The unsavory business of “Hispanic/Latino” organizations giving awards to non-deserving people, often for political reasons, is wrong and needs to stop.
A couple of points before I go on: Occasionally some of these groups get it right and honor regular, non-high profile folks, people who are doing good with no expectation of financial rewards or accolades, and who have no political agenda. I applaud these instances and those honorees. While the examples I cite below are Tucson-based, I believe the phenomenon I discuss occurs elsewhere. Because my focus is on the principle involved and not on personalities, I am not using names of individuals or organizations here.
For this they get an award?
- Recently, a local Latino organization that purports to be about civil rights conferred an award—for outstanding service to public education and the Latino community—to a school superintendent who, among many other things, (a) strenuously fought the court-ordered desegregation of the school district; (b) participated actively in a community “rally” at which the federal judge and court order; the Mexican American and African American students and their parents, the desegregation plaintiffs; the plaintiffs’ lawyers, and the plaintiffs’ representatives were vehemently demonized; (c) gave parents false information about the desegregation court order so as to get them to sign a petition against the Mexican American and African American plaintiffs—this was so egregious that the judge formally admonished the district for this; (d) outright lied about the circumstances surrounding a controversial hire; (e) diverted monies ($20M) meant for teachers (in the form of pay raises and performance bonuses) to balance the district’s budget.
Any one of the issues noted above warranted firing the superintendent for cause, and indeed he was under fire for the above and other issues. But the local Democratic establishment/machine was heavily invested in this individual and strong-armed a Latino group to confer an award on him.
- That same Latino civil-rights group conferred an award for educational excellence on the Chancellor of a local community college who, as we speak, is under fire from community advocacy groups for not hiring Mexican Americans. This person has in several instances refused to even consider qualified Mexican Americans for key positions, either as in-house promotions or as new hires—i.e., they were screened out at the “paper” stage of the process. The Chancellor’s reason for not hiring Mexican Americans is that there aren’t enough “qualified” Mexican Americans in the Tucson area.
Also, the Chancellor honored by the Latino civil-rights group lied to the college staff and to the public (via TV interviews) about a plan to displace 37 workers. The Chancellor claimed that the college’s accrediting agency mandated that student-support personnel possess a B.A. degree. The union representing the workers and a community advocacy group contacted the accrediting agency asking for clarification. It turned out that the accrediting agency did not mandate that PCC’s student support staff must possess a B.A. degree. It is noteworthy that the overwhelming majority (76%) of the workers who would have been displaced were Mexican American.
- A few years ago, an organization that purported to advocate for the “Hispanic” community conferred its “Man of the Year” award on a community college Chancellor (a different one from the one described in Point 2 above) who did great harm to the Mexican American community. He pushed the community college governing board to abandon its open admissions policy in favor of a test-based admissions protocol. As a result, over 4,000 applicants, the majority (51%) of whom were Mexican American, were denied admission to the college. He also systematically removed high-level Mexican American vice chancellors and campus presidents from his administrative team. Later, this “leader” would retire “for medical reasons” in the face of eight (8) sexual harassment complaints filed against him and charges of retaliating against those who brought the complaints.
I could go on, but the above examples serve to make my point. Why these groups that purport to serve the Mexican American community honor people who actually hurt that community is a question for a whole other blog.
There’s no shortage of deserving folks…
Tucson has no shortage of people who legitimately deserve recognition for work they’re doing, who deserve our respect and support. A few examples:
- There are two groups of unionists who are doing the work of actual unions—fighting for their workers and standing up to management. One is a group of miners who are standing up to an international corporation who refuses to negotiate a new contract and who, in contravention of law, unilaterally changes working conditions without first negotiating over the changes with union representatives. Another is a union that is standing up for workers who are being mistreated at the local community college.
- There are people who are standing up to ICE and protecting families targeted by ICE raids. A large part of this commitment is the unglamorous but important work of helping people with paperwork, educating people regarding their rights, being advocates for people who are politically voiceless, etc. One lawyer who has a fulltime job but volunteers on a pro-bono basis to represent immigrants caught up in the federal maze is organizing and training a corps of retired attorneys to help Dreamers and their families also on a pro-bono basis.
- There are people who are relentless advocates for students, parents, teachers and staff at one of the local school districts. They attend and speak at every weekly school board meeting, raising important issues, such as why did the board give the superintendent a 24% raise on his salary of $250,000 (circa $60,000, or $5,000 a month) but give teachers a measly $500 raise (circa $42 a month)?
- Likewise, there is a group of dedicated advocates who assiduously advocate for students, faculty, staff, and the community at the local community college. This group was instrumental in getting the open-admission policy reinstated and opening up the hiring process for Mexican Americans.
- A group of barrio residents banded together to help their barrio recover from a natural catastrophe that threatened to economically destroy barrio businesses. This group was also instrumental in stopping a move by politicos and developers that would have destroyed this and an adjoining barrio.
There are many more such examples. This is the kind of work we should support and celebrate. These dedicated activists do not do what they do with the expectation of receiving accolades, and they have no political agenda. They do it because it’s right to do.
In the final analysis, whom we recognize as leaders and role models is a measure of the respect we have for our community and our history. Organizations that purport to be advocates for the Mexican American community should not go around honoring people who act against the interests of our community, and they should not allow themselves to be used by the Democratic establishment/machine or anyone else. They need to understand that attending political functions (incestuously attended by the same usual suspects) and taking selfies with elected officials is not meaningful and does not count as activism. c/s