Arizona Stories: American Legion Post 41

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American Legion Post 41 played a critical role in addressing racial inequities in Phoenix. Many of the Mexican-American veterans experienced scrutiny and discrimination when they returned from war. The organization served as a way to challenge the discrimination and make life better for everyone in their community.

>>>Jose Cardenas:
Good evening. Welcome to "Horizonte." a long-time community leader steps down from a nationally known nonprofit organization he has led for 20 years. Also a former US attorney, Paul Charlton, talks about being asked to resign from office by former attorney general, Alberto Gonzalez. In "Arizona stories", how Mexican Americans organized their fight for equality in phoenix. All those stories coming up on "Horizonte."

>>>Announcer:
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>>>Jose Cardenas:
In the 1960s here in Arizona, a group of Latino student activists led a movement to address racial discrimination against Hispanics in education, housing, and jobs in their community. In 1969, the group incorporated under the name Chicanos Por La Causa, CPLC. Since then, CPLC has evolved into one of the largest community development programs in the nation. They provide housing, education, social services, and economic department. The president and CEO, Pete Garcia, announced his retirement this year from his position he's held for the past 23 years. He's here to talk with me about his upcoming retirement.

>>Pete Garcia:
Thank you for inviting me.

>>Jose Cardenas:
Let's expand a little bit on CPLC.

>>Pete Garcia:
It's a statewide community development corporation that has 900 employees, 71 offices in 26 cities in Arizona. So we've grown from a small neighborhood group to a statewide presence.

>>Jose Cardenas:
With a budget that's how big?

>>Pete Garcia:
The budget today is $69 million.

>>Jose Cardenas:
And as I understand it, Pete, in addition to being focused on activities in Arizona, CPLC is evolving into kind after regional mediator of sorts.

>>Pete Garcia:
The future for CPLC is that we will have to become a regional intermediary that assists different states that surround Arizona. We've done a number of projects in California, Utah, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas. So the future is becoming an intermediary that's regional.

>>Jose Cardenas:
now I'm going to want to talk a little bit more about that future, at least the challenges facing the organization after you leave, and more so about the past. Before we do that, Victoria foundation, which is what you're going to be running in just a few months, tell us about that.

>>Pete Garcia:
The Victoria foundation is a natural outgrowth of Chicanos Por La Causa. As we have grown, we need to get the Latino community and others involved in Hispanic philanthropy. We are part of the big problem. We're also a bigger part of the answer. And we've got to develop new resources to address some of the issues in our community, and the Victoria foundation is set up to address some of those needs.

>>Jose Cardenas:
Now, let's talk a little bit about how you first got involved with Chicanos Por La Causa.

>>Pete Garcia:
My first involvement was in 1972. They hired me as an economic development aide. And that's how I got involved in addressing -- working with small businesses, doing business packages, feasibility studies, helping finance small business. And over time, they kept promoting me. I'm not sure why. I've had just about every job they've had there.

>>Jose Cardenas:
You've had tremendous success, and I want to talk about your 23 years as the CEO of CPLC. What were the greatest accomplishments?

>>Pete Garcia:
There's been so many of them, but a couple that stand out for me is working with the elderly, developing some elderly housing. As we saw the need, we started to address some of those needs, especially with seniors. We've built seven projects statewide in Peoria, Stafford, Tucson, Phoenix, in a number of different cities, and we've continued to address needs of the elderly. The other big program that I think is a real success story is this bonanza awards which is aimed at honoring Hispanic teachers. It started in phoenix, and now its regional wide here in the Phoenix area, and what we do is provide economic incentives to teachers for the work that they've done in our community, Latino teachers.

>>Jose Cardenas:
Now, I think we mentioned in the intro that the fact that CPLC is the second largest community development corporation in the country. I think listed in the top 50 Latino organizations in the country as well. In terms of business activities, what other areas are of particular importance? I know housing is one.

>>Pete Garcia:
We're very involved in two sides of the organization. One is economic development that focuses on lending money to small business. We have a federal credit union. We've developed commercial office buildings. We have employment and training. We've employed almost 24,000 people through a contract with the city of phoenix. And then the other side of CPLC is the social service side that deals with some of the problems most cities have and different neighborhoods that are involved in gang activity, drugs, alcohol, mental health, teen pregnancy, and we try to address some of the initial needs people have. Looking at the longer term, involving ourselves in economic development, creating jobs, building houses.

>>Jose Cardenas:
You've touched on some of the highs. What about the disappointments? Any major ones?

>>Pete Garcia:
I think there's been a few disappointments in projects that we knew were going to be successful and -- you know -- at the very last minute, the financial institutions thought it was maybe too speculative. But -- you know -- all of them, the ones that have been that disappointment have turned out to be very big projects. The Grand Canyon railroad --

>>Jose Cardenas:
Big projects for somebody else?

