"Remember El Alma" First On-site Performance Challenging the Alamo, March 2010

"Remember El Alma," First on-site performance
challenging the Alamo
original poem written by Barbara Renaud Gonzalez

Adapted by Virginia Grise; Produced by Bihl Haus Arts, Kellen McIntyre, Ph.D; Performed at Luminaria!
San Antonio, Hemisfair Plaza, San Antonio, Texas, March 13, 2010; 5 Actresses, 1 Musician
A cast of beautiful women, all ages and colors, from
all over San Antonio
; Foto Credit: Joan Frederick @2010

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Part 3: What the Guadalupe's new President, R. Bret Ruiz says about women, and la gente from San Antonio

Two women speak out


Irma R. Mayorga is from San Antonio. She has travelled and lived throughout the country, amassing awards and fellowships. This past December, she became the first Latina to graduate with a joint Ph.D in Drama and the Humanities from Stanford University.

In 2003, Mayorga was the first Chicana to receive an invitation to the Eugene O’Neill Center's Playwright's Conference for her play, Cascarones. She is also the co-creator of The Panza Monologues, along with Vicki Grise, which has toured to positive reviews.

The word mostly linked with Irma Mayorga is brilliant. She considers herself a Chicana with all the progressive connotations that come with it. She is currently an adjunct professor at UTSA/Downtown Campus. Mayorga is too reserved to tell you, but she has been courted by prestigious universities outside the state, choosing instead to stay at home, in San Antonio. She thinks of herself as an artist first, and as a community scholar second.

Until her contract was terminated last fall, Mayorga was the Galería Guadalupe Director (the Arts Gallery) and Literary Arts Program Manager. She is single with no children.

Dolores Zapata Murff (Dee), has been a married woman for over twenty years. She has children, grandchildren , and a home in the suburbs with a pool. She is currently a student on academic scholarship at Our Lady of the Lake University, and was making straight As until Ruiz arrived at the Guadalupe. Dee grew up on the Westside, in the hueso of San Antonio, as we say. She was discovered by the Esperanza Center where she made cerámica in the MujerArtes program, eventually becoming a boardmember. In that position, she defended the Esperanza’s right to sue the City of San Antonio in federal court when the Esperanza was defunded in 1996. Her Republican circle of friends was not impressed.

Some time later, Dee was hired by the Guadalupe Center to run its Giftshop (which she madeover, and became under her tenure known as the Bookstore). She was then promoted to Public Relations and Marketing Director. The word to describe Dee is activista.

Both of these women are multi-talented and multi-dimensional, artists and women of conciencia. They are the women of the Guadalupe Center. This past December, Mayorga’s contract was terminated. She believes this happened because she had applied for Ruiz’ position, though she wasn’t interviewed by the Board. She has many concerns about Ruiz' dedication to the Guadalupe, his artistic background, and his lack of professionalism. Throughout our talk, she spoke to me on-the-record.

But Dee Murph is still at the Center, and has filed a complaint against R. Bret Ruiz.

In this posting, I've included Dee Murph's official complaint because it is most urgent and encompasses much of what other women, formerly of the Guadalupe, are telling me on and off-the-record, in words, gestures, and whispers.

As of February 27, 06 The Guadalupe Board of Directors has yet to respond to Dee Murph's complaint.


To: Guadalupe Board of Directors
Fr: Dolores Zapata Murff
Re: Discrimination Complaint
Date: December 9, 2005

This Complaint is submitted pursuant to Section V.2 of the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center Personnel Policies. As that Section provides, I am submitting this directly to the Board of Directors for resolution because my Complaint involves discriminatory behavior on the basis of sex and race by the President, Mr. Bret Ruiz.

