Having trouble keeping score on the latest Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo flap? Let Hair Balls help you out. We talked to both Ben Mendez, a self-described community leader and member of the non-group group protesting HLSR practices (we'll get back to that), and HLSR's Chief Operating Officer Leroy Shafer.
What we found is that there's some truth and some bullshit on both sides.
About HLSR scholarships not being awarded to minority students:
Shafer says: "The Show found that in 2008, 29.3 percent of the scholarships were awarded to Hispanic students, 21.2 percent to African-American students, 7.8 percent to Asian students, and 41.7 percent to Anglo students. Although ethnicity is not a basis for selection of Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo scholarships, the Show believes the ethnicity of the scholarship recipients in the Houston metro area reflects the ethnicity of the area's population graduating seniors in the Houston Metropolitan area."
Mendez says: "They talk about x-number of percentage going to the minority community. But what they fail to mention is that they're only talking about certain scholarships. If you add the scholarships all together, the percentage that goes to minorities is very small. They're playing with the numbers, they just want to look good for the public. In reality, we know that those numbers have been manipulated. But what I don't want to do is make this a racial issue."
Hair Balls says: HSLR win this point. First, it's hard to give scholarships to kids who aren't going to college. Hispanics, for a host of reasons that don't involve HLSR, drop out of high school at alarming rates (some estimate the figure as high as 50%). Hispanics make up 17% of the country's high-school seniors, but only 9% of college freshmen. Should HLSR give 40% of its funds to 9% of the students?
Are there deserving Hispanic kids out there? Absolutely! But they don't make up 40% of college freshmen, so they shouldn't get 40% of the scholarship money available.
Second, once you bring up race, it's a racial issue. Accuse the HLSR of shortchanging Hispanic kids, and it's a racial issue.
About Hispanics being under-represented on the HLSR Board of Directors:
Shafer says: "The Show has 470 members serving on its board of directors...[the] Show's board is reflective of the volunteer makeup of the Show (more than 21,000 volunteers) and it includes at least nine Hispanics (the Show does not track ethnicity of its membership). The Show has one Hispanic and one African-American among its 17 volunteer vice presidents (the second highest volunteer position in the Show).
Mendez: "I think they can do a lot more to be inclusive."
Hair Balls says: The protestors have got you there, HLSR - one point to Mendez and his group. Out of 470 board members, nine are Hispanic? Out of seventeen vice presidents, one is Hispanic? Okay, that's just shameful. You recruit volunteers, don't you? And those volunteers become Board Members, right? Go recruit some Hispanics.
Unlike high school graduation rates, there is no difference among the races when it comes to a willingness to work to better the community. If you think that nine Hispanics out of 470 board members is anything but embarrassing, Hair Balls is sure Ben Mendez and his cohorts will be happy to sit down with you and explain the facts of life. Those numbers are just pitiful. (By the way, Mendez said a lot more but we didn't even bother to include it; the HLSR's statement says it all.)
About the lack of transparency for the HLSR organization's finances:
Shafer says: "In 2008, the Show's operating revenues were $85,185,000. Program expenses ... were $53,875,466 ... $15,603,897 went to Texas youth through auctions and educational support. The Show spent $5,757,965 on administrative expenses ... and $4,117,247 on fundraising ... The Show had a net income from operations of $5,841,277..."
Mendez says: Last year, they earned $85 million. We know they give $12 million dollars in scholarships, but what about the other $73 million? Where did that go?
Hair Balls says: We're going to call this one a tie. HLSR gave us these numbers within one working day of our request, that seems pretty transparent. Of course, as a non-profit organization, they're required to do so. And Mendez has every right to ask for an accounting of HLSR finances. Even in Texas, $85 million is a lot of money and asking where it's going, is a good thing. (By the way, Mendez and his friends aren't so good at transparency themselves. When asked the name of the group, Mendez says there is none. They are just a group of like-minded individuals, but there is no organization, and no name.)
So, the score is HLSR one, no-name protestors one, and one split decision. Here's the tie breaker - about Go Tejano Day:
Shafer says: "The 2009 Go Tejano Day was an amazing success. The Show is thrilled that the Hispanic community has continued to come out and celebrate their heritage at the Show. Each year, the Show chooses entertainers that attract a broad audience. Go Tejano Day is designed to celebrate Hispanic Heritage and culture - not just to present Latin music. The Show's presentation is designed to attract a mix of ethnicities each day of the Show."
Mendez says: "We feel that they can do a better job of including all communities. They have I believe 20-something days of concerts, and they have just one day targeting the African-American community and just one day targeting the Hispanic community. When you look at Houston, it's 70% minority, so we feel they can be more inclusive. We think they can do better."
Hair Balls says: Based on purely financial reasons, we've got to go with Mendez on this one. Go Tejano Day is the most successful day of the show and HLSR doesn't expand it? No business model in the world says, "by all means limit your bestseller, you don't want to make too much money." Maybe there could be a Go Tejano Weekend? Or maybe Go Tejano Thursdays? Hey, it's just a suggestion.
One thing's for sure - Hispanic protesters vs. the HLSR is a conflict that's going to continue. Mendez and his friends have promised to keep the issue in the news - and in the state senate where legislation regarding HLSR is already in the works - no matter how slim their ranks. (A Sunday demonstration by Mendez and others drew only 30 or so protesters. Similar protests last year drew comparable crowds.)
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.