>>Pete Garcia:
For somebody else. The first minority bank. All these were things we thought up years ago. The Medicado. We had it 80% occupied. We had a museum, a cultural center. For particular reasons, it didn't work out, but it was something that we built from an idea, and it's probably the nicest facility in downtown Phoenix.

>>Jose Cardenas:
Now, you leave huge shoes to fill. We want to talk a little about your nickname, big dog. Before we do that, what do you think are the biggest challenges that will face your successor?

>>Pete Garcia:
I think the challenges that he'll face is the community will be testing him, and they'll be comparing him to me, which I think is an unfair situation, and I think the board, the community in general has got to -- I think they really understand that, over time, things have to change. And how I did things -- you know -- people associate CPLC with Pete Garcia, and I think what people have to do is they have to associate CPLC with CPLC. Because over time, things have to change, and I think Edmundo Hidalgo's tenure as the president of CPLC will be one that he -- people have to look at him and see the work that he can do and take CPLC, I think, to a new level.

>>Jose Cardenas:
You talked about the community. You talked about change. And there have been people over the years who have said CPLC isn't what it once was; it's kind of loss it's connection with the community. How do you respond to that?

>>Pete Garcia:
People have looked at us over time, and we have created in fact an institution. What we've done purposely and continue to do with our board, with our advisory committees is we maintain the presence and the majority of our boards as community residents. The success of this organization has not been all the buildings and offices and day care centers and things that we've built. It's the programs that we've developed that address issues with the elderly and teen mothers, substance abusers. Those are the projects that really have been the success of CPLC. And over time, that, I think, will continue to be -- if we're going to be a grounded institution in the community, you have to use the community as your base, and that's been our success since I've been the president of CPLC.

>>Jose Cardenas:
A little more focused now directly more on you and just a quick one, 'cause I know it's not that important to you anyway. Big Dog. Where did it come from?

>>Pete Garcia:
Big dog came from, I guess, as I started to grow CPLC, people started calling me that. Manuel Dominguez coined the phrase in 1971. Too bad I didn't take that and use it --

>>Jose Cardenas:
Trademark it. You certainly have gained a lot of attention, and part of it has been on the international level. Tell us a little about those activities.

>>Pete Garcia:
I've been involved internationally for, like, 19 years, going to the United Kingdom, France recently. A couple weeks ago, I was in Brussels talking about micro credit. We've developed relationships with different countries and cities and talk about the work that Chicanos Por La Causa does in Arizona, and I've been able to transfer a lot of the ideas that we've done and gotten ideas about some of the work people do in those countries and how we can share some of these ideas, language in Wales. The English took the language and the culture from the welsh. That's being sort of tried here. They want to take our language and our culture. In just the last 20 years, the welsh have recovered their own language, and think I think that's something that needs to be addressed here.

>>Jose Cardenas:
Congratulations on your 23 years, and good luck on your future with Victoria foundation. Thanks for joining us.

>>Pete Garcia:
Thank you.

>>>Jose Cardenas:
Paul Charlton is a former US attorney for Arizona. The department of administration asked him to step down from office along with seven other US. attorneys. Some say it was politically related. In his first extended interview about the controversy, Charlton talked with Richard Ruelas.

>>Richard Ruelas:
Did you watch Alberto Gonzalez's final day, his final speech? Does it still resonate with you?

>>Paul Charlton:
I didn't listen to his final speech. I of course covered and watched very closely his numerous appearances before the senate judiciary committee and paid close attention there.

>>Richard Ruelas:
Do you think it's good for the country that he's no longer the US attorney?

>>Paul Charlton:
I think it's right for him to step down. I think he recognized that this had become an extraordinary distraction. The men and women who work in the 93 US attorneys offices throughout the country are dedicated to one thing. That's doing the right thing. Instead of doing that, they were distracted by worrying what was going to come out in the papers the next day. It was a good thing for him to step down.

>>Richard Ruelas:
We mentioned the reasons for your departure are still shrouded in mystery partially. Do you know why you were asked to resign? Do you have thoughts?

>>Paul Charlton:
I don't know. I think, if you'd asked me that question in January or February, I would have told you that I'd understood and heard that it dealt with my disagreement with department of justice over a particular death penalty case and my disagreement with the FBI over their failure to take confessions. But as I've watched the testimony before the senate, as I've referendum the discovery the department of justice has given out, as I've been interviewed by the inspector general, I've now come to the conclusion I don't know why I was asked to resign.

>>Richard Ruelas:
You've almost had the story unravel or, I guess, reveal itself in the same manner that the general public has as far as you realizing what might be other reasons for your being asked to resign.