Through his behavior, Mr. Ruiz has created a hostile work environment for me as a woman and a Chicana. Incidents of inappropriate behavior by Mr. Ruiz include the following:

1) Shortly after he began working at the Guadalupe, Mr. Ruiz commented to me on the way that Ms Marisela Barrera was dressed and in particular the fact the she was wearing a red bra under a white tee shirt. I was extremely uncomfortable with that conversation because I felt it was not appropriate since I had just met him, Ms Barrera is my colleague and I have a lot of respect for her. Mr. Ruiz made this comment after Ms. Barrera had sent him an e-mail explaining to him that she could not work the 8:30 to 5:30 schedule that he demanded of all employees because when she is in production she is at the center until very late at night. She said that the production schedule required evening hours and that she had to spend some time at home because she has a baby and needs to spend time with her infant.

2) Another time, Mr. Ruiz talked to me about our young intern Nicole (age 21) and he said that she wore very provocative clothes. He said her figure was very voluptuous and that her cleavage was always exposed and that made him nervous and uncomfortable. Then he made reference to my breasts and joked that I was dressed in a provocative manner as well that same day. I felt extremely uncomfortable as he looked at me up and down. Not knowing how to respond I said, "Bret she is just a child, and as far as I go, this is the way I am shaped and there is not too much I can do about it."

3) From that day on he started making fun of me and the way I dressed. For example one day I walked in and in front of other staff members he said "Well here comes Dee in her fake Channel jacket" I did not appreciate being the butt of his joke. When I answered back he told me "watch it young lady, I am the President and I, have boundaries."

4) On November 8, 2005 I showed Mr. Ruiz a half page ad for Cine Festival which was printed in La Prensa and he casually turned up his nose and said " that's nice" and I said to him "that is about $1,200.00 worth of advertising that Mr. Duran from La Prensa has graciously, donated to us." He looked at me and said "well my dear, I hope that you did not compromise yourself to get that advertisement" I felt that remark was sexist and insulting to my professionalism.

5) Another remark that upset me was in mid October, Mr. Ruiz called me on the cell phone as I was leaving for lunch and he asked me "Dee you're not having an inappropriate relationship with Jose are you? Because people are starting to talk since you are always having lunch with him." Mr. Jose Garza was with me and so was Mr. David Gonzales. I wasn't sure how to take that comment and it upset me.

6) During the weeks following the Katrina disaster, Mr. Ruiz commented that he hated to go shopping in San Antonio because "la raza was very razquache y feyous" (meaning lowlife, low class, and ugly) so he had to go to the Gucci HEB where he could shop more comfortably. He said to me "Ay esta Raza is so ghetto and I don't want to be around here (meaning the neighborhood we work at) after dark." I found this to be disturbing as well because this is the very community that we are saying in our grants that we are serving. Not to mention that I grew up in this barrio and found his comments to be racist and hurtful to me. I told him that I was a product of this community and he made fun of me and told me "ay yes you were born in this community and you will die in this community" to this day this statement has caused me great distress. I feel that it is a privilege to be able to work in the very neighborhood that I truly grew up in and I chose to come back to serve this community and this institution.

7) Another incident in his office I came downstairs to meet with him and I had my hair up in a braid across my head and as soon as I walked in he told me "ay Dee you look like la India Maria." After a long pause, I responded to him and I said "You know Bret you really don't like indios do you?" He responded to me in a very sarcastic tone "of course I do"

8) On September 25, 2005 Mr. Ruiz and I were both at an event at Nordstrom and I was beside Mr. Ruiz as he conversed with Mr. John Hinojosa Executive Director of Say Si. Mr. Ruiz said to Mr. Hinojosa that he had "inherited a big mess with the staff" and "the Board lied to me about the financial condition of the organization." Mr. Ruiz then said "I honestly don't know what to do there are so many problems with the staff and with the finances." I was offended by Mr. Ruiz’s lack of professionalism and his hostility to the staff, most of whom are Chicanos and many of whom are women.

The following Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday were pre-arranged vacation days for me, yet Mr. Ruiz had Ms. Loretta Zavallos call me to arrange an emergency meeting with Mr. Ruiz. At that meeting which was held on Wednesday November 23, 2005 in his office and attended by Ms Loretta Zavallos as well, Mr. Ruiz informed me that Colleen Frost had “filed a formal complaint” against me. I asked to see the complaint and Mr. Ruiz has not produced such a complaint for me to see, even though he was informed by Ms. Zavallos during that meeting that I had a right to see any such complaint.

