Category Archives: Oportunidades

The Austin Trip–So Far

Yes, blogging has been a little slow, but Austin has been keeping me busy. Actually, Central Texas, generally.

Central Texas

Monday, my camarada and Houston organizer, Fidencio Leija, invited me to my old stomping grounds in San Marcos to meet his protege’, Nathan. Nathan is a grad student at Texas State (PoliSci, what else?) and is going to head up an effort to register and GOTV Latino students, as well as San Marcos residents. It’s not a project for the faint of heart, actually, but his energy will definitely be contagious. A visit to the elections office, a voter registrar training later, and some good insight from the head of the office, and Nathan is set!


Facebook is a great little tool, sometimes. How else would I have found about Austin’s HABLA platica held this morning at Austin Java. HABLA is Hispanic Advocates Business Leaders of Austin, a local think tank that meets to discuss solutions on various issues impacting the Austin Latino community. Today’s discussion was on the continuing debate over single member districts in Austin.

Advocates in the Latino community are pushing for a 10-1 solution–10 districts (geographic representation), 1 Mayor elected at-large–while some city insiders push for a hybrid solution (8-2-1), kind of like the one we have in Houston. Much of this will come to a head on Thursday as Austin City Council meets to discuss what may/will become a referendum on the November ballot. While Council may present a hybrid solution, 10-1 advocates have been collecting signatures for a 10-1 referendum. Will both appear on the ballot? Will it be either/or? I guess all of this might be answered, or at least discussed, on Thursday. I plan on being there to check things out.

Ultimately, Austinites must demand that they hold the power; not certain special interest groups who anoint candidates ahead of time. That’s what geographic representation is all about.

Somos Tejanos

So, Somos Tejanos is going to change slightly. After a year of constant activity, blogging, and being a one-touch source of information for Tejanos, the evolution continues. I think the boss, Amaury Nora, said it best:

Simply put, the effective public use of social networks to influence policy isn’t something that needs to be proven feasible now, it has shifted into a reality that needs to be improved upon and promoted.

Given that evolution, Somos Tejanos must change to meet the needs of the community. Last year can be viewed as a useful experiment in learning about public policy and social networks, with a finite lifespan. It will not be a dramatic change from our mission, as we’ll be continuing in the work without any pause or interruption.

The adventure definitely continues! Stay connected.

And I even have celeb news:  MACHETE is in the same hotel as I. Danny Trejo is in town shooting the sequel, Machete Kills. As I walked off the parking garage elevator I saw him in the restaurant with his entourage and I just froze. Phone dying, camera up in the room, totally unprepared. I’m carrying my camera with me and my phone charger from now on!

That’s my update during hump day in Austin. It hasn’t been humid, which is a welcome change; but, the sun does feel like it’s going to burn right through me, sometimes. See you soon!

3rd Centavo: Clean Energy and the Environment As Houston Latino Issues

by Dr. Reynaldo Guerra

Maria Cardona, a CNN Contributor, wrote a great article on the environment being a Latino issue nationwide.  She makes a strong case for the environment and clean energy being ‘linked’ for Latinos.  I completely agree, but I’d take it a step further.  While the term ‘linkage’ does imply a connection, it doesn’t necessarily connote dependence, and all evidence points to there being a strong dependence between the three, especially here in Houston.

The nerd in me can’t resist the opportunity for a science analogy here.  Let’s start with a definition:

Symbiotic Relationship: A relationship between entities that is of mutual benefit or dependence. (Note: 100% of scientists don’t agree on this definition, but that’s a separate discussion better had over a frothy beverage.)

I’m not sure how old I was, I was probably still playing with G. I. Joes, but I remember learning about symbiotic relationships in science class.  I still remember the picture of the small fish (a remora, it turns out) swimming, almost with a smile, next to a very mean looking shark.

Even a superficial look at our current situation in this country illustrates the fact that Latinos, the environment, and clean energy all have a symbiotic relationship (I’ll leave it to the reader’s imagination to decide the shark leaving crumbs for remoras in this metaphor).  The three are all dependent on each other in some way or another. Each thrives and is much healthier for the other.  Their survival may even depend on their having a healthy relationship.

