Veteran Feminists of America 

Veteran Feminists of America

ANITA MARTINEZ
post: January 2013

ANITA MARTINEZ  --  HEAD OF DALLAS’S BALLET FOLKLORIO, COMMUNITY ACTIVIST, NATIONAL PEACE CORPS ADVISOR FOR PRESIDENT FORD.    

High School Graduation Day

I was born in Dallas in 1925, the fifth child of six, and a fifth generation Texan
. My mother’s
family had  received a Spanish land grant in the San Angelo-Bandera territories. Both my parents were raised in San Angelo and proud of their Texan, Mexican, Spanish heritage, which they instilled in their children. They had moved from San Angelo to Dallas  to find a new life.

El Barrio,  Dallas’ Little Mexico, was my home from birth until I married. My family lived on Pearl St. which was about a 20 minute walk from the heart of downtown. Our neighborhood was one big extended family. A neighbor lady taught us dance and for anyone interested the lessons were free. My friends and I would put on shows in our crepe paper costumes on my front porch. Our routines consisted of fragments of Ruby Keeler or Ginger Rogers movies that we had seen at the Majestic or Palace movie houses. We would dance for people passing by. Some  would stop  and applaud our attempts. Their recognition of our efforts made us feel that we mattered.  

My father worked for himself,  using his truck to move people and things about , and transporting  workers to the onion and cotton fields on the outskirts of town. From the time I was five  years old he would take me  with him and the pickers when Mamanita would let me. My reward at the end of the day was a Nehi orange soda -- HEAVEN!   Papa and I were simpatico and his death in 1941 at the age of 45 was almost unbearable. Our family had lost our protector and champion.

My mother was a licensed beautician, a business woman, unique for a married Hispanic woman at the time.  Our  living room was her beauty shop, the meeting place for neighborhood women. My sisters and I were expected to help out on Saturdays. The living room smelled of coffee and pan dulce,  permanent wave solution and filled with the sounds of women’s conversation and laughter.  

On December 8, 1941 the day after President Franklin D.Roosevelt declared war on Japan I turned sixteen.  I still had two years of high school to complete. To help the war effort I  volunteered at the old Parkland Hospital on Maple Ave.

On Sundays I worked as a dietician’s aide behind the kitchen’s steam table. During that time I got a taste of civic involvement by going door to door getting signatures to have the street in front of our house paved. My efforts paid off .  Soon  our street was paved, and I  realized that the positive initiative of one person could benefit others.

In 1941, when my father  passed away, my mother had a stroke that required her to wear a leg brace.  My older brother and 2 older sisters were leaving home to get married, and my mother was urging me to quit school and get a job to help with finances.  It took a lot of pleading and the intervention of an older sister to impress upon my mother that finishing high school and going to college would allow me to qualify for better jobs and would lead to a better life.  

Anita Martinez "not many of them know that once I was where they are"

When I was 15  I met my husband, Alfred, who lived on the northern edge of the Barrio.  His family owned El Fenix Café,  a very successful business.  During the war he was a pilot in the Army Air Force and  I was a secretary with the 8th Service Command.  In 1946, after the war, we married.   I quit my job to begin our family and had  4 children in 4 years - Al Joseph (named after my only brother, Joe, who was killed in combat), Steve, Priscilla, and Rene. I was a volunteer at their different schools and  involved in my husband’s business by way of the Women’s Auxiliary of the Dallas Restaurant Association (DRA). My involvement with the DRA eventually led to my candidacy  and election for City Council, and, in 1969 I was  the first Hispanic on  the Dallas City Council.  At the time  I met a number of influential professional women,  including Vivian Castleberry, editor of the Women’s Section of the Dallas Time Herald. These women  were my allies when I served  as President of the DRA’s Women’s Auxiliary.

