Dueling state conventions reflect split in Latino group
The Arizona Republic
May. 27, 2005
Deep divisions within one of Arizona's largest Latino advocacy groups has
sparked two state conventions: an official conference Saturday in Tucson and a
renegade convention on Sunday in Phoenix.
For the first time in its 54-year history, members of Arizona's League of United
Latin American Citizens can choose between conventions with separate elections
for state officers even though LULAC's national office has
renounced the Phoenix affair.
"They don't have the authority to hold a separate convention or separate
elections in Phoenix," said Brent A. Wilkes, LULAC's executive director. "This
is basically an exercise in futility, because none of this will be recognized by
the national organization." advertisement
Observers call the dueling conventions the latest wrinkle in a 1 1/2-year battle
between 52-year-old Samuel Esquivel, the former Arizona LULAC state director,
and the national office, which twice suspended him for allegedly violating
bylaws, including engaging in a lawsuit without permission.
What's more, some say holding separate conventions highlights a growing rift
between Tucson and Phoenix LULAC members, which is eroding the effectiveness of
the advocacy group in a state where discrimination issues often take center
stage because of proximity to Mexico and a burgeoning Latino population.
The Tucson convention kicks off at 6 p.m. at the Inn Suites Hotel in downtown
The Phoenix conference is a daylong affair at the American Legion Post 41 in
Esquivel, who's challenging his suspension, says Valley members asked for the
Phoenix convention. He was ousted as state director after requesting access to
an audit and several bank accounts controlled by state members, he said. Hence,
Esquivel plans to leave the group when his "term" expires this month to form a
new Latino advocacy group with Silverio Garcia, who stepped down as state
education chairman of Arizona's LULAC.
"We feel too many organizations have gotten too soft and mired in diplomacy,"
Esquivel said. "All of the handshaking and smiling at each other hasn't done
much for the Hispanic community. It's time for a more aggressive group to truly
address Latinos' concerns."
Both men have gained reputations throughout the Valley as passionate activists
for their championing of Latino causes, most notably tackling discrimination
issues in schools.
Still, LULAC officials welcome Esquivel's defection, which they say could
bolster relations among the state's 40 chapters. Arizona has nearly 1,000 of
LULAC's 115,000 members, but it's uncertain how many belong to the Tucson or
"We're hoping he will start his own group, because that will help restore the
peace," said Dave Rodriguez, national vice president for the far west region.
"Maybe then we can focus on public-policy issues, growing membership and
starting scholarship programs. Those are the things LULAC is known for
throughout the country."
Rodriguez, who pushed for Esquivel's ouster, plans to hold the first
post-convention meeting in Phoenix to address Valley members' concerns. He
called solidifying the group "critical" in Arizona, where 25 percent of the
population is Latino.
Recent developments, such as the Minuteman Project on the border and passage of
Proposition 200, have created a sense of urgency, he said.
"Now is not the time for this bickering . . . because people start to question
your organization's credibility," said Rodriguez, a former member of the Tucson
Those following the unfolding drama agree, saying it could take years for
an advocacy group to regain its footing and reputation after ongoing discordant
"This has turned into a very public, very ugly fight and that can truly hurt an
organization," said Tommy Espinoza, president and CEO of the Raza Development
Fund in Phoenix. "It just leaves (non-Latino) critics to say, 'Gee, they can't
even work together amongst themselves, so how can they work with us?' "