>>Paul Charlton:
That's right. I was asked to resign on December 7th and wasn't given a reason then. I heard through others, second and third person, why it is they thought I'd been asked to resign and, as I say, heard the testimony. But as I've looked at the conclusions and testimony that's been given, I think even the people within the department of justice were uncertain about why it is, and there was one talk show host who called it the Mack Lat Termination, because nobody was willing to claim responsibility for putting my name or anyone else's name on the list of individuals asked to resign.

>>Richard Ruelas:
You said you weren't given a reason. You were just told -- how long does that phone call take?

>>Paul Charlton:
It's a very brief phone call. It's we'd like you to resign by the end of January. I had understand, when I moved from my position as a career prosecutor in the department of justice to the position of united states attorney where I'd served by that point in time for almost six years that I was leaving a protected position to a position where I served at the pleasure of the president. And I know and knew then, when the president asks you to resign, you resign, and that's exactly what I did. Until individuals at the department of justice testified that they'd asked Mae and my colleagues to resign for performance reasons. And it was at that point that we decided that it was appropriate for us to then respond.

>>Richard Ruelas:
I guess your resignation is so routine -- I was going through some of the old republic clips. Not that old. December of 2006. So routine for a US attorney to just announce his resignation, it seemed at the time that the story ran on b-12 that day, December 20th of 2006. Quickly, it made a one -- in journalism, we call this a story having legs. Why do you think the story ended up having legs and we're still talking about it today?

>>Paul Charlton:
Well, I think the reputation the department of justice has always had, its credibility, the institution's credibility was never called into we have the way that it was as a result of what happened here. I have great affection for that department. I gave the greater part of my professional life to that department. I believe and believe to this day that it's a department where people every single day get up in the morning knowing that what they get to do is the right thing. The individuals know that. It was the leadership, though, that I think suffered from a slightly different attitude, and I think that's what captured the attention of the general public.

>>Richard Ruelas:
I guess the general public, still depending on what radio stations you hear, still might be confused as to why this is important. You served US attorneys serve at the pleasure of the president, and it seems they bring up all the time that, when President Clinton came into office, there's a general turnover of all US attorneys. Why was this different or why is it seen as different, what happened here?

>>Paul Charlton:
When a new president comes into office, it is the practice and has been for hundreds of years that he and maybe someday she will ask the current holders of that office to resign. That's typically because a democrat is taking over from a republican or a republican is taking over from a democrat. They ask those other loyal party individuals to step down. What's never happened before, according to congressional research, is that a president would in midterm ask his own appointees to step down. That was unusual about this process.

>>Richard Ruelas:
But you mentioned politics playing a role. A democrat president may get rid of republican-appointed prosecutors. Does politics play a role when you're doing your job as US attorney if you're doing it right?

>>Paul Charlton:
Politics should play a role to some degree. If the president says, I want to do more gun crime prosecutions, that's something that I hold as important, then it's the US. attorney's job to do more gun crime prosecutions.

>>Richard Ruelas:
Pornography was I think a big deal for some.

>>Paul Charlton:
If, on the other hand, the president were to say, I want you to prosecute more democrats, then it's the US attorney's job to say, I disagree with that kind of policy. That's not an idea that's consistent with justice's ideals. And to say so.

>>Richard Ruelas:
You mentioned that -- well, I guess some of the original talk of why you left was possible performance. Did you think -- did you have any hint that you were not liked or were not given proper respect when you had the job as US attorney?

>>Paul Charlton:
No. In fact the office had done well and won a number of different awards. The only time that I had conflicted with the department of justice in a way that I felt -- well, I guess there were two instances. That was the FBI's failure to take confessions. I'd offered to resign because it was my opinion that the FBI's failure to take confessions was results in fewer convictions, especially in child sex-abuse cases where the best evidence I was the evidence that comes from the perpetrator's mouth, and the FBI's failure to tape those confessions meant we weren't getting that best evidence. That was one instance where we crossed swords. The other was in a death penalty case where we had no forensic evidence or lax of forensic evidence that tied the defendant to the victim. In fact we didn't even have the body, and it wasn't in my mind a death penalty-appropriate case.

>>>Jose Cardenas:
This week on eight, you've been watching the series, "the war," telling you the story of World War II through personal accounts of men and women. Here in phoenix, Hispanic veterans encountered a different kind of war when they came back, discrimination against Latinos in Arizona. These veterans formed American legion post 41, located in central phoenix. In tonight's "Arizona Stories," how people came together to challenge the barriers to Hispanics in housing, politics, health, and education.

>>Narrator:
Tucked away just south of downtown stands a small, simple building. This structure embodies the story of a group of Mexican American veterans who returned from World War II and formed an organization with a compelling purpose, to battle for equal rights for their community. Prior to the Second World War, Phoenix was a racially divided town.