After informing me about the “complaint,” Mr. Ruiz became very agitated and said: “I better not ever hear that you repeated that conversation because I will fire you on the spot.” I was again shocked by Mr. Ruiz’s statement and I said that I felt that he was harassing me and threatening me.

In addition to Mr. Ruiz’s inappropriate behavior in my presence, my work environment has been made more hostile by the way Mr. Ruiz has behaved towards other staff members who are women and Chicanas/os. This behavior includes the following:
1) For example I spoke to Ms. Carolina Rubio, who resigned after an incident involving Mr. Ruiz. She told me that he approached her while she was at the copy machine (she was wearing a short sleeve blouse that, she explained, exposed her arms) and he said to her "ay Carolina, you should put on some sunscreen because you are getting too brown and you are looking too dark, my dear" in a very condescending tone. She took great offense to his comment and wasn't sure how to respond. She told me that she was so upset that she brought this up to her immediate supervisor, but nothing was done.
2) Around the same time, Mr. Jose Garza told me that Mr. Ruiz had invited him to the Founders Luncheon and that Mr. Ruiz had made the following remark: "Jose I am going to invite you to join me at the Founder's luncheon, but can you work on losing your accent because it is too Chicano" Mr. Jose Garza told me that at that very moment he decided that he would not continue his work at the Guadalupe beyond his immediate obligation. Mr. Garza no longer works at the Guadalupe.
3) I also heard Mr. Ruiz say of Ms Lisa Bombin that he “wanted her to have his babies.” He made this comment as she was walking away.

I hope you will look closely at the effect Mr. Ruiz’s behavior has had on me and other staff members who must work in a racially and sexually hostile environment. I feel degraded in my body, my femininity, and my identity as a Chicana. I am heart-sick that this is happening at the Guadalupe, which exists to bring a sense of pride and dignity to our barrio. The stress I am experiencing is affecting my physical and spiritual well-being and is undermining my effectiveness and that of other staff members.
Please understand that I have tried every other way I know to resolve this problem. I recognize the seriousness of this complaint and the burden it places on the Board, and I do not undertake the process lightly.

I ask that the Board take immediate and decisive action to remedy this situation. Thank you for your leadership.

In addition there are several staff members that are willing make statements about their own maltreatment to the members of the Board of Directors of the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center.

I have been advised and counseled by attorney Ms. Amy Kastely.

Dolores Zapata Murff
Marketing/Public Relations Manager
Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center 867-6718

Monday, February 27, 2006

The Guadalupe Cultural Center is Different Now : Comment

From Alfredo Santos, doctoral student at UT/Austin and a newspaper publisher from Uvalde, Texas:

I am reading with great interest your series on the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center.
Pa que vez como han cambiado las cosas: Two years ago, I was helping Jaime Martinez put together the program for the Cesar Chavez banquet that always proceeds the march. We were running behind and there were last minute changes to be made. The closest place I could think of that had a copier was the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center. Over the years I had always donated space and sometimes even sold spots for different events they sponsored in some of the newspapers I publish. So I said to myself, pa que son los friends si no te pueden ayudar en un bind? I dashed over the Guadalupe and explained that I needed to redo a brochure and was in a bind for time. Without blinking an eye the staffers who were still at the office working late on some other project showed me to the copy machine y me aranque con mi business. En un tris tras, I resolved the problem y como decia Jackie Gleason, ". . . and away we go." I managed to get the brochure back on time and distributed.
Ahora hay te voy: Last week I was in San Antonio and suddenly my cell phone rang. It was the printer in Austin. I was having a newspaper printed and there was a technical problem. (There are always technical problems.) I always carry a memory stick with me with the important files of the moment por que, pues tu sabes, nunca sabe uno . . Otra vez, I said to myself, where can I can my hands on a computer? Pues the Guadalupe! Me aranque pa ya and tried to hook up with someone who could help me. But this time instead of welcoming faces y orale pues, I sensed that something was different. It was quiet. It too clean, if you know what I mean. (No habia extra posters, flyers, o leaflets como antes. I asked for someone by name and he was summoned. We went out the door and upstairs and I explained my situation with the printer. He looked over his shoulder and then at an imaginary microphone in the wall and said, No puedo. I can't help you today." I thought it was a strange response wondered what was up. After a couple of moments tense silence I decided to leave. Me despedi and walked down the stairs thinking, algo esta pasando aqui.
Now I read your series and I think I understand: Two and Two equals Nine, I was out of line because I didn't read the sign, new boss at work this time!

