Esperanza V. City of San Antonio: Politics, Power, and Culture
Kastely, Amy, Frontiers - A Journal of Women's Studies
I first visited San Antonio, Texas, in 1958, when I was seven. I remember a downtown with many houses and lots of people sitting outside on porches and stoops. My older cousin explained that the people we passed on the street were speaking Spanish. Crisp, spicy smells and lively music came from the homes and restaurants. I wanted to dance. My white relatives lived in a house that was air-conditioned and cold, even when it was hot outside. Everybody at my aunt's house was white except a man who mowed the lawn. My aunt took my cousin and me to the Alamo, and we learned that the Mexicans killed everyone. I was afraid.
I moved to San Antonio in 1993. The downtown neighborhoods have been replaced by huge buildings surrounded by manicured grass and cement, hotels, and restaurants for tourists. You rarely hear Spanish spoken in these downtown streets. (1) Songs such as "La Bamba" and other "crossover songs" boom from shops selling Alamo T-shirts and ceramic Mexican hat dancers. Burger King offers breakfast tacos. The people in my aunt's neighborhood, on the near-Northside of town, are still mainly white, but most will tell you that San Antonio is fully integrated and culturally diverse. Many white San Antonians will explain how racial equality has come to the city without the conflicts experienced in other cities. Indeed, many white San Antonians experience diversity as living near several Latino families in suburban neighborhoods, working with Latinos as professionals or trained staff, and having a favorite Mexican restaurant, staffed by working-class Chicanos and Mexicanos. Some may also interact in similar ways with black Americans and Asian Americans.
Remarkably, in San Antonio, the largest city in the United States with a majority Latino population--the "capital" of Mexican-America--few white people experience genuine cultural difference. Although different cultures exist in San Antonio, the city and its business leaders have successfully corralled genuine diversity and replaced it with a commodified, "feel good" version of cultural difference.
I do not mean to say that authentic cultural diversity must be painful. However, unmediated exposure to another culture will force one to realize that other intelligent, healthy, well-meaning, and clear-thinking adults perceive the world very differently and value aspects of the world very differently. And in the United States, unmediated exposure to minority cultures will require one to see the destructive effects of cultural imperialism and forced assimilation. These experiences can be painful. In The Color of Fear, filmmaker Lee Mun Wah asks David, a white man, what it would mean for him if he were to believe what the men of color were telling him about racism. With a trembling voice, David responds, "Oh, that's very saddening. You don't want to believe man can be so cruel to himself or to his own kind. I do not want to accept that it has to be that way or maybe it is." (2) For many white people in the United States, it would be very upsetting and disturbing to experience genuine cultural difference. This disturbing feeling will not sell hotel rooms and investment packages.
As Arturo Madrid observes, the dominant view in the United States embraces diversity as "desirable in principle, not in practice. Long live diversity ... as long as it conforms to my standards, my mind set, my view of life, my sense of order." (3) This is the kind of "cultural diversity" that sells airplane tickets, hotel rooms, and restaurant seats. This is the "cultural diversity" embraced by San Antonio's wealthiest business leaders and promoted by city policies.
But it is not easy to hide genuine cultural difference, particularly when members of a "minority" culture constitute a majority of the population, as in San Antonio. (4) Historically, public and parochial schools have subjected Chicanos and Mexicanos to mandatory assimilation. In the Westside barrio of San Antonio, for example, high schools have followed an "Americanization" curriculum since the 1930s. (5) This curriculum focuses on the skills of culture-crossing. Even today, the city's children are taught a highly-filtered version of San Antonio's history in which Chicanos, Mexicanos, and black Americans are portrayed as moving with easy acceptance into the highest places of San Antonio's professional, religious, and social life. In the 1960s, while downtown Chicano, Mexicano, and black neighborhoods were replaced with tourist facilities, poor and working-class neighborhoods of color were isolated in the Westside, Southside, and Eastside. Placement of highways and bus lines ensure that most middle-class people never see the neighborhoods where most working-class Chicanos, Mexicanos, and black Americans live. Police violence is routine in San Antonio and is particularly prevalent when police intervention is used to keep poor people out of the downtown area and off the streets. As a result, downtown streets cannot be used for traditional community activities and street commerce, except for the few strolling helado and raspas (ice cream and snow cone) vendors that are allowed to continue selling--quaint or exotic remnants of a once-active street life. (6)
City leaders work hard to promote a comfortable concept of cultural diversity in which all San Antonians share a love of "Tacos, Tequila, and Tenderloin," and celebrate Juneteenth and Cinco de Mayo along with the Fourth of July, Columbus Day, and, for a full week, the victory of Anglos over Mexicans at the Battle of San Jancinto. According to the 2002 San Antonio Visitors Bureau promotion, "San Antonio has always been a crossroads and a meeting place. Sounds and flavors of Native Americans, Old Mexico, Germans, the Wild West, African-Americans and the Deep South mingle and merge." (7) There is no mention of the genocide of Native Americans in this region, of lands taken, nor of forced segregation of Mexican and black Americans. There is no mention of the use of military force to subdue Mexican and black workers in the 1930s, or of the city's refusal to install sanitation equipment, flood protection, and health care facilities to brown and black neighborhoods during the 1950s and 60s.
