San Antonio’s Majority by Minority Should Serve as a Thriving National Example

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State Senator Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio) walks with Denver McClendon during the march.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

State Senator Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio) walks with Denver McClendon.

A recent story in The New York Times detailed a “doomsday clock” that is making demographers nervous.

It isn’t a Malthusian panic about an unsustainable population explosion. It’s not that millions of climate change refugees will wash up on our receding shores. Nor is it that cities are being increasingly overwhelmed by rural and small town escapees.

It began with a U.S. Census Bureau projection in 2008 – “at the height of Barack Obama’s campaign for president,” The Times wrote – that the United States’ white majority will become a minority in 2044.

Demographers and associated experts were worried that such projections, presented as “a zero-sum game” with winners and losers, would exacerbate racial tension in the nation. They had science on their side.

The Times reported that a Yale social psychologist and a colleague did a test by randomly assigning white Americans to read about the racial projections. The result was an increase in negative feelings about racial minorities and nonwhite immigrants. The subjects of the experiment expressed fears that “whites would likely lose status and face discrimination in the future.”

It seems they were worried about retaliation, fearing that nonwhites might treat us the way our people have treated them through history.

The Times quoted a Harvard sociologist as being stunned at the research: “It was like, ‘Oh wow, these nerdy projections are scaring the hell out of people.’”

This fear may well have been a factor in the increase in racist incidents during the Obama years and since the election of Donald Trump.

Well, fellow white people, I’m here to calm those fears. Hear me out. I have seen the future and it is … San Antonio.

When I came to San Antonio to attend college in 1964, non-Hispanic whites, aka Anglos, were in the majority. It was about the time I left, in 1968, that this status changed. The 1970 census put us at 48 percent.

Anglos have been in the minority fully 50 years. Now we’re at just over 25 percent. Latinos are 63 percent and blacks 7 percent.

So how are things going for us Anglos now that we make up only one-quarter of the nation’s seventh-largest city? Has the city stagnated in a sea of corruption? Have our fellow Anglos fled after being subjected to discrimination and abuse?

The reality is that San Antonio cannot be compared with the stagnant, overgrown town it was is in the late 1960s when we Anglos were in the majority. At that time, city councils included at most two Latinos and one black person. Most were handpicked in secret sessions by a small group of anonymous Anglo businessmen. Otherwise Latinos were largely shut out at City Hall, segregated into vast barrios, and served by segregated, underfunded schools where they were taught trades, not professions.

San Antonio showed little ambition and a well-earned inferiority complex. Its national image was such that outsiders were often surprised to learn that the city had an airport.

In 1967, as a summer intern at the now defunct San Antonio Light, I was alerted to a six-block area 2 miles east of downtown – a black area – where the City had never put in sewers. Residents were still using outhouses. The next year a CBS exposé on third-world conditions in the Westside barrio outraged political and business leaders who were more concerned with the city’s image than its reality.

Fast forward 50 years to today. San Antonio is thriving as one of the U.S.’ fastest-growing cities – 1.5 million and counting. Its economy is humming and diversifying, with cybersecurity as a key growth industry. Downtown, previously almost abandoned to tourists, is booming both as a business center and residential magnet.

I’m not suggesting Latinos alone lead to the city’s economic growth. Anglos still dominate the business sector. But Latinos certainly contributed to that growth, both politicians – led early by Henry Cisneros – and business leaders.

Our 11-member City Council has been made up of at least five Latinos and one black member since 1977, with only a few years excepted. Cisneros was elected the first Hispanic mayor of modern times in 1981, but there have been only two Hispanic mayors since. Ivy Taylor served as the city’s first black mayor from 2014-2017.

That is partly because the Hispanic population doesn’t vote as vigorously as Anglos and blacks. It is also because Latino voters are discriminating – in the best sense of the word – but don’t discriminate, in the word’s worst sense.

In 1995, for example, six candidates ran for mayor. Only one was Latino. He had a politically serviceable last name: Cisneros. But it was Joseph R. Cisneros. Henry was by this time Bill Clinton’s secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Even though Hispanics were then 56 percent of San Antonio’s population, Joe Cisneros won just 6 percent of the vote. As I wrote at the time, if only one Anglo with Cisneros’ qualifications were on the ballot, I only wish I could predict that he would do as poorly.

Today’s seven-member “minority” majority on City Council is hardly lacking in qualifications. Every one has a graduate degree, even though most come from modest backgrounds. Councilwoman Ana Sandoval (D7) has a degree in chemical engineering from MIT, a masters in civil and environmental engineering from Stanford, and a masters in public health from Harvard.

Like all American cities, San Antonio has serious problems: severe economic and racial segregation, many underperforming schools, environmental challenges, a severe lack of adequate mass transit, and more. But we’re working on it together.

White folks who are frightened at becoming a minority need to understand the U.S.’ amazing power of assimilation. San Antonio has thrived under a City government that for 40 years has been governed by racial and ethnic minority councils, mostly the children and grandchildren of Mexican immigrants.

The secret is that they have become Americans. Or as former Mayor and HUD Secretary Julián Castro, who as the grandson of immigrants attended Stanford University and Harvard Law School, put it in a tweet to the Tweeter in Chief: “Mexican AMERICAN.”

White Americans should not be afraid of such successes. They should be proud of them.