>>Pete R. Dimas:
The segregation was enforced by unenforceable real estate covenants. The area south of Washington especially and certainly Van Buren was the point of separation.

>>Narrator:
World War II marked the beginning of a social transformation. During the war, up to 500,000 Mexican Americans across the US entered the armed forces. Many from Phoenix enlisted.

>>Lencho Othon:
I got into artillery. Instead of flying them, our job was to knock them down. At that time, they were fearful that the Japanese would try to invade or bomb.

>>Narrator:
After the war ends, Mexican American veterans arrived home as decorated, proud soldiers.

>>Ray Martinez:
When we got out of the service, some of us knew we had a mission, because we were not going to go back to the discrimination we had suffered before. We were determined that, by golly, now is the time to do something.

>>Narrator:
Drawn to the concept of the American legion, a national organization that assisted veterans, a group of young Hispanic men submitted the charter papers for a legion post of their own. They formed thunderbird post 41 in November of 1945. Under the leadership of men like Ray Martinez and frank Pipa-Fuentes, members of post 41 quickly got involved with battles to end discrimination in the Phoenix area. In 1946, they helped Tempe Hispanic veterans to desegregate the city's public pool, Tempe Beach. Soon other issues came to a head.

>>Ray Martinez:
During the war, there was a shortage of housing. Naturally the war veterans came home and they had to double up with others. I mean, there's 10 or 12 living to a house, and -- living to a house, and we were very much concerned about it, and so were the officials.

>>Narrator:
The federal government began national lending programs to help veterans buy new homes. Taking advantage of this opportunity, home builders promptly developed new subdivisions. Yet racial restrictions continued. A new development opened near 27th avenue and Van Buren. One of the post's members, Donald Galen, reported that the salesman had refused to sell a home to him. The post elected commander Martinez to investigate the situation.

>>Ray Martinez:
They said, well, we don't sell to Mexicans.

>>Narrator:
Weeks passed, and ray came every day on his break from his bus driving job to request an audience with the owner of the company. Finally the secretary demanded that he leave the premises.

>>Ray Martinez:
I said, well, miss, then you tell Mr. Stewart that he's using federal money on FHA housing and we're going to place an injunction on the money and on this construction job. We're going to bring it to a halt because you cannot discriminate if you're using federal money. You say Mr. Stewart doesn't want to meet with me. I say he will meet with me possibly as early as next week, but it will be in court. But he will meet with me. Well, I left.

>>Minnie Martinez:
So when Ray came home, I said what happened?

>>Ray Martinez:
Sure enough, the phone rang within five minutes. It was Mr. Stewart. Said, Ray, I want to tell you how sorry I am that I wasn't there to meet with you this afternoon. He said, you come out tomorrow. We are selling to any Hispanic that comes up here.

>>Narrator:
During this time, most 41 members also raised funds and volunteered their time to build a home for their organization located in the heart of the historic grant park neighborhood.

>>Pete Dimas:
Well, I understand the wages were a keg of beer after they were done.

>>Lencho Othon:
[laughter]

>>Pete Dimas:
Is that true?

>>Lencho Othon:
Yeah. I mean --

>>Narrator:
The building's dedication took place in March of 1948. Ray Martinez's daughter attended the ceremony as a young girl.

>>Norma Kiermayr:
There was a mass at immaculate heart, and then the priest came and they blessed the legion post there, and then they had a big flat form built up. The whole Hispanic community at that time just turned out. For the first time, all the members got on one rope, and then they all pulled it to raise the flag.

>>Narrator:
The new building developed into an important institution. The women of the auxiliary helped operate a well baby clinic for several years.

>>Minnie Martinez:
There's a lot of babies that needed some care. Some of the doctors and nurses volunteered their help once a week, I think, at the post, and the mothers would take their children there, and the doctors would examine them.

>>Narrator:
The clinic ran until 1950 when other services, such as the new Saint Monica's hospital, opened in the area. The commitment of American legion post 41 to community service has lasted for over 50 years. The veterans pushed for equality during the late 1940s, one of many such civil rights movements to come in Phoenix.

>>Pete Dimas:
These guys were the genesis of the baby boom. 20 years, 25 years, and what do you have? You have the social activism of the chick caw know movement. Many of these young people were children of the members. There's always a legacy.

>>>Jose Cardenas:
The series "the war" a film by ken burns, continues on Sunday, September 30th, at 7:00 p.m. right here on eight. Next week a discussion on the effective immigration policy of those working in the public sector. Thank you for joining us. Good night.

Linda Mazon-Gutierrez: President, Hispanic Women's Corporation;

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