In 1989 the city of San Antonio created a Department of Arts and Cultural Affairs (DACA) to administer grants to arts and cultural organizations and projects from money generated by the Hotel Occupancy Tax and other funds granted to the city by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Texas Commission on the Arts. DACA was short-lived. The decision to create a separate department had been made as a reform effort, to remove cultural arts funding from political influence and to extend public funding to community-based organizations that had never been included before. Working in the spirit of reform, the first DACA director, Eduardo Diaz, and his staff sought to fund numerous Latino and black arts and cultural organizations, to require the large European-oriented arts organizations to diversify their staffs and programming, and even to encourage the revival of cultural arts and practices that had been weakened by years of exploitation.
DACA's open recognition of the dominance of Anglo and other European-based cultural arts in San Antonio's major arts organizations was angrily criticized by many city leaders. Tourist industry leaders, conservative arts leaders, and others in city government denounced DACA's explicit focus on race and ethnicity as "divisive" and "exclusionary." Others spoke in favor of DACA's commitment and called for an even more profound commitment to cultural justice.
One critical moment came in 1994, when DACA recommended a 5 percent reduction in funding to five organizations, including, most notably, the San Antonio Museum of Art, because these organizations had failed to take reasonable steps toward developing an ethnically-diverse programming staff. At the Museum of Art, despite repeated promises to diversify, every department head and every programming curator was white. City and tourist industry leaders responded that the museum was incorporating cultural diversity in its programming, citing the "Chicano Art: Resistance and Affirmation" and "The Harmon and Harriet Kelley Collection of African American Art" exhibits. (8) The Esperanza Peace and Justice Center, a community-based center for cultural arts and activism, led a coalition of individuals and organizations, the Coalition for Cultural Diversity, formed to support and extend DACA'S diversity initiatives. (9) A coaliton statement identified the heart of the dispute over DACA: "The issue, so often distorted, is not about some ill-defined notion of 'cultural diversity,' but about who gets to decide what 'cultural diversity' is." (10)
The 1994 cultural diversity debate ended with the DACA director refusing to implement the 5 percent reduction. (11) In the wake of this victory for "non-divisive" cultural diversity, business and city leaders sought greater control over the city's arts and cultural funding and sought to focus funding on the promotion of cultural expression that would be attractive and comfortable for "the whole city" (which many people understood as a code word meaning class-privileged Anglos) and "tourists" (which many understood as indicating Anglo and Hispanic middle-class travelers). In addition, the city eventually fired the DACA director, dissolved its status as a city department, and replaced it with a much smaller, less autonomous Office of Cultural Affairs (OCA). Recognizing its vulnerability, OCA abandoned the earlier commitment to cultural diversity in favor of a funding program based on the model of "cultural tourism" that included evaluation of an organization requesting funding based in part on its attractiveness to tourists.