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Part 2: In the Beginning, the story of the creation of the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center in San Antonio, Texas

Before the Guadalupe, you must understand that there was a civil rights movement that made it possible.

It took the Voting Rights Act in the mid-sixties to transform the San Antonio City Council to single-member districts, allowing a representative number of Latinos and African-Americans to be elected. The new councilmembers in turn redistributed the city's money, which came from the people of San Antonio.


The flagship of that change was the Guadalupe Cultural Center.

In time, the Guadalupe became the most revered cultural center of its kind in the country.

The Guadalupe began life with another name, the Performance Arts Nucleus (PAN),a visual and performing arts organization founded in 1979. Some of the boardmembers to this consortium included David Gonzalez, Rodolfo Garcia, musician Juan Tejeda, Darío Aguilar,and poet Angela de Hoyos.

After some debate, it was agreed that the Guadalupe’s mission would be to preserve, develop, present and promote the arts and culture of Chicanos, Latinos and Indigenous peoples.

After some early management turmoil, Pedro Rodriguez was hired in 1983 as executive director. By then the Guadalupe had purchased the Progreso Drugstore to use as its administrative offices across from the historic Guadalupe Theatre. In the heart of San Antonio’s barrio, this neighborhood is one of the poorest in the nation, and virtually 100% Latino. The reconstruction and re-opening of the Guadalupe Theatre as a performance center – a result of the City Council’s one million dollar loan to the Guadalupe - was central to the revitalization of the Guadalupe Street area.

The oldest program, and the one that many consider the Guadalupe’s forté – is the visual arts. Conceived as a showcase for Chicano art discounted by the mainstream museums and galleries in the seventies, a number of now-prominent artistas have received a significant boost at the Guadalupe, including César Martinez and Adán Hernandez (“San Antonio, Caras y Lugares”, 1985), along with photographer Kathy Vargas (“ContempoTejas”). Each Christmas season, the Guadalupe also offers a popular arts and crafts bazaar called “Hecho a Mano,” where artisans and craftsmen display their work for sale. In addition, the Guadalupe has a Visual Arts Annex with gallery space, classrooms and resident artist studios, located at 322 S. Salado.

Under the direction of accordionist Juan Tejeda who literally “took conjunto out of the bars and onto the stage,” according to Pedro Rodriguez, the Conjunto Festival has become a yearly event. Conjunto is the synthesis of the German settler’s button accordion combined with the Spanish guitar or bajo sexto (a 12-string bass guitar) that is central to Mexican-American culture. The Conjunto Festival is the largest of its kind in the world, playing to an audience of 50,000 over a six-day period in its heydey. It draws tourists from around the country, featuring the best accordionistas in the world playing in styles from traditional to the vanguard.

The GCAC presents a season of professional plays each year, ranging from the ever-popular “Las Nuevas Tamaleras” by Alicia Mena to “Real Women Have Curves to Cherié Moraga’s provocative “Hungry Woman,” which was scheduled for 2003, but then cancelled. In the beginning, says Rodriguez, the Guadalupe staged “progresista” theatre, like estas flores y marshmallow yellow peeps, written by Enedina Vasquez and Josephine Cásarez. The Center has two resident acting companies: Los Actores de San Antonio, and the teen-focused Grupo Animo.

