July 9, 2003

Meet Your Neighbors

Meet Your Neighbors
The face in our city’s mirror is changing.
July 09, 2003


The crowd outside the Rose Marine Theater on North Main numbered more than a thousand. Some had arrived at 5 a.m. with folding chairs, ice chests, water bottles, and umbrellas, and they waited in the sweltering heat, in a line stretching down the sidewalk, around the building, down the alley and into the street.

This week, the historic theater will no doubt draw plenty of folks to its Latino Film Series and Hispanic Playwrights Festival. But the crowd last month was looking for a different kind of excitement. Men and women, kids and old people were waiting to apply for a matricula — a Mexican-government identification card that can help in opening bank accounts and in re-entering Mexico. Matriculas are becoming a kind of national I.D. card for Mexican citizens living abroad.

Like the film and stage series, the crowds for this event held a powerful message about the diversity of our city. They represent the changing face of Fort Worth — and indeed, of our country.

There are more than 1.5 million Latinos in North Texas. In Tarrant County, the Latino community has more than doubled in each of the last two censuses. Before that, the 1980 census showed an increase of nearly 100 percent. That’s three decades of tremendous growth, and we are not slowing down. We now are the fastest-growing and largest ethnic minority in Fort Worth, Tarrant County, Texas, and the United States. Over half of North Texas Latinos are members of the immigrant community, the fastest-growing segment of our population.

Latinos are employed in all aspects of life. We are builders and construction workers, lawyers and landscapers, waiters and doctors, mechanics, teachers, business owners and more. We keep the economy going, first by doing the work and second by spending our hard-earned dollars. We are a multi-billion-dollar industry. We are the future.

What impact will these changing demographics have on Fort Worth? One is to add hope. New arrivals bring hope and dreams of a better tomorrow. They are buying homes, sending children to schools, buying products and services, and investing in our future. In general, the newest immigrants are better educated and more likely to be professionally trained than the generations who preceded them. They are also more likely to hang onto their Spanish language skills and their native culture — their mexicanismo.

A second effect is on civic participation. They want to participate in our community in a positive and productive manner. Their largest hurdle is learning the “how to’s” of the process and procedures, the rules and regulations, the local, state, and federal laws.

A gentleman at an immigration seminar told of saving his money and buying a house at auction. He worked two jobs, so the only time he could work on his house was at night. All went well until he started digging a trench from his home to the street for his water service. The motorized trench digger was keeping the neighbors awake, and one of them called the police.

The police officer explained that he could not continue digging at night. The man was startled. Why not? It was his house, he was on his property. The officer explained the city noise ordinance and then noticed that the man did not have a construction permit posted. The immigrant knew nothing about city ordinances and permits. In the end, the cost of the house, the permits, and the repairs were more than it would have cost to buy a house ready to move into — a valuable and expensive lesson on how things are different in the U.S. compared to Mexico.

I can only hope that veteran Fort Worth residents, in turn, will learn a lesson in participation from the immigrants. Most new arrivals come from Mexico, where voter turn-out in municipal elections averages 40 to 50 percent. In our last municipal election voter turn-out was around 4 percent. Their participation should be welcome news for local politicians and community leaders.

So, back to that crowd outside the theater. June 11 had been proclaimed “Dia de Matricula” by the Fort Worth City Council in recognition of the efforts of Councilman Jim Lane, State Rep. Lon Burnam, and Casa Del Inmigrante (CDI) to bring Juan Jose Salgado, the Mexican deputy consul in Dallas, to Fort Worth for the six-hour proceedings.

CDI and our volunteers planned for two months for this first-time-ever event, promoting it through word of mouth and handing out flyers. The Fort Worth Hispanic Fire Fighters, Police Chief Ralph Mendoza, Coca-Cola of North Texas, Aztec Worldwide Inc., J&D Inc., Sammy Pantoja and The Chicano Luncheon all helped bring it about. Despite minimal media exposure, more than 500 people were able to apply for identification documents. More than 600 others left disappointed.

Two weeks later, Consul Salgado returned — and this time more than 1,500 people showed up. About 500 people picked up the matriculas they had applied for on June 11. Another 500 filled out and turned in applications to be processed, and 500 more picked up applications for the next event.

It is time to remove the blinders of “them versus us,” to give up the false distinctions of illegal, undocumented, and “wetback.” We are all neighbors with common ground and common goals for a better life. The sooner we recognize our changing face, the better.

If you know Latino residents who need help with immigration issues, tell them to contact Casa del Inmigrante at 817-626-0445 or by e-mail at cdifw@yahoo.com. Better yet, come join us in helping them scale the obstacles they face.

Renny Rosas is a founder of Casa del Inmigrante, host of The Chicano Luncheon, and a Fort Worth political consultant.

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