During this debate, city officials identified Esperanza as a group that would challenge the ways in which city funding favored Anglo interests and discriminated against Chicano and African American communities. Esperanza could mobilize hundreds of people for public protest, letter writing campaigns, and petition signing. Esperanza was, and is, committed to cultural rights--the right to maintain and participate in one's cultural tradition and the corresponding obligation of government to protect and nurture the cultural traditions of all people. For city officials--particularly those concerned with public election--Esperanza was a troublemaker. For the next three years, city officials worked to silence the debate over cultural diversity, and defunding Esperanza was one piece of this effort. In 1995 some members of the city council argued for complete de funding, but could not muster a majority vote for more than incremental defunding. (12)
THE 1997 DEFUNDING: ESPERANZA WAS (AND IS) A TARGET
Esperanza was created in 1987 by a group of young Chicana women, some queer and some straight, who dreamed of a place for community-based organizers, activists, and cultural artists to meet, discuss, and act against all forms of social, political, and economic oppression. Most of the women grew up in working-class San Antonio and wanted to do progressive political work in their hometown.
For fifteen years, women of color have led, worked, and shaped Esperanza as a vital cultural arts and activist organization. Today, Esperanza is alive with women and men, old and young; Latinos/as, black Americans, Asians, Native Americans, and whites; queer and straight; working class, poor, and middle class. The organization is feminist, politically progressive, outspoken, and deeply rooted in San Antonio. Esperanza is run by a very hardworking volunteer board, a full-time paid staff of only four people, scores of volunteers, and hundreds of participants and supporters. As a community of people working for and within larger communities, we are committed to multi-issue work for social justice, and to long struggle for change in the world and in ourselves.
Esperanza has organized hundreds of programs, platicas (community discussions), classes, and activities that have explored complex issues and enlarged understanding of diverse cultures and histories. The organization has been active in women's reproductive choice, human rights, and the rights of Spanish-speaking workers. Esperanza has organized antiwar protests, low-cost housing actions, and demonstrations against the Klu Klux Klan. Esperanza has presented the work of hundreds of artists and cultural workers, particularly those who have been ignored or silenced in mainstream arenas. Individually, the women and men of Esperanza have done the work at home. They have talked, challenged, and learned with their own families and with neighborhood friends. With great courage, they have strived to live the changes they advocate and to empower the people they love.
Throughout its history, Esperanza has worked hard to maintain a cooperative relationship with city government, recognizing that city officials are not the source of oppression against the people of San Antonio, although they have often been the agents of oppression. Yet, in 1994 and thereafter, as Esperanza articulated and organized in favor of genuine cultural diversity, this work threatened the deep entanglement of the city with the tourist and development industries.
Emboldened by the success of the anti-affirmative action movement, some--both in and out of city government--decried Esperanza for raising issues of race, ethnicity, class, and sexuality in connection with public funding. Esperanza and its leadership, particularly Graciela Sanchez (Esperanza's longtime executive director), Gloria Ramirez (current chair of the board of directors and longtime editor of the newsjournal La Voz de Esperanza), and Michael Marinez, (activist artist and longtime Esperanza volunteer), were demonized by the news media and hounded by anonymous threats. (13)
Howard Peak, who had been a new city council member during the 1994 DACA controversy, was elected mayor in 1997. Peak, trained as an urban planner and closely tied to San Antonio builders and developers, believed that city officials must promote the city's tourist and development industries. He also felt that cultural diversity could advance these goals, but only in its "feel good" form. Toward this end, Peak sought to silence and isolate Esperanza as the principal voice for cultural rights. As we discovered later in litigation, it was Peak who guided the de funding of Esperanza. Peak encouraged the involvement of right-wing organizers by personally appearing on conservative radio talk shows, garnered support for the defunding from a network of conservative white gay men, and secured the unanimous agreement of the city council in a closed meeting at City Hall late in the evening before the defunding vote. (14) Throughout, Peak's position was that Esperanza's social justice programming and its vision of cultural diversity were political, that art is not political, and therefore Esperanza did not qualify for "arts" funding.
COMMUNITY RESPONSE: TODOS SOMOS ESPERANZA
The Esperanza community deliberated for almost a year about how to respond to the 1997 defunding. It was difficult to survive. In addition to the city funding, the city withheld state funding, some local private foundations rejected funding applications because of the adverse publicity, and some individual donors were frightened off. The Esperanza board, staff, and community worked hard to keep the organization strong.
The politics of the defunding were difficult to address. In 1997 Esperanza was attacked by an unusual alliance among city officials, conservative white gay men, and the Christian Right. We had been defunded by an eleven-member city council that had six Mexican American members and one black American member. We knew that many people, both Anglos and Latinos, would assume that Latino and black council members would not discriminate against a group that promoted the rights of people of color. And further, the media and city officials had emphasized Experanza's cosponsorship of a lesbian and gay film festival, Out At the Movies, as the reason for the defunding, thereby driving a wedge between Esperanza and other progressive arts and social justice organizations who were frightened by the political strength of the right wing and by the fury of the homophobic attacks.