13 thoughts on “San Antonio’s Majority by Minority Should Serve as a Thriving National Example

  1. first of all, trades ARE professions. elitest nonsense like that line is why you have millions of people with useless degrees and tons of student debt (but muh Council got graduate degrees!).

    second, San Antonio is one of the poorest-run major cities in the nation. i think there was a ranking that placed us 99th. Even CW Viagran bemoaned a “patron system” in last month’s feckless declaration of aupport for women (whatever that means).

    yes, San Antonio is majority hispanic. I don’t see a problem with that. But really the only positive side of that trait is that SA is fairly integrated, unlike a lot of major coastal cities. good tacos too, I guess

  2. I’ve lived here since 1972. I could never understand why people of Spanish decent are considered a minority. As far as I’m concerned they are not a minority and never will be a minority. I think its an insult to millions of people of Spanish decent.

  3. 1) We are not of “Spanish” descent. Most of us are of mixed indigenous and Spanish heritage.
    2) While whites are outnumbered by Chicanos in San Antonio, one has to realize that we are not in control of who runs the City. It is the wealthy white people who are in control.
    3) A few Black or Brown faces on City Council has not significantly changed much as San Antonio remains economically a poor city and socially segregated. Segregation here begins with our 16 separate and unequal school districts. This is harmful to the children residing in the inner city whose options after high school are the military, prison or low wage, dead end jobs. Hardly a democratic system.
    The recent City Charter referendum vote is just the beginning. 63% plus 7% is a very clear majority that is sick and tired of being sick and tired!

  4. I agree with Pancho’s opinions that San Antonio is tragically economically and socially segregated ! He is right that our public schools are totally failing our children of color. Except for a small percentage of graduates from these schools that move on to higher education and higher paying careers most stay on low paying career paths . Sad! It is hard to advance when many of those on the low paying jobs barely make it paycheck to paycheck .

    May I point out two suggestions: 1) Parents need to insist that their children learn English and reading as soon as possible after birth. English is still THE language of commerce and business whether we like it or not and those that cannot handle it well are condemned to be left behind . Spanish is a plus but not at the expense of not learning English . Parents can get free access to age appropriate books at our libraries . Hopefully the children’s appetite for learning will increase as their love for books increases.
    2). Parents need to sacrifice some of their time and show up at their children’s schools and hold the schools accountable . That parental interest could then translate to more pressure in Austin for improved state school funding beyond local meager property tax funding from the poor neighborhoods. Our public schools need to do better BUT they also need the means to do so.

    Until the education of our children of color improves there will continue to be two San Antonios

  5. White people may not be a numeric majority, but that doesn’t change their inherent privilege of skin color, nor does it mean that white people will no longer be in control of the city and its politics. (I’m white.) The appropriate redistribution of power will take decades, unfortunately.

  6. White people need not fear a Hispanic or any kind of minority majority.

    White people only need to fear other white people who never fail to take the opportunity to use their power and platform to denigrate and chastise other white people without fear of retribution. For political purposes. Pandering to people of other races as to make it seem like they have some sort of solution, when they are full of it.

    White people who truly live privileged lives yet will never acknowledge the positive aspects of white culture or contributions of white people throughout history, but only focus on the negative, repeatedly, and drive that home as many times as is necessary to keep white people feeling guilty about their heritage in the name of politics. People like you, Rick Casey.

    My parents grew up from nothing. It was hard work, not the color of their skin, that pulled them out of poverty and the disparity of a white trash town to the middle class in an urban setting. Guess what? They don’t care about who is white or black, they care about how hard you work. That is all that matters to people who really bring a worthwhile contribution to the table in America. That is all that should matter.

    It isn’t being a minority white person in a majority non Anglo town that makes me angry, but your attitude of talking down to other white people, and the fact that you think that is okay. Disgusting.

  7. If most of us would wake up and smell the coffee, we would realize San Antonio is a city that discriminates against people of color. The people of color in a position power and control sell their communities out to stay in power.

    At the end of the day they work for the city hall insiders, developers, their lobbyists and city chambers. San Antonio’s Patron system is about using and abusing its citizen with cheap labor jobs while the power structure uses our taxpayers dollars.

    Look around at the many forgotten neighborhoods that have remained the same, in a condition disrepair for decades. They do improve when investors buy out residents and displace them out of their homes.

    Lets hope that the new generation demand more and find a way to stop these pesticides. All our citizens deserve better. Time for change, time to take control of our city.

  8. The premise here is that San Antonio has progressed as a result of “minorities” assimilating into positions of civic power. But we haven’t progressed enough to stop referring to citizens as “minorities”, “Anglos” & how successful we’ve become simply because of political assimilation. It took federal court action & lots of public resources to turn this corner, remember?

    What good is this assimilation if minorities perpetuate the same development construct as those they replaced? So, let’s take a closer look at this reality.

    Let’s also try to stop using this dated language & stereotypical concepts. And, it doesn’t really matter what credentials you bring to the table in a representative democracy. We have many examples of exemplary officials who simply bombed, despite their record on paper. As such, I don’t see a correlation between credentials & civic accomplishments.

    What matters most is how well we can more deeply & broadly move the socioeconomic needle in progressive directions, regardless of which minorities or not hold office, to effectuate true structural gains. At least to me, this is what matters most.

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