News Column

San Antonio Hispanic Leaders Call for Bold Leadership

September 2, 2013

On the eve of Labor Day, two of San Antonio's prominent Hispanic leaders closed out the Festival People en Espanol late Sunday with a call for bold civic involvement.

"It's about never being afraid to speak your mind," said Henry Munoz III, a Democratic Party leader and VIA Metropolitan Transit chairman.

"Fear is often what keeps us from doing anything," said City Councilman Diego Bernal, who is leading an effort to adopt a local nondiscrimination ordinance, which would add protections for sexual orientation, gender identity and veteran status.

During a roughly 45-minute discussion moderated by Lena Hansen, senior writer with People en Espanol magazine, Munoz said he was honored "as a Latino and as a gay man" to appear with Bernal, whose ordinance has been hotly debated and is set for a vote Thursday. The two spoke, in English, on "Making a Positive Impact in Our Community" as people filed out of the Convention Center near the end of a two-day festival celebrating Latino culture and music, with a heavily sponsored commercial presence.

About 70 people heard the pair -- a much smaller and older crowd than had gathered earlier to see Mexican actress Silvia Navarro and other entertainers on the main stage for a panel discussion in Spanish. Munoz and Bernal both said U.S. Latinos face great opportunities and challenges.

Munoz spoke of his parents, both labor activists, and recent protests by fast-food restaurant employees to raise minimum wage standards. He said "young people" are using social media and other forms of communication to create a "new form of activism."

"Right now, my activism is being focused on that part of the community who are being told that they don't belong," Munoz said.

Bernal said his mother, who raised him as a single parent, and the late U.S. Rep. Henry B. Gonzalez were his early mentors, and said he'll soon release a "new record" of his electronic music. The most important aspect of the festival might be its emphasis on art, culture and character -- qualities that define every segment of society, Bernal said.

The event, an extravaganza of Hispanic entertainment and culture, is in the second year of a three-year city contract that has raised some eyebrows.

VIA Metropolitan is spending almost $35,000 to provide free park-and-ride service with the hopes of boosting festival attendance. It represented the first time VIA had provided free bus service for an event backed by a for-profit entity. The transit agency also gave the event $16,000 in advertising.

VIA officials have said 344 people rode the service to the Convention Center during the weekend. It also carried 127 people to the Alamodome for concerts during the festival.

Organizers had not released final attendance figures late Sunday. But People en Espanol Publisher Monique Manso said they had an "overwhelmingly enthusiastic response." Based on early figures, including an estimated 6,000 at the Convention Center on Saturday and 5,000 at Saturday night's concert, the event exceeded last year's turnout "by double-digit percentage increases," she said in a statement.

"We can't think of a better way to kick off Hispanic Heritage Month than this positive reinforcement of community and culture in San Antonio," Manso said.

Emma Guerrero-Arzola, 69, said she stayed up past midnight Saturday for Gloria Estefan's concert and watched Sebastien De La Cruz, an 11-year-old mariachi singer who made national news in June when he sang at an NBA Finals game and was heckled online, sing "Happy Birthday" to Estefan. Guerrero-Arzola said the festival is gaining momentum, and providing a forum for San Antonio's Latino community to galvanize.

"It tells the whole community that the Latino culture is alive and well," she said.

Source: (c)2013 the San Antonio Express-News Distributed by MCT Information Services

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