We knew both the power of the homophobic wedge and irony of its role in city politics. Not only were the mayor and city council willing to fund the Alamo Gay Men's Chorale, but Dennis Poplin, coordinator for the Lesbian & Gay Media Project--producers of Out at the Movies and the only organization to receive public funds for the film festival--was advised by the city's arts department officials that the Media Project would be funded if it broke its association with Esperanza. (15) The more we learned of the actual events leading to the defunding, the more clear it became that Esperanza's cosponsorship of the Lesbian & Gay Film Festival was being used by city officials to fuel rightwing protests against Esperanza and to drive a wedge between the center and other Latino and African American organizations.
Esperanza responded by joining with other arts organizations to create the Arte es Vida campaign. The campaign focused on the importance of art to the lives of individuals and communities, and asked people to send postcards to the city council to express their support for public funding for the arts. As a direct result of this campaign, arts funding rose in the city council's list of priorities from forty-second in 1997 to tenth in 1998.
Meanwhile, during 1997 and 1998 Esperanza participants met in a series of weekly and then monthly meetings. People worked hard in these meetings to analyze the defunding in the context of ongoing political struggles in San Antonio. Maria Berriozabal shared insights from her ten-year experience on the city council and took members on an "economic tour" to emphasize the lasting social, economic, and cultural effects of city government decisions. Petra Mata and Viola Casares talked about their experiences in organizing Fuerza Unida and the frustrations they endured in their lawsuit against Levi Strauss. (16) Dulce Benavidez shared the lessons she learned as organizer of the San Antonio Lesbian and Gay Assembly. Linda Morales and Terry Ramos spoke of their experiences as AFL-CIO organizers working with Boeing employees. Mike Sanchez reported on his discussions with members of the carpenters' union, and numerous others shared their experiences and insights.
The Esperanza community was cautious about the possibility of filing suit against the City of San Antonio, in part because the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s lost some community momentum when legal action was taken. Through discussions, the Esperanza community decided to file a lawsuit only if the legal claim would not distort the truth of the defunding and would support a focused organizing and community education campaign.
It was important to pursue the issue of cultural rights and to engage others in discussions of the power of culture and art in the historical survival of our communities and in our daily lives. Regardless of the outcome of the legal case, it would provide a focus for these discussions and illuminate the connections between cultural dominance and other forms of oppression.
We filed a federal lawsuit alleging an unconstitutional targeting of Esperanza. (17) We also undertook the Todos Somos Esperanza campaign utilizing door-to-door organizing, small house parties throughout the city, street theater, and a variety of formal and informal discussions and programs focusing on the importance of culture to the survival of oppressed communities and the obligation of government to respect the cultural expression of all of the city's communities.
Central to the defunding of Esperanza was the city's lack of support for authentic cultural expression in Chicano and black communities, its insistence on production for the tourist industry, and its pervasive commitment to European-derived cultural norms and practices. The lawsuit alleged that the mayor and city council responded to Esperanza's advocacy for cultural rights by targeting it for defunding. This targeting was successful because of the power of homophobic attacks against Esperanza. In both public and private justifications for the defunding, the mayor insisted on the idea that art and politics were distinct. This idea of "art for art's sake" is itself a product of fairly recent European American, middle- and upper-class cultural thought, and is quite different from the understanding of art in Mexican American communities and throughout Latin America. The city's insistence on a separation between art and politics is an insistence on European American culture and Anglo-centered cultural diversity.
Distinguished art historian Tomas Ybarra Frausto, who appeared as an expert witness, explained:
Latin American art was born out of political struggle. As countless academics and artists have written, Latin American art for the last hundred and fifty years has been predominantly characterized by intense social concern. While much of European art has focused on the individual experience or on experience between the genders, the most important works of Latin American literature and much of its painting are concerned with social phenomena and political ideals. Art has been a critical vehicle for exploring social and national identity, political violence, racial and national integration both in Latin America and by Latinos in the United States. (18)
The lawyers working with Esperanza were challenged to shape claims and arguments that would accurately reflect the complexity of the defunding, including the racial and ethnic dimensions. This was difficult because the law of racial discrimination was severely limited by Reagan-era decisions. Further, the right to free speech, the center of First Amendment law, has been defined and elaborated as an individualistic, even class-based privilege. The words to describe genuine cultural diversity and a group's right of cultural integrity barely exists in First Amendment law.