Acting as a sustaining venue for Chicano and Latino films, documentaries and video, the CineFestival celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2002, presenting one hundred different films. “Senorita Extraviada,” Lourdes Portillo’s much-lauded film about the maquiladora murders, and Mexican filmmaker Maria Novaro’s (Danzón) “Sin dejar huella, ” were two of the acclaimed works offered that year.

The major literary event in San Antonio, and one of the most-anticipated events in Texas, has been, until its demise, the GCAC’s Inter-American Book Fair & Literary Festival. Beginning in 1985, then-Literature Director Sandra Cisneros and small press publisher Bryce Milligan, organized the 1st Annual Texas Small Press Bookfair as a way to build audiences and loyalty for small publishing houses. The Book Festival has evolved into a literary festival with world-class authors while supporting emerging new writers. Carlos Fuentes, Alice Walker, Larry McMurtry, Ernesto Cardenal, Elena Poniatowska, Donald Hall, and Maxine Hong Kingston are some of the writers who have headlined at the week-long event.

In 1990, the Guadalupe, in an initial collaboration with the Mexican Cultural Institute, joined forces to develop a professional dance company that would explore the evolving foclórico dynamic. “Rio Bravo (1994)” and “Santuario” (2001), became the Guadalupe’s signature pieces, expressing the complexities of immigration and identity themes via the modern dance and foclorico tradition. The Dance Program employs ten dancers in its company and runs a dance academy at the Instituto, the Mexican Cultural Institute, that serves as a training ground for the professional company.

Under executive director María Elena Torralva-Alonso, a former corporate executive with media and teaching experience who was hired in 1998, the Guadalupe embarked on an ambitious capital campaign. Along with purchases of real estate surrounding the Center. Under her tenure, the Guadalupe Center purchased real estate on Brazos Street, one half-block west on Brazos Street, to build a new visual arts complex.

The Visual Arts and Media complex, formerly an HEB property, is currently empty, and has been beset by controversy for its financial cost: $400,000, not including the extensive renovations required to turn the abandoned building into a state-of-the-art arts and media center.

Under Torralva-Alonso, La Veladora was constructed, a community mural project featuring a three-dimensional 40x20’ veladora honoring La Virgen de Guadalupe, designed by the artist Jesse Treviño. It is expected to increase tourist traffic to the city’s Westside, the oldest and long-neglected barrio in San Antonio, but home to the Guadalupe Center.

In 2003, the Guadalupe had a 1.8 million dollar budget, and 18 full-time staff.

A new director, with the new title of President, R. Bret Ruiz, was hired in July of 2005, after a two-year national search. Financial reports have not been released to verify funding levels, but the Guadalupe received $450,725 from the City of San Antonio for the fiscal year 2005-06, an increase from prior years.

Under Ruiz to date, a substantial downsizing has occurred, with only two artistic directors remaining out of six disciplines. No director has been hired to manage the 25th Anniversary of the Tejano/Conjunto Festival, scheduled for May of this year.

(This essay, in another form, was published in the new Latina/o Encyclopedia by Oxford University Press, 2005, written by me.)

Photo Credit: San Antonio's Skyline at Night, courtesy of Al Rendon, www.alrendon.com

Part 1: The new President of the Guadalupe doesn't want to answer my questions

The corporate-looking guero with an artist’s name, R. Bret Ruiz, who grew up in Kansas City, Missouri, became the President of the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center last July after a two-year national search.

He is the fourth person (the title has changed to president) in seven years to lead the institution since Pedro Rodriguez resigned as executive director of the Guadalupe in the late nineties.

I interviewed Ruiz on Tuesday, February 21st. Ruiz didn’t seem happy to see me, and was accompanied by Loretta Zevallos, a peruana-americana who was introduced to me as his Comptroller, who is also acting as his public relations manager.

In the Guadalupe’s corporate boardroom, Ms. Zevallos asked me right away what kind of story was I going to write? And for whom? I told her that I was a free-lancer, and that as a citizen of San Antonio, I wanted to understand why the Guadalupe, which received $450,725 in operational funds alone from the city of San Antonio for this 05-06 fiscal year, didn’t have any events or programs going on, which is its mission. Especially the Tejano Conjunto Festival, which has drawn two hundred thousand people to San Antonio in its best years.