Given the fact that Houston is the energy capitol of the world and Latinos are 44% of her population, this tri-symbiotic relationship is especially pronounced here in Houston.  Let’s frame the discussion.

Green Home Construction

There is a large contingent of Latinos here in Houston that are blue-collar workers.  It’s even fair to say that anytime something is built or constructed, Latinos will likely play a major role.  I recently visited a LEED Gold certified elementary school as a part of our mayor’s Green Building Tours Initiative (kudos, Mayor Parker).  Not only was one of the creative designers a Latino from Paraguay, but it’s a safe bet that most of the construction was performed by Latinos as well. Given the population and demographics of the construction industry, solar panels, low-E windows, insulation, or any other green measure installed in Houston will most likely be installed by Latinos.

Building Energy Efficiency: REEP

Unfortunately, the City of Houston’s Residential Energy Efficiency Program (REEP) appears to be on the chopping blocks.  However, since 2010 REEP is responsible for having created, by some estimates, almost 1,000 jobs and for having made thousands of low-income homes energy efficient.

To put REEP’S environmental benefits into perspective, residential and commercial buildings account for 67% of all electricity consumption and 40% of CO2 emissions in the U.S. (DOE).  Either African-Americans or Latinos occupy the vast majority of low-income homes in Houston.  Energy bills are also a much bigger percentage of income for low-income communities.  Making homes energy efficient in the 4th largest city in the country has a huge impact on the environment and on the health and pocketbook of the Latino community.

The REEP program not only created blue-collar jobs for Latinos, it also created managerial and entrepreneurial opportunities.  Four prime contractors were initially awarded the REEP contract.  Two of them were minority owned: Payless Insulation (woman-owned) and PMG Project Management Group (Latino-owned).  The government requirement that prime contractors subcontract out 25% of their work to minority- or women-owned firms has created significant opportunities for Latino entrepreneurs and blue-collar workers.

The Mayor and the City of Houston have made strong commitments to a Green Houston.  They have publically stated a goal of becoming number one in the nation in Energy Star and LEED certified buildings and have committed to making 30 million sq. ft. of city property energy efficient by 2020.  The realization of these goals will undoubtedly lead to more blue- and white-collar jobs for Latinos.

Environmental Justice

The GOP has been in the news lately attacking potential environmental regulations as ‘”job killers.”  Well, not only is the opposite true (see case studies all over Europe and even Austin, for example) but, as Cardona points out, for millions of Americans, especially Latinos, clean air regulations are “life-saving regulations.”  This isn’t surprising, since most occupied areas affected by pollution happen to be inhabited by Latinos or African-Americans.  Again, this is especially true in the Houston area, Pasadena being a prime example.  With respect to creating jobs, retrofitting existing equipment or installing new equipment to meet environmental regulations requires labor, excellent job opportunities for Latinos.  Again, regulations that target pollution and carbon emissions are both health preserving and job creating.

With the recession still in town, it behooves the Latino community to rally around policy, elected officials, and businesses that support the environment and clean energy initiatives.  Our health and ability to put food on the table may depend on it.

Dr. Reynaldo Guerra is a Houston small business owner and Chair of the Greater Houston Civic Coalition.

3rd Centavo: On Taking from the Rich and Giving to the Poor

by Dr. Reynaldo Guerra

I heard somebody say recently that if we just took all of the money the rich in this country have and redistribute it across the country, that that would end our economic problems.  I thought it an interesting concept, so I decided to crunch some numbers (I know, I’m a nerd).

According to the Wall Street Journal, there were 3.1 million millionaires in the United States in 2010 (the most in history).  The combined net worth of these millionaires was $11.6 trillion (up from $10.7 trillion in 2009).

According to the US Census, there are approximately 312.9 million people living in the United States.

Dividing $11.6 trillion by 312.9 million (e.g. spreading the millionaires’ net worth across the population of the country) yields about $37,000 per person.  A nice sum of cash, but certainly not enough to solve the poverty issue facing our country.

Myth busted.  In evaluating policy to bring us out of this recession, it seems that the only way to elevate the status of the poor in this country, in the world for that matter, is to create new wealth…on a massive scale.