When we researched the legal precedents, we were tempted to tell the defunding story as a simple case of antigay governmental action because that claim had been successfully raised before. That was, indeed, the advice offered by national groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). As lawyers, we are shaped by the law's structures, and so it was difficult to find ways to speak about Esperanza's experience. In addition, we knew that the formalities and practicalities of a courtroom trial would not allow us to tell the entire history of the Esperanza defunding. Every legal case requires that reality be simplified. We worried that if we simplified the story enough to prove our case, we would risk losing the complex truth.
Moreover, the core group of three lawyers who worked to shape the claims--Carol Bertsch, Mary Kenney, and I--are all white. Although Carmen Rumbaut, a Cubana, and Chicanas Elvia Arriola and Ilene Garcia provided helpful guidance at the beginning, and the trial team included Chicanas Isabel de la Riva, Denise Mejia, and Judy Saenz, (together with Lynn Coyle, a white attorney), most of the analysis, research, and drafting was done by white lawyers. We did not see the issues of race and ethnicity as clearly as other members of the Esperanza community. Because of this, we had difficulty knowing how to analyze the information we were collecting and how to present the evidence we had discovered. Esperanza and its lawyers solved this problem by making sure that Esperanza staff and community members were involved with every step in the legal decision-making.
As the lawyers worked with the Esperanza community to shape the lawsuit to reflect the actual story of the de funding and to define the racial and ethnic significance of the city's arts funding decisions, we came to understand the power of grassroots discussions of law and justice. Through the sometimes-painful process of listening, agreeing, and disagreeing, we came to a much deeper understanding of race and ethnicity, and the many differences among us. The community focused the lawsuit on issues of respect and cultural integrity, and held to this focus throughout the litigation.
The participation of Esperanza community members in decisions regarding legal strategy is very different from traditional lawyering practice, but Esperanza lawyers embraced it as an important part of our work. Yet, as we tried to bring in other attorneys to help us on the case, most resisted our decision-making process as unprofessional. As a result, Esperanza lawyers experienced a level of distancing and disrespect that was unfamiliar. This was particularly clear when we attempted to work with young white lawyers from the national ACLU. Although we were older and more experienced lawyers than they, and although we had been working on the case without them for two years, the young lawyers treated us as if we simply did not understand the law or the legal process. They were not comfortable in the cramped, mosquito-infested law office we had set up at Esperanza and repeatedly suggested that we should bring in a big firm attorney, who they thought could better "handle" the case. They resisted the Esperanza community's participation in legal decisions and disagreed with legal claims we shaped to reflect Esperanza's experiences and politics. Repeatedly, they spoke as if we simply had not thought enough about the case and did not understand the world. After a few months, the Esperanza board of directors and the ACLU agreed that the national organization should withdraw from the case.
After reflecting on this failed collaboration, I see that Esperanza staff and lawyers were treated as brown and black people are often treated by white Americans. Somehow, white Americans assume, without conscious thought, that they are the moral judges of people of color. (19) We assume, without thought, that we can assess and measure the thoughts and perceptions of others. "Yes, that is reasonable," we say, or, "No, your fear is unfounded." And we assume, without thought, that people of color who graciously or gently express disagreement with our evaluations are simply misinformed or misunderstanding some aspect of our conclusions. This unseen assumption often presents people of color with the unhappy choice between being "confrontational" and being patronized. If people of color are not confrontational, white people tend not to hear them, and if they are confrontational, we tend to dismiss them as "too angry."
The ACLU lawyers treated Esperanza lawyers as if we were brown or black, primarily because we did not distance ourselves from our clients. Positioned as merely part of the Esperanza community, we became legal outsiders, in need of education and guidance. I am glad for this experience, for it helps me to understand the tremendous pressure on lawyers of all races to separate themselves from poor, working-class, lesbian or gay, and brown or black clients. Sadly, lawyers too often give in to these pressures.
