Original URL: http://www.arizonarepublic.com/arizona/articles/1030townhall30.html

Hispanic influence close to home

By Angela Cara Pancrazio
The Arizona Republic
Oct. 30, 2002

GRAND CANYON - Louis Olivas is more than attached to "Arizona Hispanics: The  Evolution of Influence," not because he directed and edited the research, but because he considers himself a stakeholder in the evolution.

The bound document has been the framework this week for the 81st Arizona  Town Hall "Arizona Hispanics: The Evolution of Influence," which ends today.

The document, co-authored by Olivas and other experts, has prompted dialogue at the Town Hall about Hispanics. Talk has revolved around Latinos in politics, the economy, higher education, immigration and culture.

Olivas pays homage to his grandfather, Jesus Valenzuela, as the one who told him the stories of his family's part in Arizona history.

An assistant vice president of academic affairs at Arizona State University, Olivas is a third-generation Phoenician.

"We were here before the border crossed us," he said. Generations back, his family worked as ranch hands.

Olivas likened Arizona to a family that has not kept up with all its branches. Residents are unaware of Hispanic contributions to the state. More than 1 million people, Olivas wrote in the report's introduction, are part of the dynamic Hispanic branch of the Arizona family tree.

His parents, Frances and Angel, had little schooling. His father completed fourth grade, his mother, eighth grade.

Frances worked as a gift wrapper and in restaurants; Angel worked for Phoenix collecting trash. They lived in the predominantly Hispanic Golden Gate neighborhood near 24th and Jefferson streets.

"I was still in that era," Olivas said, "when the teachers said you can't speak Spanish. I was paddled by teachers for speaking Spanish in elementary school. There was a state of confusion, I could express myself best in Spanish, but I wasn't permitted to.

"It sent a clear message - it's demeaning to speak Spanish. ... Without question we felt isolated and singled out as being different."

But there are still teachers who were his role models. Like his fifth-grade teacher, Miss Oliver, who made him show her his report card through the eighth grade. She knew he was a slacker, he said, but she truly believed in him.

He has been an educator for more than 30 years. He never forgets where he came from.

Olivas is easily transported to his grandfather's front porch, a white wood-framed house on Second Avenue and Apache Boulevard. Here, Jesus told his grandson about the Roosevelt Dam, about the paving of Phoenix streets, and, Olivas, said, "we talked about character, those lifelong expressions that we didn't know were history lessons."

"Dima con andas - tell me who you're with," Olivas repeats his grandfather's teachings. "Yo te digo quien eres - I'll tell you who you are."

Reach the reporter at angela.pancrazio@arizonarepublic.com or (602) 444-8126.


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