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Dallas Latina trailblazer fights local school trustees over election comment made about Obama

LatinaLista — Before and since Obama was elected president, there have been rumblings that blacks and Latinos don’t get along. Usually, the ones who talked about such a rift were the old-timers who had lived in those turbulent times when high political tensions existed between the two groups.
Whenever these old-timers dared to relive the past, the rebuttals came swift and hard.
At least that was the case in Dallas, Texas when 86-year-old, Adelfa Callejo, Dallas trailblazer for Latino civil rights, and a Hillary Clinton supporter, dared to say at the height of the presidential election that “Obama simply has a problem that he happens to be black.”
Immediately, Callejo was criticized not just by blacks and whites but from her own local community, especially the younger people who accused her of living in the past.
Though Callejo is credited with advancing the civil rights of Dallas Latinos, and is often recognized when it comes to the history of civil rights in Dallas as being a major player, none of that is being remembered now as Callejo is fighting a new fight — to keep her legacy alive.
Because of her comments, there are some Dallas Independent School Trustees who have voiced that they will not name a school after her until she apologizes for her comments about Obama. Some say they will refuse to vote for her regardless.
The whole issue has become so politically radioactive that the local public radio station even refused to allow a commentary (written by this author) based on the grounds the topic was too “hot” and might somehow implicate the station in trying to sway the vote scheduled for tonight.
If historically there has been tension between blacks and Latinos, this is a cause that is resurrecting old feelings in some camps and forcing a new generation to choose sides.

Even within the Dallas Latino community, there are mixed feelings about Callejo but feelings don’t erase the fact that Callejo is credited with some major accomplishments:

  • Challenged the system of at-large elections in electing Dallas City Council members — a system that diluted minority voting power and won.
  • Lobbied six Dallas district superintendents until there was finally a dropout prevention program implemented in the school district.
  • Got more women and minority-owned businesses a fair chance to win a concessions contract at DFW International Airport.

Since it was announced that trustees may vote against Callejo, her supporters and family have waged an all-out campaign sending press releases to “clarify” her statement on Obama.
It’s reported that Callejo herself called one of the trustees to try and persuade her to change her vote.
While Callejo’s supporters may feel they are pursuing the right course of action by appealing directly to public opinion, it is having the opposite reaction. Too many, who sympathized with Callejo initially, are now interpreting these actions as desperate attempts for a shallow reason — just to get a name on a school.
In the process, Callejo is tarnishing her own proud record of achievement. Yet, given Callejo’s character, it’s not surprising that she is not going to go down without a fight.
It’s why she was so effective in the early years and why she is a woman accustomed to speaking her mind without considering the consequences — because the consequences were always worse than doing nothing.
Or in this case, being forgotten before you’re even gone.

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  • Karen
    June 25, 2009 at 9:38 pm

    I heard the context of her comments. She said that black elected officials in Texas have a history of treating Latinos badly and that Obama was being judged by that standard. She didn’t say anything racist. Good grief. Regardless of what happens, her legacy will be fine. I also think that some of these young people need a history lesson.

  • kenda
    June 26, 2009 at 9:11 am

    Interesting post. It is my understanding that the naming of the school after Mrs. Callejo has now been approved, but I think this was the wrong move. Her comments in last year’s primary were highly offensive, and the haughty manner in which she said them belie the excuse that she was merely explaining the difficulty a black candidate would face in Texas. I think any fair reading of her comments would lead one to believe that Mrs. Callejo was showing her own personal biases.
    I do not believe a lifetime of good work should not be overshadowed by one bigoted statement. However, if Mrs. Callejo is too proud to apologize, she will get the tarnished legacy she deserves.

  • Amanda
    June 26, 2009 at 10:21 am

    Marisa, I didn’t get your meaning in this sentence. “If historically there has been tension between blacks and Latinos, this is a cause that is resurrecting old feelings in some camps and forcing a new generation to choose sides.”
    I think I kind of know what you meant, but to me that implies that we have to choose between supporting the black community OR supporting the Latino community. I think I don’t have to make that choice because what helps one will help the other. On the other hand, if we are choosing between the “old way” and the “new way,” I choose to unite rather than divide. If that means calling out Latino leaders, so be it.
    I don’t have an opinion on the Callejo issue since I’m not familiar with the context, but this is my feeling overall.

  • irma
    June 26, 2009 at 1:26 pm

    Adelfa Callejo is being villainized unfairly.
    She did nothing wrong. The fact that her legacy may be in jeopardy is testimony to the ignorance of the groups who are attempting to minimize her accomplishments. Adelfa Callejo was able to get a college education without the benefit of affirmative action and US government grants or loans or bilingual education. This self made woman went on to try give back to a community that gave her essentially nothing.
    She should not apologize, some people in Dallas owe her an apology.

  • Marisa Treviño
    June 27, 2009 at 9:46 pm

    Amanda, You got it right in the second example. It’s choosing between the old prejudices or the “new way.” And I’m glad that you choose to unite — I feel that’s the way to go too.

  • irma
    June 28, 2009 at 7:28 pm

    If maligning the old way is the new way, I want no part of the new way.
    Growing up in Dallas – Adelfa Callejo served as a role model for me. She was the only Mexican American woman I knew about that had gone to college.
    My mother told me that Adelfa Callejo got a full scholarship to study at UNAM in Mexico. I remember that this was the first time I learned what a “full scholarship” meant- tuition was free.
    My mother told me that Adelfa Callejo
    was really smart and that in the 1940s in Dallas, she had been a straight A student. I remember thinking if I get straight As. then I can get a full scholarship too. So that is what I did-
    only mine was at Rice University.
    Shame on all you young guys for not understanding how Adelfa Callejo views the world. Michelle Obama said a few things about Hilary Clinton’s marriage that were way out of line- snotty, cruel and catty. She was just plain mean.
    Adelfa Callejo was not mean – just honest.

  • kenda
    June 29, 2009 at 11:48 pm

    Irma, I just read over the comments, and I don’t think anyone is “maligning the old”. My statement above is slightly unclear due to a typo, but I was basically saying that while Mrs. Callejo’s life of good works shouldn’t be overshadowed by this one incident, her comments were both inappropriate and hurtful and she should apologize.
    I think everyone would agree that civil rights leaders are held to a higher standard. Mrs. Callejo’s visibility comes with the added responsibility of having to chose your words wisely and in this instance she did not meet that burden.
    Adelfa Callejo is a pioneer and has overcome a number of challenges throughout the years, but the injustices one suffers in his or her life does not give them the right to discriminate against others.
    (Btw, I’m from Dallas so I figure I’m pretty close to the situation.)

  • irma
    June 30, 2009 at 10:48 am

    Adelfa Callejo’s comments were not inappropriate – she is entitled to her opinion and I daresay her experience with Dallas politics well exceeds yours or mine.
    She didnt violate anyone’s civil rights ( that is what I understand to be the legal definition of discrimination).
    Btw, I am from Dallas – I know exactly
    what Adelfa Callejo is talking about.
    It is less of a problem now, than
    it was in the 1940s, but it is alive and well.
    Many public leaders including current and former Presidents (and their wives)
    senators etc are on the record for saying lots of inappropriate things. Where is your outrage about that? Or do you just restrict it to old Mexican ladies?

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