THE ALCHEMY OF CULTURAL RIGHTS
The Todos Somos Esperanza campaign brought the issues of cultural diversity and public funding for cultural arts to discussions throughout the city. The campaign was most intense during the four years between the defunding and Judge Orlando Garcia's decision in favor of Esperanza. During this time thousands of people engaged in or with cafecitos, platicas, street theater, yard signs, community meetings, bumper stickers, a community mock trial, and a evening vigil at the federal courthouse. The issues raised by the defunding were actively discussed by people in their homes, on the streets, in community meetings, and at neighborhood gatherings.
At these gatherings, people talked about the power of culture. The Chicano community has survived because of its careful maintenance of its language and cultural practices. The black community has survived because of its conscious commitment to nurture cultural identity and traditions. Dance, song, and verse have held the pain and joys of life. They have taught the lessons of survival despite political domination, theft, rape, and betrayal. (20)
The vitality and visibility of the Todos Somos Esperanza campaign was crucial to the success of the lawsuit. The discussions engendered by this campaign informed the legal strategy at every stage of the litigation. During the trial, the courtroom was packed with Esperanza supporters: old people and youth, gay and straight, women and men, brown, black, and white people.
We were lucky to have been assigned to Judge Orlando Garcia (assignment of judges is done randomly). Garcia was raised in San Antonio and served as a state legislator prior to his appointment as a federal judge. Although reputed to be tough on lawyers, he is also known as intelligent, skillful, and hardworking. It was helpful that Garcia has a deep understanding of San Antonio and the importance of culture to the Mexican American community. At the beginning of the trial, the first witness, Eduardo Diaz, used the word "quinceanera" and quickly translated for himself, "that means a fifteenth birthday celebration." Judge Garcia smiled and instructed the witness, "This is San Antonio," he said, "I don't think you have to translate." (21)
The next witness, Esperanza Executive Director Graciela Sanchez, identified herself as a lesbian and a woman who had grown up working class in San Antonio's Westside barrio. Graciela used numerous Spanish words as she testified about the work of Esperanza, speaking in a bilingual weave that is familiar among Chicanos in San Antonio. Judge Garcia listened closely, and the courtroom filled with the power of Spanish spoken openly, without translation, in the formal atmosphere of federal court. The audience was completely silent in recognition of the moment. Sanchez testified to the judge and to her family, friends, and allies. The determined, engaged presence of community members was essential as a testament to that moment.
Later in the trial, the crowded courtroom witnessed as Mayor Peak testified to his belief that art and politics are necessarily distinct. When asked whether a program like MujerArtes, in which low-income women learn to tell their stories through the art of ceramics, is a "political" program, Peak responded that it could be, "depending on the program and what the purpose is, and what the people are that go through that program." (22) At that moment, a collective gasp arose from the back of the courtroom as members of the community reacted to the unexamined racism in the mayor's statement.
With members of the Esperanza community present for the trial, the focus on issues of cultural integrity and genuine cultural diversity remained at the center of the legal strategy. And the visible interest of community members in the lawsuit brought home to the judge the importance of the case. Following the trial and months of careful thought and research, Judge Garcia issued an eighty-five-page decision in favor of Esperanza, finding that the city had violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution, as well as the Texas Open Meetings Act. The Judge ordered the city to refrain from favoring or disfavoring grant recipients on the basis of their views on culture and cultural diversity, and required the city to compensate Esperanza for lost funding.
There is an alchemy to rights, as Patricia Williams teachs. (23) The concept and content of rights is nothing more than a manifestation of political power--a slogan invented by one European group in struggle with another. (24) Yet when communities use the concept and commit to the belief that they, too, are entitled, the obtuse logic of law can sometimes benefit the less powerful. If people believe that their cultural practices should be respected and protected by city government, if people yearn for a vital, liberating cultural diversity despite the multifaceted pressures of assimilation and accommodation, then legal decision-makers may begin to recognize and protect these values and activities.
