Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Hispanic Elephant in the Room

What the HOA presidents showed

The Richardson City Council held a work session Monday night attended by the council, city staff, three homeowner association presidents and at least two elephants, one ignored and the other unnoticed (more on them later). The three HOA presidents talked about their vision of excellence for southwest Richardson. Their presentation was full of both "big ideas" and small. It had photos of potholes contrasted with photos of urban villages and lakes. It had calls for cracking down on rundown homes, apartments and commercial properties. It had suggestions that density along Spring Valley Rd needs to be lessened, maybe by replacing apartments with town homes or just green space. It had warnings that the Whole Foods store on Coit Rd might close if urban blight is allowed to worsen.

One council member said that the elephant in the room was Dallas, that because Spring Valley Rd is the border between Richardson and Dallas, we must bring Dallas to the table to achieve any meaningful redevelopment in the area. No one explained what's being done to bring Dallas to the table or suggested what more can or should be done, not even the council member who brought it up. I guess that's why it's an elephant in the room.

No one even noticed the other elephant in the room. That's the Hispanic elephant. The three HOA presidents laying out their vision for the area were white. (Maybe I should say non-Hispanic white. Is there a word for that?) The seven city council members and city manager and city staff were white. (If you're of Arab/Persian descent and object to being called "white", I apologize. I'll use whatever racial/ethnic term people self-identify with, but in this case I'm pretty sure it's not Hispanic.) The members of the public at the work session, or at least those on camera (thank you city council for finally televising these affairs), were white. No one looked like they might be fluent in Spanish. The grocery store that all were in fear of losing was Whole Foods, not Fiesta Mart or Mi Super. If anyone noticed the absence of the people who live in the apartments or shop in the mercado, no one seemed to mind. The city manager did say that the city has interaction with the apartments in the area, or at least the police department does. The roomful of white people laughed. The city manager smiled at his little joke. That's as close as that elephant came to being recognized.

Let's face it. Richardson's minorities are not represented on the city council or at council meetings and work sessions even though that's where the decisions are made that will have a huge impact on the neighborhoods where Richardson's minorities live and shop. Perhaps it's because minorities don't vote in numbers big enough to have their voices be heard. Richardson's at-large system of government is designed to keep it that way. Until minorities speak up, it's likely that roomfuls of white people are going to continue to make the decisions for the community as a whole. It's up to the elephant in the room to speak.

What the HOA presidents did not show

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