The world-class Tejano/Conjunto Festival, scheduled for May 10-13, 2006, takes at least a year and a small army of staff and volunteers to organize. No one has been hired yet to direct the golden anniversary of this world-class festival that is just over two months away. Ruiz said he was working on it, and that “it’s going to happen.” A press release would be out in two weeks, he said. Zevallos smiled, adding that the Guadalupe had “many volunteers.”

Somehow I doubt that Ruiz or Zevallos has ever attended the Conjunto Festival.

It takes a million and a half dollars to run the Guadalupe,” estimates Mary Jessie Garza, former Arts Education Director who was fired January 11. Mary Jessie, who is fighting cancer, has lost her health benefits as a result. Almost half a million dollars on top of the City’s allocation comes from monies she and her staff raised from foundations and corporations, she told me. And ninety-two percent of all youth who attend classes have received scholarships in the past.

Under her tenure, the Guadalupe was serving 900-1200 children monthly. She keeps good records, she says, and can prove it. On a visit that we made together to the Cesar Chavez building where the arts classes are held, we counted about 50 youth registered this session instead of the usual 350.

Ruiz just doesn't have the experience to manage a program this size or complexity, says Garza. The Guadalupe's overall budget has been about $1.5 million yearly, with approximately $400,000 targeted to education. In Dallas, Ruiz was managing "a constant $200,000 budget for the Anita N. Martinez Ballet Folkorico in Dallas, including just $33,000 for education which didn't change in the last three years. ” He doesn't know how to get money, she says, citing the Form 990s, available to the public online, www.guidestar.org

There’s no comparison, she says, between “The Anita M. Martinez' one discipline – dancing – and the six disciplines the Guadalupe encompasses - including the family events that the Guadalupe has every year. Under Ruiz, the family events, like Día de los Ninos/Dia de los Libros, has been cancelled. He's also cancelled the Guadalupe's Annual Three Kings Festival, which draws 800 families yearly.

The famed Giftshop/Bookstore has been closed in the Guadalupe Theatre's lobby.

To date, there is no one no to manage the Art Gallery, the yearly BookFair, the CineFestival, or the Arts Education programs, all central to the Guadalupe’s mission and history.

Yet Ruiz told me “there was no change in programming, no change in classes.”

However, while the Guadalupe’s own website lists a schedule for the arts educational programs in visual, media, and music, there are no directors listed. When I visited the new hot-colored 20,000 square foot Visual & Media Arts Building on Brazos Street a half-block west of the Guadalupe Theatre – the complex that is supposed to hold all these classes and more - it was completely empty. The only sign of life there was a man named Rafael, who was acting as a sort of security guard at the state-of-the-art building. Rafael told me there were no classes going on except dance in the evening.

SBC was also there.

How did this happen, I asked Bret. Where is the money going?

Since Ruiz took over last July, seven staffmembers have been released from their contracts, terminated, or resigned because they were distressed by his policies. All these employees are degreed, with many years working experience as artists or working in art programming. They include: Irma Mayorga, Ph.D, Stanford University, who was contracted to manage the Art Gallery and BookFair. She applied for the President’s job, but wasn’t interviewed; Leroy Martinez, Director of Operations; José Garza, Development; Mary Jessie Garza, Arts Education Director and Interim Executive Director prior to Ruiz; Irma Carolina Rubio, M.A.E.E., art education staff and a graduate of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago; Nicole Enriquez, education staff; and Terry Soliz, receptionist.

The female staffmembers, including Mary Jessie Garza, Irma Mayorga and Carolina Rubio, have spoken to me complaining, on-the-record, that Ruiz made racial and sexually disparaging remarks about women. And about the people in the Guadalupe neighborhood, a poor but with rich history and culture. "He used words like rasquache and gente cochina and that he refused to shop at the HEB Las Palmas porque hay mucha gente rasquache at Las Palmas," said Mary Jessie.