Dr. Reynaldo Guerra is Chair of the Houston Civic Coalition and a local small business owner.

Note:  3rd Centavo is the new name of’s guest blog-post opportunity. If you have meaningful commentary you would like published, please submit to

The Campaign Against Wage Theft in Houston

There’s a story in today’s Chron about several workers walking out of Ruggles in Montrose for what is described as lack of pay. Specifically, it is about workers who work for tips getting shortchanged. The owner of Ruggles says he’s working on it, but is also embroiled in other legal issues. Still, legal issues aren’t much of an excuse to not pay some folks.

Again, this is just one example of an ongoing crisis called wage theft. Here in Houston, there is now a movement asking Mayor Annise Parker and Houston City Council to take a stand against the practice:

It is time to take action now considering that: Wage theft disproportionately impacts those who already live in poverty ; Workers who aren’t paid are forced to fall back on public safety nets and government assistance in order to keep their families economically afloat; Wage theft is unfair competition since employers paying prevailing wages cannot successfully compete with businesses that reduce their costs by committing wage theft. We believe that you can take action to level the playing field for responsible businesses and bring economic justice to thousands of hard-working Houstonians. We urge you to work together to make Houston a Zero Tolerance city for wage theft.

While the Mayor and other politicians present a positive picture for corporations and small business, I think it would be a good idea to combine that with a pro-worker environment by taking a stand against wage theft.

The campaign is a coalition of organizations which represents the interests of ordinary folks–people who work for a living, provide for their families, and keep the economy running. Unfortunately, it is this very group of people that is easily targeted for wage theft by those companies who are more interested in profit than a good product.

The Coalition is asking the Mayor and City Council to draft a Wage Theft Ordinance that “expedites the process to resolve wage theft claims, includes a viable enforcement mechanism, and aims to prevent future wage theft cases.” And through a strong process, a message is sent that Houston will not tolerate such practices.

If you are part of an organization that represents community interests, become a part of the coalition. If you’re a concerned member of the community, sign the petition and even give a little.

Eight Arrested Protesting KBH’s Anti-Jobs Vote

Eight pro-Jobs activists were arrested yesterday after staging a sit-in at the Mickey Leland Federal Building. Showing their disappointment at Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn’s “no” vote on President Obama’s American Jobs Act, hundreds of protesters, including folks from SEIU, Good Jobs = Great Houston, and the Occupy Houston movements, among others, assembled at the federal building.

Three women and five men were charged with criminal trespassing. The demonstrators also included representatives of the Jobs Not Cuts organization.

In a display that put to shame the County Commissioner’s lack of support for more Harris County jailers, HPD sent out 50 officers, some in riot gear and others on horses, to arrest the eight activists and “control” the 200, which included some good people I know. That’s 1 officer for every 4 protesters, right?

Kudos to the protesters. I’m of the opinion that a movement should take the fight to those in power–the elected officials–and this protest did just that. The final step, though, is finishing the job–by voting and then staying involved.

EEOC Sues Bass Pro Over Discrimination

This just came into the inbox and I thought I’d put it out there. During a time in which people are in need of jobs, companies should learn from this lawsuit. You can lose more than just a good, hard-working pool of applicants if you discriminate.

According to the EEOC’s suit filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Houston Division (Civil Action No. 4:11-CV-3425), Bass Pro has been discriminating in its hiring since at least November 2005.  The EEOC’s suit alleges that qualified African-Americans and Hispanics were routinely denied retail positions such as cashier, sales associate, team leader, supervisor, manager and other positions at many Bass Pro stores nationwide.

The lawsuit alleges that managers at Bass Pro stores in the Houston area, in Louisiana, and elsewhere made overtly racially derogatory remarks acknowledging the discriminatory practices, including that hiring black candidates did not fit the corporate profile.

“Excluding qualified individuals from employment because of their race or ethnicity or in retaliation for exercising protected rights are fundamental violations of the laws we enforce,” said Jacqueline A. Berrien, Chair of the EEOC.  “The EEOC will diligently protect the rights of job applicants to ensure that hiring decisions are based on abilities, not on race or ethnicity.”

