Hola, Arkansas!

ACORN Community Organizing Financial Justice Ideas and Issues

Little Rock    I was visiting with Neil Sealy, long time head organizer of Arkansas ACORN.  We were talking about the changing accents of Arkansas as more and more Latino immigrants have made a home in the state.  ACORN and KABF, our long time non-commercial radio station, have been playing a critical role in this growing community, so it made sense to get up to date.

Three of ACORN’s Little Rock community organizations in the southwestern part of the city are largely Spanish speaking now.  I could remember the early drives there 30 years ago in what used to be moderate income white turf with leaders like Billie Jo and Houston Humphries and Wilandra Dean, who served several terms on the Pulaski County Quorum Court.  Neil updated me through the transition of the area to majority African-American and now mixed with Latino with 4-5 Spanish groceries and a host of restaurants.  We now do a monthly home counseling session in Spanish to service the membership demand for housing and home ownership. 

Sitting around us in the office were large signs touting the tax preparation and EITC outreach partnership of ACORN and the Clinton Foundation in several of the rooms.  Not surprisingly, given Neil’s briefing, much of the material was in both Spanish and English. 

In the wake of the giant immigration marches in recent weeks, I was curious what role — if any — KABF was playing as a community radio station.  I was pleasantly surprised to find out that in fact our little 100,000 watt KABF has been voted the most popular station for several years running because of its Spanish language programming and had a large listenership.  This was exciting!  Turned out one of primary KABF DJ’s and board members, Lucho Reyes, a Chilean exile, had in fact been the moderator at the giant 2-3000 person rally in front of the capitol a week ago.

As if on cue a tall, distinguished gentleman and his vivacious partner peeked through the door and greeted Neil.  I was introduced and they left us a stack of papers from their Spanish language paper in DeQueen, Arkansas.  Cesar Compadre was on his way upstairs to host a KABF show.   He also runs a non-profit social service operation in DeQueen.   Pupita Chavarria was the editor of  the paper.  I could see pictures of Arkansas ACORN and its banners taken from the Little Rock rally.

Reading the paper, it said they there had been a similar rally of 600 people in DeQueen.  How could this be possible?  DeQueen was (is?) a sleepy little town of hardly 5000 people, as I remembered it, a little bit north (maybe 30 miles according to my brother-in-law, Jimmy, who goes there frequently, of Texarkana in the southwestern part of the state.   Jimmy helped fill in the gaps for me.  Seems in the 2000 census that DeQueen showed up at 39% Hispanic — recorded! — so it could be close to a majority Latino at this point.  Maybe even at that point?  Jimmy says the level of the eating options has also improved mightily!

Why?  Well, what brings this tide of immigration — and Jimmy — to DeQueen is Poulan chainsaws.  In 2005 Poulan made 2,000,000 chainsaws in DeQueen, giving it an arguable claim to being the chainsaw capitol of the world with more made there than anywhere else.  Across from their big plant is a chicken plant as well, so a trickle becomes a tide.

But, 600 people rallying for immigrant rights and citizenship says something very, very powerful in this Republican district within a stone’s throw of the Oklahoma border and a short ride from Texas.  Maybe we need to get a translator built near Hope somewhere so we can be heard down to the border, we could continue to play the role we are pioneering in Arkansas.

Adapting to change is essential to relevance — and, survival!  I left about 6 PM.  It was Good Friday, technically a holiday, but I could hear Neil switching from English to Spanish to handle a phone call coming into the office.

April 15, 2006

Dequeen, AR