In addition, I was told by former staffmembers that two other employees in critical positions would be leaving soon.

Only three of the staffers remaining are involved in full-time arts programming – Dance and Theatre Arts. These include Belinda Menchaca, Dance Program Director and Jeanette Chavez, her assistant; and Marisela Barrera, Theatre Arts Director.

The remaining staff includes: Roman Contreras, Asst. Comptroller, and Angie Botello, Accounting; Dolores Zapata Murff (Dee), who has filed a grievance against Mr. Ruiz, formerly Public Relations and Marketing Manager and now in limbo; Pedro Ramirez, Guadalupe Theatre Manager, and Santiago L. Ybarra, who maintain the Guadalupe Theatre; Carmen Salinas, Membership Volunteer Coordinator; David Mercado Gonzalez, graphic artist.

The new hires that Ruiz has made are: Loretta Zevallos, Comptroller, Cynthia Langston, Director of Development; ; and Ruiz introduced a woman, also white, from out-of-state at the February boardmeeting hired to manage arts education. He also announced that he'd hired a PR manager, an Anglo male, to manage the Conjunto Festival.

The mission of the Guadalupe is to preserve, develop, present and promote the arts and culture of Chicanos, Latinos and indigenous peoples.

“I’ve always been passionate about the arts,” said Ruiz.

Photo Credit: At the Guadalupe Cultural Center, "Virgen Veladora," by Al Rendon, www.alrendon.com

******To be Continued: More questions about R. Bret Ruiz. On the trail of the Guadalupe's debt and financial practices; A complaint letter from Dolores Zapata Murff (Dee) regarding sexual and racial harrassment; A snapshot of the Guadalupe's Board meeting in February; a National Perspective from NALAC, the Guadalupe's Youth Tell It Like it Is!; and a profile of Terry Ybanez, a prominent community leader, teacher and MFA-artist, who has been denied a seat on the Guadalupe Board of Directors. And mucho mas.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Introduction: A Special Series on the Future of the Guadalupe Cultural Center

Dance of Lights, courtesy of Joan Frederick.


Can the Guadalupe dance again?
A Special Series featuring Interviews/Stories/Memorias/and Questions about the future of the nation's oldest and once-premier cultural center for and about
la raza.


Back in the day, I used to come to the Guadalupe Center all the time from Dallas, where I lived. Que tiempos, que parties! The International Bookfair, the Cinefestival, the Conjunto Festival. I planned my life, it seemed, counting the days until my next trip to San Antonio where I was welcomed in a familia that was also searching for its roots.

But then I’m from the Texas Panhandle, and I didn’t grow up reading The House on Mango Street, or knowing anything about Latin American cinema besides el Cine de Oro. Conjunto? Accordion and bajo sexto? That was for la gente baja, but my parents sure liked to go to the cantinas on the weekends when I was a teenager to have some frias and listen to it. Until Juan Tejeda, musician and Music Director for the Guadalupe, took the fiery accordion out of the cantinas and legitimized it in a citywide festival and then talked about it on National Public Radio.

When I was appointed to the Commission for Cultural Affairs in Dallas in the early nineties, I used the Guadalupe Cultural Center as my model for establishing the Latino Cultural Center in Dallas. Pedro Rodriguez, the long-time Guadalupe Executive Director, made several trips to help us. Few of the Latino leadership in Dallas had experience with cultural centers, and the Guadalupe cultura I’d been acquiring for so many years gave me the language - and alma – to energize my community into demanding a house of our own.

In the seven years since Pedro Rodriguez resigned after fifteen years of building the Guadalupe, there has been a series of interim and executive directors, dramatic staff turmoil, increasing financial debt, decreasing membership, decreasing attendance at the landmark events, and lavish scorn from the artists who were launched by the Guadalupe Center many years ago.

In this series, I want to take you to the Guadalupe Center, examining its history, mission and budget, talking to the President, R. Bret Ruiz, the staff, past and present, national cultural leaders and most important of all, the artists and the people who live on 1300 Guadalupe Street, in the hueso of San Antonio.