I needed to know  how to get more publicity and recognition for the restaurants that were members of the DRA. Vivian’s suggestion was to create an event that would have the whole town talking.  So I organized  “A Taste of Dallas ”. It was held in a downtown hotel and showcased the  restaurants, all owned by husbands of members of DRA. For an entrance fee of $5 the attendees could sample the food of two dozen restaurants. It was a sold out success and has become a yearly event


Connie Stakathos Condos , another new friend and ally, was president of the YWCA board at the time I served on the Y board, and the only woman on the Citizens Charter Association (CCA), the political organization for downtown businesses  looking for people to endorse for the Dallas City Council. Though these men had not heard of me  Connie assured them that if they endorsed me  I would win. With reservations,  but trust in Connie’s judgment, I was added to their slate of candidates and ran for Place 9 At Large. Four others were seeking the same  seat, but I garnered 53 percent of the vote and was spared having to face a run-off.

The Anita N. Martinez Ballet Folklorico (ANMBF)

As  Councilwoman Martinez I used my political muscle to help the poor  of West Dallas, one of the most underserved areas of the city. I wanted to know from the people who lived there what ten improvements were needed immediately and made sure they were delivered:  In a few years the area had better sanitation, a health clinic, street lights, paved streets, a library, a recreation center and other basic city services.

Once neglected, these citizens now saw that I could get things done and began  to trust me, and  I became more involved in their community  As their voice at city hall  during my four year tenure I was able to persuade other Hispanics to serve on boards and commissions. By the time I left office West Dallas finally had a recreation center which my fellow councilman voted to name “The Anita N. Martinez Recreation Center”. To this day, ANMRC, is one of the most used facilities of it’s kind city-wide

I left public office in 1973 and was asked by President Nixon’s administration to evaluate the effectiveness of the Peace Corp  in North Africa, the Near East, Asia, and the Pacific. Three years later I delivered my  report  to President Ford. What I learned about the heart of a Peace Corps volunteer led me to believe  that a U.S. President with Peace Corp  experience would make an excellent president  because he or she “gets it”.

Pat Nixon, President Nixon,
Anita Martinez

The Anita N. Martinez Recreation Center opened in 1975, and the  West Dallas community now had a place where learning, exercise, and the interaction with others outside of their families was possible.   Spending a great deal of time there,  I discovered  that   children of humble  Hispanic  people with little  interaction with others outside of family  allowed themselves be pushed aside by other children. Many were from families who expected them to leave school  early to  bring in  money to help the family, something I knew much about. Graduating from high school, attending  college or aspiring  to excel  in whatever field did not figure in what their parents needed from them.   

The best  I could do for them was to get them to start standing up for themselves. If they could learn more about their rich heritage, this would  perhaps instill the pride and confidence they needed to compete.

The DRA’s Women’s Auxiliary provided the seed money for the recreation center’s first ballet folklorico classes. Enrollment extended to every child, from age three to seventeen. Through dance, music, and performance the youngsters were able to learn   about where they came from, enable them to enlighten others, and add to the rich diversity that is a hallmark of a great city. These dancer/students are  goodwill ambassadors extending the hand of friendship to the citizens of Dallas.

The Anita N. Martinez Ballet Folklorico (ANMBF) is celebrating its  38 th anniversary.  My school  continues to strive  to elevate Hispanic children who are here now, and to anticipate the needs of Hispanic children not yet born. Besides teaching dance the  training  helps them  to be  proud and confident citizens. The school  encourages them to graduate from  high school and get  college degrees -- their ticket to a better world.  Their performing, which  may look  like whirling and stomping

4 Generations of Martinez Women

around a stage, is actually teaching them discipline and teamwork and how  to present themselves  to others.      

On any day you will find me going to meetings, raising money,  writing letters, making phone calls -- prevailing on others to contribute time,  money or both to ANMBF.   In 2009 ANMBF became a resident company of AT&T Center for the Performing Arts..

Where I was born, the loving people who raised me, the community that surrounded me,  helped shaped my destiny. I was able to accomplish because of a shared vision with others who believe that a city is only as strong as it’s weakest link. “Truinfar en la vida es hacer truinfar a los de mas” .   To triumph in life is to help others triumph. This proverb continues to guide me.
 
My  children are now in their early sixties. I have three grand children and a great granddaughter, Alejandra.    With my husband, Alfred,  I look forward to the future with great expectations.

  

Comments to Jacqui Ceballos jcvfa@aol.com

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