"We think that your priorities should be not getting the city all beautied up for convention-goers and so on and what not, because what in the hell use is a having a pretty city when the people in that city are hungry and sick?"
Roberto Maestas, Seattle civil rights leader and co-founder of El Centro de la Raza, died of cancer on September 22, 2010. Maestas was active in the community on behalf of all people. He often appeared at Seattle City Council public hearings as an advocate for the under-represented.
In 1973, the Minority Coalition for an Equitable Revenue Sharing System proposed allocations of revenue sharing funds. Their proposal was filed with the Clerk's Office as Comptroller File 276131. The Coalition stated they were "representatives of the four major ethnic minority groups in Seattle...Black, Chicano, Asian and Indian communities." They reviewed the existing social service and Model Cities programs in 1972 and 1973 and made specific recommendations of programs and projects for the city to fund from its General Revenue Sharing fund.
Listen to this audio clip where he advocates for funding for Chicano health and day care services:
My name is Roberto Maestas. I support the Minority Coalition for an Equitable Revenue Sharing System of course but I can only speak specifically about our priorities inside that proposal. Our priorities are day care and health this time around. There's a building on Beacon Hill that we hope to use for putting some badly needed services in there. We're asking you to make the same kind of priority that we were forced to make in the coalition, that is, we had to leave some badly needed things out in favor of others. I understand that one of your dilemmas has to do with last year's bills that were going unpaid or unprojected costs. It seems unfair to me that projected revenues should be used to pay old bills, unless I'm incorrect. We think that your priorities should be not getting the city all beautied up for convention-goers and so on and what not because what in the hell use is a having a pretty city when the people in that city are hungry and sick. So we're asking that human value, because I don't believe, sincerely deep down don't believe, that there is a building in this whole city that is worth the life of one individual. Your values I think have got to start being channeled toward human instead of physical property. That's what we're trying to ask you.
We're asking for $89,000 for a clinic that is badly needed. The statistics regarding the once- a- week Chicano clinic are available upon request, made possible through an ordinance that was passed and hundreds of man hours of Model Cities work, made possible on our part, free. We never had at any time a staff doctor yet we served hundreds of Chicanos. It was all volunteer work. We're asking $47,000 for a day care center. In the last 3 months we have had to refuse, or not refuse but been unable to get Chicano people into the ESL program who are on welfare to learn English because they did not have any money to pay a babysitter. What this means is that they will continue to be living in those project houses in a state of despair indefinitely in the welfare roles without being able to improve their lives. The…program pays $61 a week to the trainee. How in the hell could they possible afford a babysitter with that kind of money? We have documentation about that also. Thank you.
Citation: Public Comment by Roberto Maestas at Seattle City Council Special Budget Meeting, June 25, 1973. Event ID 1863, Seattle City Council Legislative Department Audio Recordings, 4601-03.
In this brief clip from a Neighborhoods and Neighborhood Planning Committee meeting on August 19, 1997, held at El Centro de la Raza, Executive Director Maestas reads a poem to open the meeting. The poem, similar to one written by liberation theologian Ernesto Cardenal, begins, "When you receive the nomination, the prize, the promotion, think of those who have died." Listening to Maestas' voice offers us a glimpse of his compassion and passion.
Tina Podlodowski: And to start out the meeting tonight we're going to hear a little bit about the history of this special place, this special organization, and the special people that are in it from somebody who probably needs no introduction in the City of Seattle, probably doesn't even need a microphone, but you need to come for one for TV - that's the Executive Director of this organization, Roberto Maestas.
When you receive the nomination, the prize, the promotion, think of those who have died.
When you are in the reception, the delegation or the commission, think of those who have died.
When you have won that election and that group congratulates you, piensa en los que han muerto.
When they applaud you when you climb to the stand with the leaders, think of those who have died.
When they meet you at the airport at a large city, piensa en los que han muerto.
When you take the microphone and they focus the television on you, think of those who have died.
When you give out the certificates, the ID cards, the permission, piensa en los que han muerto.
When the old women with their small plots come with their problems, piensa en los que han metro.
See them without a shirt, degraded, bleeding, hooded, crushed, lost in the heap, electric probe burns, eyes gouged out, beheaded, riddled with bullets, thrown at the side of the road in holes they have dug as common graves, or simply scattered over the earth, fertilizing the plants and the mountains.
You represent them.
They have made you their delegate.
Those who have died.
Thank you so much, Councilwoman, chair of the subcommittee on neighborhood planning Podlodowski, great friend of ours. Perhaps our favorite City Councilman, he was here October 11, 1972, Richard McIver. And a long time friend that just walked in, Councilwoman Cheryl Chow.
Citation: Comment by Roberto Maestas at Seattle City Council Neighborhoods and Neighborhood Planning Committee Meeting held at El Centro de la Raza, August 19, 1997. Event ID 5664, Seattle City Council Legislative Department Audio Recordings, 4601-03.