The Guadalupe deserves this investigation as only we can do it. If it wasn't for the Guadalupe, this city would be a different place, I think.

So let's platicar, chismoliar, criticar, and debate. It's time that we ask each other, entre nosotros: Has the nation’s oldest cultural center for la raza – ended its reign? Should we start over? Is it time to say goodbye?

Or can the Guadalupe, like me, like you, come back home?


p.s. you might want to read a link from San Antonio's so-called alternative newspaper, the San Antonio Current. Click on www.sacurrent.com, and then Bret Ruiz to find their story.


Saturday, February 11, 2006

This is who I am/Quien soy

Watch the video
I am a Tejana who is not afraid to tell true stories.

Ralph Velasquez in his own words: His Family's Escape from the Derailed Train's Poisonous Gas Part 2

Velasquez, fiftyish and with the look of a man who has seen la muerte, with the clock ticking loudly inside him, told me his story alongside his attorneys Amy Kastely and Isabel De la Riva this past Wednesday night:

He had returned home early after taking his children on a fishing trip that was rained out. Everyone went to sleep. Then, a noise woke him up. He looked at the clock. 5:07 a.m. Leticia was choking, and that's when Ralph saw it.

A cloud, a wave, a rolling fog of something that was within 50' of engulfing his house.

There was no way to avoid it. He started choking too, coughing up blood, tissue, and what he later learned were pieces of his lungs.

He and Leticia gathered up the kids, rushing to their car, instinctively realizing that the only chance they had were the back roads, to move faster than the fog sweeping down on them. They took the backroad, only to be snared by a neighbor's barbed wire fence. Desperately, Leticia tried to open the fence, and then tried again, and finally Velasquez just rammed their way through, ripping off the sunroof and windshield wipers, exposing them to the creeping gas now entering the car all around them.

Then they hit what seemed to be a "sea of mud." It had been raining all that week, and Velasquez said it changed the landscape so that he didn't know where they were.

"Daddy, go right, go to the left," the Velasquez children frantically gave advice as the car spun, whirring, gaining momentum, as they took off toward a field of weeds. Then they came to a place where they just couldn't see ahead of them. A ravine. Velasquez backed up the car as fast as he could, stepped on the gas, and somehow, the car lurched, jumping across the emptiness. That's when they saw an open area, where Velasquez knew a rancher who was keeping undocumented workers locked in a barn.

In a mad rush, he freed the men in the barn so that they would have a chance.

From there, he knew where he was.

At the first gas station he called 911. "Are we gonna die?," his daughter cried. Velasquez was bleeding from his nose, and after fifteen minutes of explaining and then waiting and waiting, got hung up on.

He hurried to Wilford Hall, where he and his family were stripped, decontaminated, and where Ralph spent 2 days in ICU.

It is a milagro that he lived. The doctors told him that he should have died. Like the other four people who didn't make it that night. His neighbors and the train conductor.

The railroad industry sees 2 1/2 derailments a day, says Kastely. In 2004, San Antonio had three serious train derailments alone - forcing Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff to demand accountability from Union Pacific.

But that's the trouble. To whom is Union Pacific accountable? Not to us.

Kastely believes that the railroad industry sees "accidents" as a consequence of industry. Which I understand as lax government regulation. Think mining. Or the New Orleans levees.

She cites the railroad's moratorium on upkeep, the employee RIFs, the limitations on new hires, the skeletal crew, the overworked employees pulling double shifts - in short, the cost-cutting measures endemic in many of the industries essential to our national stability. And security.

Most of the train derailments have occurred in poorer communities, where the railroads cross frequently. Poor people are vulnerable to settlements, they don't want to go to trial. And the industry, she says, knows this well.

Velasquez says that about 500 lawyers have called on him, including Johnny Cochran. But he was looking for the right lawyer, the one who would understand the national picture, someone who cared about the latino community, someone with a track record of beating the odds. And he wanted someone to go the whole way with him.

He may not live to see what he has done. But with Kastely besides him, we've already won.

And Willie, his brother, would be so proud.