Dropping Out of School Leads to Life of 'Little Wallets,' Del Rio Mayor Says
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
SAN ANTONIO, Texas, Oct. 10, 2002 Visit the DoD National Hispanic American Heritage Month 2002 Web site at http://www.defenselink.mil/specials/hispanic02/.
Having a month set aside to recognize the heritage, culture and contributions of Hispanics to national defense and the nation as a whole is "absolutely essential," Mayor Dora G. Alcala of Del Rio, Texas, said here.
Alcala was keynote luncheon speaker Oct. 9 at DoD's observance of Hispanic American Heritage Month. She's a federal civilian retiree and a former director of civilian equal employment opportunity training at the Defense Equal Employment Opportunity Management Institute, Patrick Air Force Base, Fla. She spoke to the American Forces Press Service following her presentation.
"In this day and age, we're so preoccupied with everything that's going on in our lives," she said. "Every day, we get more and more put on us -- more responsibilities, more pressures, more stress. We forget we Hispanics need to take time to learn a little bit more about our culture and our background and, if nothing else, to meet other people, other Hispanics and other non-Hispanics, and educate them; tell them about our background, our diversity and how we can work better as a community."
"Numbers do not successes make," she noted. "When we look at ourselves as the largest growing minority, we have to realize that one of our problems is (the) high dropout rate of our young Hispanics from high school."
If they continue to do that, she said, "They will always have 'little wallets.' That's what my dad used to emphasize all the time. He said a high school diploma, GED or college degree are important and essential to the Hispanic culture."
"It's absolutely important that we set a month aside, not only for Hispanics, but for all of our other ethnic cultures, so we can learn more about each other and work together and be united," said Alcala, who's been mayor of Del Rio since May 9, 2000. "There is strength in unity."
She is an avid advocate of military service. "I come from a family of military people. My husband was in the middle of seven boys. The only way they would have been able to get an education was through the GI Bill. They didn't have the money. They didn't really have the mentorship or the help they needed. Our daddy came from Mexico and wasn't educated, but he knew the value of education. He had a really hard time getting employment in this country.
"So the first thing they decided and were encouraged to do was to join the military so they could learn a skill and get an education," said the mother of three daughters. Her father also encouraged her to get an education. She holds a bachelor's degree from Sul Ross State University in Alpine, Texas, and a master's degree in management from Webster University, based in Webster Groves, Mo., near St. Louis. She holds an associate's degree from Southwest Texas Junior College in Uvalde, Texas, and is a graduate of the Air University Academic Instructors School.
Two of her brothers took their father's advice, one joined the Army and the other joined the Navy and made a career for themselves. Her husband, Alfonso Alcala, retired from the Air Force as a technical sergeant.
"It was thought that being in the military, they could have careers, go to school through the GI Bill and get their degrees," she said. "My husband got a degree in social work. After he got out of the military, he went to work for the state of Texas in health resources and had a 19-year second career with the state.
"That is a wonderful way for young people not only to get specialized training, but to have a career in something they enjoy," Alcala said. "They'll make men out of boys in the military."
She said she saw many changes in attitudes toward Hispanics during her more than 37 years as a civil servant. "I started my career in 1957, and I saw a lot of changes for the better," she noted.
She recalls seeing a lot of discrimination when she was an equal employment opportunity counselor. "I could tell that we were the best qualified, but we didn't get selected because we were not the right color," she said. "Not only that, we didn't have the network. 'They' didn't take advantage of all the skills, knowledge and abilities because we were not part of the clique or the network. I saw that and it hurt a lot. I retired as a member of the Senior Executive Service, but I never got to be a GM-15. Every time I went up for a GM-15, I never got selected."
By the time the Office of Personnel Management offered her a GM-15 promotion in 1990, she didn't want or need it. She'd already broken her career "glass ceiling" by earning a presidential appointment into the higher-ranking, more prestigious Senior Executive Service.
Alcala has received the governor of New Mexico's Distinguished Public Service Award, California's Hispanic Women of the Year Award, the Mexican American Opportunity Foundation's Women of the Year Award, the National Council of Hispanic Women's Woman of the Year Award and the Air Force's Meritorious Civilian Service Award. In 1998, then-Gov. George W. Bush presented her the Yellow Rose of Texas Award.
She said she saw a tremendous amount of changes for Hispanics in the federal work force during the last years of her government career. "Many of us were making inroads, helping, training, having symposiums -- helping each other," she said. "We were making inroads for the people coming behind us.
"Helping is so important," Alcala emphasized. "We've got to reach down and help each other. Without unity, strength and the faith, we're not going to succeed. We've got to face it, we are a minority. When we walk into a room, they know I'm Hispanic."