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The Fiestas del Llano parade is an annual event that showcases the Lubbock Hispanic community's heritage.

A growing impact

City's Hispanics have come long way from when 'Avenue H was about as far as we could go'

BY Doug Hensley
For the Avalanche-Journal

David Gutierrez never left.

Well, that’s not exactly true. The man who now serves as Lubbock County sheriff moved here prior to his senior year of high school, but after two weeks in what was a very different environment, he was on his way back to San Marcos.

“It was a difficult transition,” he said. “I didn’t want to be uprooted. I was very involved in school in San Marcos. My parents saw the future, and they saw the opportunities a larger city and Texas Tech could offer. And it paid off for me.”

Gutierrez said his family moved to Lubbock just one month after the May 1970 tornado. Adapting to life in West Texas was tough.

“I must tell you coming from the Central Texas area, coming to Lubbock, was probably a little more challenging for me as a Hispanic,” he said. “The migrant farm workers — the Hispanic labor force — were still very active. I remember when I enrolled at Tech, I could easily count the other Hispanic students.”

However, Gutierrez saw the same potential in Lubbock that his parents had, and, after keeping a promise to his parents to return, he decided to make his life in Lubbock.

“I chose to stay here,” he said. “That’s very important. I had an opportunity to come to work for the sheriff’s office. I think I was the second Hispanic in the office at that time. Back then, we all wore cowboy suits and hats. I was probably the only one who didn’t fall into Western mode back then.”

David Gutierrez

Gutierrez said his parents had instilled in him a desire to have a positive impact, a feeling shared by others who have made their own mark on the community.

“I wouldn’t live any other place but Lubbock,” said Rufus Martinez, a retired Lubbock businessman who moved to the city in 1959. “When I first came to Lubbock, it was in the summer to chop cotton and earn money for my school clothes. Then I would go back to Calvert, my hometown. I came after my last year of college at Sam Houston State and didn’t go back. I married my wife, and I’ve been here ever since.”

Martinez, who retired in 2001, bought a Mobil service station at 25th Street and Avenue H in 1963. After building his business for three years, he and Glynn Morgan, who had sold him the station, became business partners.

“I remember when I first started out, people would come to the station and wonder where the boss was,” Martinez said. “I would tell them I was the boss. Then they’d ask where the manager was. I said I was the manager. They’d ask where the owner was, and I said I was the owner. It didn’t bother me, though. I had to make a living.”

Ernesto Barton traveled a similarly successful path in Lubbock, establishing the first all-Spanish radio station in 1967 –—despite opposition.

“When we applied for the first all-Spanish radio station in Lubbock, people thought we were out of our mind,” said Barton, who later launched the West Texas Hispanic News publication in 1979. “Then we had a highly competitive hearing before the FCC. We had to show there was a need for the all-Spanish radio station in this area of the country.

“We took depositions from people from various parts of the community. One gentleman, very influential in the community, said he thought it was the worst thing that could happen.”

However, Barton said that tune changed in the aftermath of the devastating tornado, which hammered the Guadalupe neighborhood, a predominantly Hispanic section of town.

“We got our station on the air, and the tornado hit,” Barton said. “We were broadcasting side by side with KFYO, which was the emergency station at that time. We were broadcasting in Spanish and provided interpreters for some of the agencies helping tornado victims. I later ran into this same individual, and he said to me, ‘Ernesto, I was wrong. Your station did a tremendous job for the community — and it is definitely needed.’ ”

The work was so exemplary that Barton later received a commendation from President Nixon recognizing the station’s service to the community.

And while cooperation was indeed a hallmark as Lubbock recovered from the tornado, the city could not escape the fact that racial tension was a reality of the time.

“I remember when I first came to Lubbock, Avenue H was about as far as we could go,” said Robert Narvaiz, who has lived in Lubbock since 1956. “If we went beyond Avenue H, we couldn’t go into those stores. I went into the service in 1958 and got out in 1962, and when I got back to Lubbock I found that everything was still about the same. I remember thinking that I went into the service to fight for my country and then get back home and had to fight again.”

Such overt racism is mostly gone, though, and some said Lubbock has grown more inclusive as the Hispanic population has grown in number.

A young Hipanic boy dresses in the style of his forefathers while attending a Fiestas del Llano activity.

“There is much more inclusion and opportunity today,” said the Rev. David Cruz, pastor of Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church and a Lubbock resident for 47 years. “The acceptance is to a greater degree now than ever before. I know that because there are more Hispanic business owners, Hispanic educators, Hispanics in the medical community, in every walk of life. Even priests; there are more of us now.”

Despite progress that Narvaiz said began to accelerate in the late 1970s and early ’80s with the establishment of single-member districts for the election of City Council members, much work remains.

“I am happy with the progress and the advancement we’ve made in the Hispanic community compared to what my parents, as migrant workers, were able to accomplish when they first arrived here,” Cruz said. “But I will be far happier when we have the same degree of opportunity as every culture in our land.”

Gutierrez, who rose through the ranks of the sheriff’s office to the top job, said opportunity is a direct result of hard work and attitude.

“I always saw the best in Lubbock, and I believe that should be our ambition no matter where we live,” he said. “One thing my parents taught me is life is always challenging, but wherever you go, you should leave it better than it was. That should be the nature of mankind. I chose to make Lubbock my home, and while I’m here I want to serve and make it the best place it can be.”

Martinez had a similar approach. He said he and his business partner hired a number of young men and encouraged them to work hard to reach their goals. One of those they hired was David Gutierrez.

“Every time I go to a place and see a young Hispanic with a tie on, it makes me feel good,” Martinez said, “because when I started, there weren’t very many. Every time I had the opportunity, I would tell them I was proud of the way they handled themselves. It makes my heart feel good when I see that.”

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The A-J Remembers The Most Important People in Lubbock's History

SPECIAL SECTIONS: 1909-1933 / 1934-1958 / 1959-1983 / 1984-PRESENT | PRINT VERSION