Alchemy happened in the Todos Somos Esperanza campaign. Liberating cultural diversity existed for moments at Esperanza and other community-based venues. It is glimpsed in honest public discussions. In the Esperanza case, a place was found within First Amendment law that could protect and engender cultural rights. As we come to see the importance of culture in our lives, we grow closer to Indigenous peoples throughout the world who are fighting for cultural and political autonomy. Within international law, a human right of cultural integrity is increasingly recognized. This right requires that the cultural identities of minority groups be preserved and developed and that nations support the economic, social, political, and cultural institutions necessary to ensure the survival of minority groups. (25)
The United States has actively opposed efforts for international recognition of cultural rights over the past several decades. (26) Our government has tended to see cultural rights as inconsistent with global capitalist development and international trade. (27) The present regime in Washington shows no willingness to alter this policy. Sadly, U.S. rejection of international cultural rights is just one of many ways that the U.S. government now stands against the deep yearnings of people around the world to maintain something of their own values and cultural practices in the face of U.S. economic and cultural domination.
Esperanza v. City of San Antonio and the Todos Somos Esperanza campaign engaged many in the struggle to understand and enact dynamic and liberating cultural diversity. Together we forged a vision of cultural rights and a place for such rights in U.S. domestic law. Similar work is being done by others in the United States and throughout the world. This work is important, and it suggests the possibility of more fully understanding ourselves and others. If we can imagine cultural diversity, if we can see the deep and precious significance within different cultures throughout the world, perhaps we can understand our own fears in the face of such difference. If we can do that, perhaps we can then understand the anger and fear directed against us.
(1.) This is true even though 41.9 percent of the people in San Antonio speak Spanish in their homes (U.S. Census Bureau, 2000 Census [Demographic Surveys Division, Washington D.C., 2002,]), available at http:www.census.gov.
(2.) Lee Mun Wah, The Color of Fear, video, 90 min., StirFry Productions, 1995.
(3.) Arturo Madrid, "Diversity and Its Discontents," in Racial and Ethnic Diversity in Higher Education, ed. Caroline Sotello Viernes Turner, et al. (Needham Heights, Mass.: Simon & Schuster Custom Pub., 1996), 526.
(4.) The 2000 Census reported 59.4 percent of the population of San Antonio as Hispanic, 30.8 percent as white, and 6.8 percent African American (U.S. Census Bureau, 2001 Supplemental Survey [Demographic Surveys Division, Washington D.C., 2002,]), available at http:www.census.gov/acs/www/Products/Profiles/Single/2001/SS01/ Tabular/160/16000US48650001.htm.
(5.) This curriculum is discussed in Eugene E. Garcia, Hispanic Education in the United States: Raices y Alas (Lanham, Mass.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2001), 49-55.
(6.) A U.S. Department of Justice study found that the leading jurisdictions in number of complaints filed in federal court alleging police use of excessive force were New Orleans, Louisiana; Los Angeles, California; Jefferson Parish, Louisiana; San Antonio, Texas; Houston, Texas; and El Paso, Texas (United States Department of Justice Report, Crime Control Digest 26:1 [June 1, 1992]). See also Macarena Hernandez, "Video's Violence Angers Viewers in S.A.: Blacks Say Scene Familiar to Them," San Antonio Express-News, July 11, 2002, 10A; and John Gutierrez-Mier, "Protest Targets Police Abuse: Groups Say Incidents Rising," San Antonio Express-News, Dec. 2, 1999, 3B. The loss of street vendors is examined in Regina Austin, "'An Honest Living': Street Vendors, Municipal Regulation, and the Black Public Sphere," Yale Law Journal 103 (1994): 2119.
(7.) San Antonio Visitors Bureau, Welcome to San Antonio, http://sanantoniovisit .com/visitors/com_history.asp, accessed on October 10, 2002.
(8.) Dan R. Goddard, "Definition of Diversity at Center of Arts Battle," San Antonio Express-News, August 6, 1994; and "Editorial," San Antonio Express-News, August 11, 1994, 16A.
(9.) I joined the Board of Directors of the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center in 1996 and was lead attorney in the case of Esperanza et al. v. City of San Antonio et al.
(10.) Mike Greenberg, "Coalition Seeks Arts Funding Cut for Groups Failing Diversity Test," San Antonio Express-News, August 30, 1994, 16A.
(11.) Mike Greenberg, "Arts Board, Director Still Split on Diversity," San Antonio Express-News, September 1, 1994, 16A.
(12.) That year, funding was cut from Esperanza's MujerArtes collective and the Center's Visiones de Esperanza: Inner-City Youth Media Project.
(13.) The Esperanza building suffered repeated break-ins. Threats were written on the walls, and in one episode, human feces were smeared on the building and hung in a bra from a tree. Esperanza members were followed and received threatening phone calls at their homes, and their cars were scratched and damaged.
