Texas film professor Charles Ramirez-Berg, “it was part of a political movement to educate the country and also educate ourselves as to who we were and why we didn’t have to be ashamed of who we were and what our history was.” A professor in the university’s radiotelevision-film department and an expert on Latinos in film, Ramirez-Berg says changing demographics in the United States and improvements in Latinos’ social and political status have altered the role that films play in way Hispanics are perceived. “You could say that the movement succeeded to the point that after a while we didn’t have to tell ourselves that it’s OK to be Mexican-American,” he says. He says this shift in demographics and cultural awareness has resulted in a wider scope of themes and stories. “The films have changed [over the last 30 years],” he says. “They’re less hard-edged and ideological, and, as a consequence, they’ve opened up to a broader audience?’ Many of the films screened at Vistas bear witness to this shift. Maria Full of Grace, The Motorcycle Diaries, and El Crimen del Padre Amaro, the controversial drama about a wayward priestall crowd favorites at Vistastypify this trend away from ideologically driven films with clear messages toward more subtle productions with wider appeal. Their commercial and critical success here and abroad, Ramirez-Berg says, proves the growing aesthetic and cultural relevance of Latino films. Every year the festival’s curators aim to cast the widest possible net across the Latino cinema world: documentaries from Honduras and feature films from Costa Rica, comedies from Spain and tragedies from Puerto Rico, high dramas set in El Salvador during the civil war and bedroom farces set in the parlors and bedrooms of Argentinaall are welcome. According to the festival’s director of special events, Carmen Guzman, films selected represent the widest scope of Latino experience possible, “so we can make sure the Latin community is shown in its totality. “Frank is very committed to using film as a medium?” Guzman says, “as a vehicle to show the world that Latinos are totally different from what’s being depicted in the small roles they have in Hollywood”the gangsters, the maids, the migrant workers. For a veteran of the civil-rights battles of the 1960s like SEPTEMBER 8, 2006 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 27
You May Also Like
The Texas Rangers are tasked with investigating corruption and crimes by public officials. Those officials are rarely held accountable.