The lawsuit also claims that Bass Pro unlawfully destroyed or failed to keep records and documents related to employment applications and internal discrimination complaints.  Bass Pro punished employees who opposed the company’s unlawful practices, in some instances firing them or forcing them to resign.

Here’s the full copy of the press release. So much for buying some hunting gear there. Cabela’s, here I come.

Anti-Latino Sentiment at Universities

The last place one would expect hate language to be spread would be at colleges and universities. Even when there is disagreement regarding policies and politics, one would expect fruitful and productive discussion; yet, it seems Teabaggers are alive and well on college campuses. One example is what recently occurred at Indiana University in Bloomingdale.

Known as a home away from home, the IU “La Casa” Latino Cultural Center has a special role at IU:

The Latino Cultural Center, La Casa, was established at Indiana University in November of 1973. Its purpose is to achieve a greater historical, political and cultural awareness regarding Latina/os through educational and social programs. As an advocacy office, we work closely with other units on campus to assist in the recruitment and retention of Latina/o students.

Who would be against this, right? As the fastest growing demographic in the United States, there’s no doubt that these “homes” are needed as a means of increasing recruitment and retention and graduation rates. Or in business terms, a better return on our education investment. But it is hard to address “stupid,” sometimes when people refuse to discuss like humans, and, instead, act like they did at IU this week.

A newly posted sign outside the Indiana University Latino Cultural Center known as La Casa reads ‘Welcome to our home away from home’, but someone recently targeted that home with what IU police have dubbed hateful messages directed at Latinos.

Late last week, La Casa staff found two notes. One left on a kitchen table that read “criminals deport”. Across the room on a refrigerator the phrase “you need to leave” was spelled out in magnets.

And why should we be so shocked? We certainly have experienced right-wing hate on college campuses here in Texas. I mean, who can forget the Young Conservatives of Texas and their affirmative action bake sales or their mock immigrant round-ups?

Unfortunately, this will be a hazard of going to college until Latinos “get it” and decide that they need to vote and drive policy by staying active in the process.

I especially want to drive this point home to college students who are eligible to vote and get involved. And while in college, get involved beyond the Latino organizations. Although you can find a “home” at “La Casa” type of programs, there’s nothing like being a part of some major university committee that directs events, and that directs student service dollars and university policy. Get to know your University leaders–your President, VPs, etc. Because when right-wingers deal you this type of card, there’s nothing like having the University leadership back you up.

Good luck to all college and university students this year!

Pancho Claus – Christmas In July

This has to be one of the most entertaining events for a great cause this summer. I urge you all to attend. Click image to enlarge for more information. And go to to make your purchase your tickets.

Theft of Service Bill Passes TX Senate

From the desk of Texas Senator Jose Rodriguez  comes word that SB 1024 which would protect workers from employers who would otherwise skip out on paying them for their work, passed the Senate unanimously.

AUSTIN — Yesterday, State Senator José Rodríguez’s Senate Bill (SB) 1024 passed the Texas State Senate with a unanimous vote of 31-0.  When signed into law, the measure will clarify existing law in order to reduce the number of workers who are not paid wages promised by an employer.

Annually, the Worker’s Defense Project receives complaints from workers accounting for nearly $7 million in unpaid wages.

“This bill will strengthen current law to make sure that those who do the work, get paid what they were promised,” said State Senator Rodríguez. “Although most employers follow the law, for those who think it’s acceptable to only pay partial wages, we must make sure the law is clear and that they are held responsible.”

In certain industries, such as construction, one in every five workers experiences wage theft.  Day laborers in particular are significantly affected by this issue, with 50 percent having experienced wage theft.  The impact of this theft is widespread and has caused many Texans to be unable to meet their families’ basic needs.

SB 1024 adds a section to the Texas Penal Code, which maintains that a person commits theft of service if, with intent to avoid payment, that person fails to make full payment after receiving notice demanding payment if the compensation was to be paid periodically. is a supporter of the Texas Workers’ Defense Project and their lobbying efforts.

Dia de los Muertos Poetry Reading in the Heights