A week ago today Vice President Agnew stood in a sea of television lights at the Century Plaza Hotel to announce the formation of a new national organization to promote business development among the nation’s 10 million Spanish-speaking citizens.
Agnew said the undertaking would help ensure that “Americans of Hispanic descent get a fair chance at the starting line.”
By the end of the day, thanks to the great coverage the Vice President gets from the news media, the whole nation knew of the formation of the National Economic Development Assn. or NEDA.
In the barrios Chicanos immediately started calling NEDA NADA, which in Spanish spells “nothing.”
Why this rude put-down about an organization which undoubtedly will help some worthy, energetic Spanish-speaking entrepreneurs?
The bitterness stems from the distortion of priorities in this country.
Just two days before Agnew made his announcement, Sen. Mike Mansfield complained that too much attention was being given to the ABMs and the SSTs and not enough to the ABCs.
NEDA, started with a grant from the Small Business Administration, will initiate business development for the Spanish-speaking through public and private sources, it was announced. Fine. Great. Long overdue.
But is it accurate for the Vice President to say that NEDA will ensure that “Americans of Hispanic descent get a fair chance at the starting line”?
NEDA, as good a concept as it is, will invariably help only those who have already made it—those who are in business or ready to go into business. This is hardly the “starting line” for the Mexican-American in this country.
The following has been said and written many times but it has yet to effectively penetrate the minds of our national leaders: The Mexican-American has the lowest educational level, below either black or Anglo; the highest dropout rate; and the highest illiteracy rate.
Yet, bilingual education was one of the items President Nixon vetoed in the educational bill. The veto was overridden but the veto indicates a strange definition the Administration has about where the “starting line” is.
Martin G. Castillo, chairman of the Nixon Administration’s Cabinet Committee on Opportunity for the Spanish Speaking, said during the NEDA press conference that the Vice President had recently donated $10,000 to the Salesian Boys Club from proceeds of the sale of Spiro Agnew watches.
Castillo complained that this gesture typifying the “other side of the Vice President” got little mention in the news media.
That may be. But something besides the Vice President’s Spiro Agnew watch gesture was being ignored by the news media.
On the same day that Agnew was getting nationwide publicity over the formation of NEDA, the U.S. Senate’s Select Committee on Equal Educational Opportunity was winding up a two-day hearing on minority educational problems. The Vice President and NEDA got the lion’s share of the publicity.
Complained Sen. Walter Mondale, chairman of the committee: “We found that the best way to get television cameras out of this room and reporters to leave is to hold a hearing on Mexican-American education. There doesn’t seem to be any interest. Yet this is the second largest minority in America.”
Mario Obledo, director of the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, told the senators that it was a “tragedy on the part” of federal and state government to ignore the educational problems of Mexican-Americans.
“How do you bring this to the attention of the American public?” asked Obledo. “Does it require some overt act of violence to bring it forth, or can it be handled in a manner that is conducive with the American way of life?”
Father Henry J. Casso, also of the Mexican-American Defense Fund, asked Sen. Mondale: “How long would you and I continue to do business with a lawyer who lost eight out of 10 cases; a doctor who lost eight of every 10 of his patients? Being a religionist, what would my bishop do if I lost eight of 10 parishioners?”
“Yet, the institutions, including government, have remained mute to see eight out of every 10 Mexican-American children drop out, kicked out and pushed out of the educational institutions of this country. No one has asked an accounting for the vast sums of public money that have been wasted. But the young are demanding an accounting and I stand with them.”
Dr. Hector Garcia, a Texas physician and former member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights who was dumped from the commission by the Nixon Administration, testified that 80% of Mexican-American students in Texas never get past the sixth grade.
” . . .the system has not worked for us,” Dr. Garcia said. “I am here as a capitalist. I am one of the few Mexicano capitalists. They say, ‘Dr. Garcia, why do you criticize?’ I say, I only criticize because I want more Mexicano capitalists, educated, in college . . .”
NEDA, then, will mean little until the government is serious about creating more Chicano capitalists—through good schools.
This was Ruben Salazar’s final article in the Los Angeles Times. Ruben Salazar was killed the next day by the Los Angeles County Sheriffs after they disrupted the Chicano Moratorium on August 29, 1970. Lyn Ward and Angel Gilberto Díaz were also killed at the Moratorium.