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11. Leave Them Alone. They’re Mexicans.

Mary Beth Rogers University of North Texas Press PDF

106 I Leave Them Alone. They're Mexicans

of that. Public money should support public projects-not groups of activists whose independence and integrity could be compromised with high salaries and low accountability. At the

Industrial Areas Foundation, Cortes had come to believe wholeheartedly in Alinsky's Iron Rule-never do for people what they can do for themselves.

Father Rodriguez liked the Iron Rule, as well as the other ideas spewing from Cortes' active, volcanic mind. The talks continued over the weeks. Cortes laid out his proposal. Based on what he had learned as an IAF organizer, Cortes envisioned a new San Antonio organization to be built around poor Mexican parishes, like Father Rodriguez's Our Lady of Guadalupe

Church on the near West Side, not far from the old MissouriPacific Railroad station. This organization would take no federal or local government money, nor would it hustle private foundation grants. Instead, its seed money would come from an ecumenical sponsoring committee, which would closely monitor the project and hold the staff accountable for how money was spent.

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16. There Is No Substitute for the Fire

Mary Beth Rogers The University of Chicago Press ePub


There Is No Substitute for the Fire

Austin, 1986

Ernie Cortes and I join Ernie’s wife Oralia and several of his Texas organizers in the bar of the Ramada Inn on the south bank of the Colorado River. The hotel is old, rather shabby, and off the beaten track for the legislators and lobbyists who flock into Austin for politics and business. So it is quiet this Friday evening. We can talk and relax. Robert Rivera, who has just become a new father, is there, along with two Catholic sisters—Pearl Ceasar and Mignonne Konecny—who are organizing in El Paso and Fort Worth. The group is awaiting the arrival of Sister Christine Stephens and other organizers from around the state who are coming to Austin for a meeting of organizers from each of the local organizations. Cortes brings them together frequently, and their meetings are both joyful reunions and serious strategy sessions. And there are reports—progress reports, book reports, research reports—even “scouting” reports for new people and new ventures. Cortes usually presides and often tells the organizers, “I’ll give you three minutes to talk if you’re good, but if you’re boring I’ll cut you off in 30 seconds.” So the meetings are punchy, packed with information, and laced with good humor. A meeting is scheduled for the next day. Tonight, the organizers are just glad to see one another, reflecting a comfortable camaraderie that has built up among them over the years.

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10. When People Act on the Gospel Values

Mary Beth Rogers The University of Chicago Press ePub


When People Act on the Gospel Values

Chicago, 1971

When Ernie Cortes came to the Industrial Areas Foundation Training Institute in 1971, Saul Alinsky was conspicuous by his absence. Edward Chambers was fully in charge, struggling to build a program to attract and train professional organizers. When Alinsky died of a heart attack in 1972, it was Chambers who had to scramble to raise money to keep the training institute alive. Alinsky’s speaking fees had supplemented foundation grants to underwrite the program, and now without Alinsky, it was going to be difficult for the IAF to survive financially.

“The first five years I had to sell my soul to raise money. Foundations wouldn’t fund us and I had to figure out a way to make it self-sufficient,” Chambers recalls.

Everything was in a state of flux within the IAF—the money, the ties with local organizations, the concept of organizing, and the development of training programs for organizers and volunteer leaders. Then Ernie Cortes came along and dropped into the brewing stew his interest in theological concerns.

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13. We Are Not an Illusion of the Moment

Mary Beth Rogers University of North Texas Press PDF


We Are Not an Illusion of the Moment

Houston, 1978

Houston, Texas, is a city true to its past.

It grew out of a land development scheme in a hot, humid,

mosquito-infested marsh in 1836 when two imaginative entrepreneurs-J.K. and A.C. Allen-persuaded Texas hero Sam

Houston to lend his name to the settlement in return for a few acres of free land. Sam Houston also used his influence in 1837 to help the outpost become the capital of the new Republic of

Texas. 1 In the next two years, the city's population tripled from

500 to 1,500, and the Allen brothers began to make a fortune.

With Sam Houston on their side, the developers boasted to their East Coast investors that their city would soon become the

"great commercial emporium of Texas.,,2

For the next 142 years, other imaginative developers, cotton brokers, merchants, railroaders, bankers, oil producers, shippers, and lawyers had a host of public officials on their side as well, and they made deals every bit as clever as the Allen brothers' alliance with Sam Houston. Like the AlIens, their moneymaking schemes helped the city grow.

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2. We Are Willing to Sacrifice

Mary Beth Rogers The University of Chicago Press ePub


We Are Willing to Sacrifice

La Meza, 1988

Five hundred miles south of Dallas is La Meza, Texas. A desolate little stop on a back road, La Meza is a Rio Grande Valley colonia, a neighborhood of 65 Hispanic families, perhaps 400 people in all. It is just outside of Mercedes, which has a population of 12,000 in the county of Hidalgo at the southern tip of Texas where the Rio Grande flows into the Gulf of Mexico. Here, the world seems to dwindle. Even the low, wide horizon, the orange groves, and the patchwork fields of onions, cabbage, or carrots cannot stop the feeling that you are in a land that shrinks its people, forcing them inward, isolating them from their nearest neighbors, from the rest of America, and perhaps even from themselves.

La Meza is directly across the road from the Sunrise Hill Park, a public park with picnic tables, playground equipment, and a sweeping sprinkler system to keep the grass a bright winter green. But unlike the park, La Meza’s people, mostly migrant farmworkers, have no green grass. They have no water. Or sewers. Or paved streets. To drink, they must take a water jug to the Sunset Drive-In Grocery where the paved road by the park begins. At the grocery store, they pay the owner 25 cents to use an ordinary outdoor spigot to fill their water jugs. To wash their clothes or dishes or faces, they cannot afford the tap water and so they fill their barrels from pools of water in the irrigation drainage ditches that hold the runoff from nearby vegetable fields. The ditches are full of pesticides and herbicides, and the people of La Meza know that water in the ditches is bad for them, but what else can they do? Water is water. And, sometimes, life itself.

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