January 12, 2005
An executive officer in one of the state’s most influential Hispanic organizations announced his resignation Tuesday in a statement that unveiled deep turmoil within the Arizona chapter.
Avondale resident Silverio Garcia, who served as state education chairman of the League of United Latin American Citizens until this week, said a national league officer improperly suspended him on Jan. 4 to halt a planned public statement against a Phoenix school official with political clout in the Hispanic community.
"In my quitting the organization and coming forward in what I know, I hope to start the public unveiling of some very ruthless and self-serving people," Garcia said.
He also said the same league faction that silenced him has made plans to oust state director Sam Esquivel as early as February.
Esquivel, a Glendale resident, said he has endured threats of impeachment since he took control of the state chapter in May 2003, but he has paid little attention. "My concern has been for the welfare of the Hispanic community, and nothing else," he said.
Esquivel said infighting among league factions in Tucson and Phoenix has festered for decades, and caught him off guard when he retired from the Air Force in New Mexico and moved to Arizona in 1996.
The Tribune reported in November 2003 that outgoing league state director Mary Fimbres of Tucson retained control of the organization’s bank account for six months after Esquivel took office. The feud eventually led to Esquivel’s public call for a financial audit.
In May 2004, the league again made news when members protested the plans of East Valley chapter president Jon Garrido to organize a Mesa event that banned non-Hispanics.
"At first I thought it was a harmonious organization," Esquivel said. "I wasn’t fully aware how deep the divisions existed."
Esquivel said Garcia defended Hispanic schoolchildren well against civil rights abuses, and his resignation will be a loss for the league.
But national executive director Brent Wilkes in Washington, D.C., said Garcia needed to be reined in to protect the organization’s reputation.
Wilkes said Garcia too often filed federal complaints or called for boycotts, resignations and student walkouts without approval from the Arizona governing board of the league.
Garcia’s actions included federal civil rights complaints against the East Valley Institute of Technology in Mesa and the Paradise Valley Unified School District.
"You just don’t go out and start throwing the LULAC name around like it’s personal property," Wilkes said.
Wilkes said calls have been made for Esquivel’s impeachment on the grounds that the state director allowed Garcia and Garrido to operate unchecked.
Esquivel’s supporters, meanwhile, said Tuesday that Garcia won numerous civil rights victories as education chairman and did not need permission from the state board to take action in that position.
Kathy Poulos-Minott, a Hispanic activist from Maine who serves on the National Limited English Proficiency Advocacy Task Force, said she worked with Garcia on numerous civil rights cases in Arizona and found him to be a strong advocate on Hispanic issues.
"He’s not your usual LULAC person," she said. "Your usual LULAC person is a sellout."
She said her organization does not allow league members on its board because of evidence that large corporations control the group.
She said activists such as Garcia who stand up to political pressure usually do not survive in the league.
"I’m surprised he lasted this long," she said.
Garcia might find a new position as education chairman of the Arizona Hispanic Community Forum.
Paradise Valley Community College Spanish instructor David C. Rubi, a Cave Creek resident who serves as president of the Arizona Hispanic Community Forum, said in an e-mail circulated among Hispanic activists on Tuesday that he would offer the job to Garcia.
Rubi declined to address the situation further.
"I don’t believe any organization should air its dirty linen in public," he said. "It’s bad for the organization. For example, I am sure that there are negative office politics and discord at the Tribune that would make the Tribune look bad if it were reported on and taken out of context."