(14.) These events were cited in the testimony of City Director Terry Brechtel, Mayor Howard Peak, City Council Member Jeff Webster, City Council Member Tim Bannwolf, and City Council Member Ed Garza in Esperanza v. City of San Antonio, trial transcript, United States District Court for the Western District of Texas CA No. SA-98-CA-0696-OG, 102; and in the Declaration of Graciela Sanchez, 65.
(15.) Testimony of Dennis Poplin, trial transcript, Esperanza v. City of San Antonio.
(16.) The history of Fuerza Unida and its struggle against Levi Strauss is reported at http://www.accd.edu/pac/lrc/chicanaleaders/fuerzaunida.htm.
(17.) Two smaller, unincorporated organizations for which Esperanza served as fiscal agent were defunded along with the Esperanza and were coplaintiffs in the lawsuit. These were the San Antonio Lesbian & Gay Media Project and V~N, an artists' networking organization.
(18.) Affidavit of Tomas Ybarra-Frausto, para. 8, in Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgement, Exhibits, July 14, 1999, Esperanza v. City of San Antonio.
(19.) Marilyn Frye explores this idea in her book, Willful Virgin: Essays in Feminism, 1976-1992, (Freedom, Calif.: Crossing Press, 1992), 153.
(20.) Valarie Boyd's wonderful biography Wrapped in Rainbows: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston (New York: Scribner, 2003) records the complexity of black cultural survival in Hurston's vision and practices.
(21.) Testimony of Eduardo Diaz, Esperanza v. City of San Antonio, 59.
(22.) Testimony of Howard Peak, Esperanza v. City of San Antonio, 429.
(23.) Patricia Williams, The Alchemy of Race and Rights (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1991).
(24.) This was a basic insight of the Critical Legal Studies movement of the 1970s and 80s (Costas Douzinas, Peter Goodrich, and Yifat Hachamovitch, eds., Politics, Post-modernity and Critical Legal Studies: The Legality of the Contingent [New York: Routledge, 1994]).
(25.) See, for example, Halina Niec, "Cultural Rights: At the End of the World Decade for Cultural Development" (background paper for UNESCO, 1996), available at http://www.unesco-sweden.org/Conference/Papers/paper2.htm; and Terri Janke, "Report on Australian Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual Property Rights" (Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, 1999), available at http://www.icip.lawnet.com.au/ index.html.
(26.) The United States is the lone industrialized nation that has refused to ratify the United Nations's International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (see http://www.hri.ca/fortherecord2002/vol6/usarr.htm). Also see Philip Alston, "U.S. Ratification of the Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights: The Need for an Entirely New Strategy," American Journal of International Law 84 (1990): 365.
(27.) This view is reflected in a recent United Nations report that states: "The most fundamental flaw reflected in the approach of the independent expert is the idea that economic, social, and cultural rights are entitilements that require correlated legal duties and obligations" ("Report of the Open-Ended Working Group on the Right to Development," United Nations Doc. E/CN.4/2001/26, 45-46; and by Padideh Ala'I, who writes: "The United States has been, for the most part, opposed to the recognition of economic, social, and cultural rights as 'rights,'" ("A Human Rights Critique of the WTO: Some Preliminary Observations," George Washington International Law Review, 33 : 545-46).
AMY KASTELY was lead attorney for the Esperanza in its successful lawsuit against the City of San Antonio. She is a long-time political activist and has worked with Esperanza and other community organizations on numerous social justice issues. Kastely teaches at St. Mary's University School of Law. Her work challenges the ways in which law and legal practice create and maintain systems of race, class, gender, and sexuality. Her published writing includes Contracting Law, with Deborah Post and Sharon Hom; Out of the Whiteness: On Raced Codes in and White Race Consciousness in Some Tort, Criminal, and Contract Law; and Cogs or Cyborgs?: Blasphemy and Irony in Contract Theories.…
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Publication information: Article title: Esperanza V. City of San Antonio: Politics, Power, and Culture. Contributors: Kastely, Amy - Author. Journal title: Frontiers - A Journal of Women's Studies. Volume: 24. Issue: 2-3 Publication date: June-September 2003. Page number: 185+. © 2009 University of Nebraska Press. COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group.