Ol’ Yogi had it right…
It’s déjà vu all over again. Forty-three (43) years apart, Tucson’s west side fought the same battle with the same folks—a Democratic Mayor and Council—over basically the same issue and beat them.
In 1970 a Democratic Mayor and City Council promised the people of working-class Chicano Barrios Hollywood and El Rio in Tucson’s Ward One a neighborhood center and a park in a portion of the El Rio Municipal Golf Course. The politicos broke their promise, giving rise to the “El Rio for the People” movement led by the El Rio Coalition, which gained support from throughout the community. Over many months entire families marched and picketed in the summer heat. We were beaten and arrested. But we won—the City built El Rio Neighborhood Center and Joaquín Murrieta Park.
El Rio for the People was a defining moment in the political evolution of Tucson’s Mexican American community who declared that no longer would we tolerate lies and broken promises from politicians who only came around at election time. I’m from Barrio Hollywood and am proud to have played a leadership role in that struggle.
El Rio for the People changed Tucson’s politics. Ward One is predominantly Mexican American and Democratic. But as of 1970 no Mexican American or Democrat had been elected to the City Council from Ward One. In 1971 we changed that by electing a Latino Democrat and then three others over the next few decades. Significantly, they were all local people who hired local staff. They respected the activist history of the west side, which in a very real sense opened the doors for them to be elected.
Things changed when an outsider to Tucson was elected from Ward One and who then imported outsiders as staff. To the outsiders, the west side’s political activism was a nuisance. El Rio, with its powerful historical memory and symbolic value—just driving by the El Rio Golf Course, where many of the 1970 battles were fought, and El Rio Neighborhood Center, the product of the 1970 struggle, evokes a strong sense of pride—came to represent a political threat to them.
So the outsiders began a two-pronged lying campaign. The first was to falsely portray El Rio as a money loser. For example: water is the biggest cost in operating a golf course. The city charges El Rio top dollar for water while another municipal golf course to which El Rio is compared gets free water. In this comparison, El Rio comes off as being in the red. The other prong was to hold public hearings and promise the west side that they, the politicos, were out “to save El Rio.”
Secretly, the Democratic City Council majority, led by the Ward One Councilmember, and the Democratic Mayor were meeting with the Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities, Inc., a 1% outfit that charges $25,000 to join and $50,000 to be on its board and whose members, according to TREO’s CEO, “…are in New York all the time, you know, living the lives that none of us do.” TREO and the politicos decided to sell El Rio to a for-profit college, and all the while the politicos kept up the charade of intending to “save El Rio.”
Figuring to divide us into camps of “golfers” vs. “neighborhood people,” the Ward One folks recruited someone to attack El Rio golfers on the basis that “golf is a rich man’s sport.” Being outsiders, they don’t know that its golf culture makes Barrio Hollywood unique. Before the City bought it and made it a municipal facility, El Rio was a private Country Club. Virtually every young man from Hollywood grew up caddying at El Rio during the 1950s and early 1960s. Because caddies were allowed to play golf at El Rio on Mondays, a large percentage of them became and are still golfers (as are their children and grandchildren). [I was an El Rio caddy but never took up the game.]
Thus, on the west side, “golfers” and “neighborhood people” are the same people. The Latin-American Golf Association (LAGA) and the Mexican American Golf Association (MAGA) are based at El Rio. Many El Rio golfers grew up or live in Barrio Hollywood. Some marched, as kids, with the El Rio Coalition in 1970. Barrio Hollywood’s Cocio-Estrada American Legion Post hosts tournaments at El Rio. The El Rio Women’s Golf Assn. members are neither men nor rich nor are the children in El Rio’s First Tee program. Trini Alvarez, from Barrio Hollywood, was the golf pro at El Rio for many years. When he died the city added “Trini Alvarez” to El Rio’s name in his honor.
Under the leadership of longtime civil-rights warrior Ceci Cruz-Baldenegro (my wife, I’m proud to say), who grew up on the union picket lines (her father co-founded the Mine, Mill, and Smelters Workers Union in Arizona), the El Rio Coalition-II was formed and brought people together from throughout the community and forced the politicos and TREO to abandon their secret plan.
Indeed, ol’ Yogi had it right: In 1970, the El Rio Coalition whupped the Democratic political establishment who lied to the community. Forty-three years later, the El Rio Coalition-II whupped them again for lying to the community. Democratic politicos: there’s a lesson here.
Political Salsa y Más copyright 2013 by Sal Baldenegro
Sal Baldenegro can be contacted at: Salomonrb@msn.com