Several names were suggested when the Fort Worth City Council deliberated on renaming Jefferson Davis Park, which is in a predominately Latino south side neighborhood: Richard “Dick” Salinas, Patrick Zamarripa, and Juanita and Jimmie “Pete” Zepeda. The council voted 6-3 to accept the Park Board’s recommendation and renamed the park Unity Park/Parque Unidad on Dec. 12, 2017.
The council missed an opportunity to highlight historical contributions by community-serving Latinos. Zamarripa lost his life as a Dallas police officer in 2016, shot by a cop-hating gunman. Pete Zepeda was the first Latino on the Tarrant County College Board, and Juanita served on the Park Board.
All three Latinos were deserving of the park name, but the Fort Worth-born Salinas’ political, economic, and cultural contributions merit attention, especially during Hispanic Heritage Month.
Raised in Worth Heights, Salinas’ sister Juanita Salinas recalled in a videotaped interview going to Guadalajara, Mexico, with her brother as teens to visit their mother’s family. They saw Mexican Independence Day parades and fiestas. Fort Worth Latino barrios had celebrated Fiestas Patrias for several years in their communities. In 1965, Dick and Juanita mainstreamed the festivities with a parade in downtown Fort Worth.
Juanita recalled the first parade consisted of four decorated vehicles with a loud speaker on the top of the lead car, playing the Mexican National anthem. In the coming years, the parade grew as Latinos and businesses agreed it was time to showcase their Mexican heritage to the rest of Fort Worth. Residents and visitors were treated to over 70 float and car entries, including high school marching bands, horse-mounted charros, vote-seeking politicians, the Mexican consul, mariachis, civic organizations, and families garbed in traditional Mexican dresses, sombreros, and red, white, and green colors.
On one of the floats, young ladies vying for the Miss Fiestas Patrias crown waved and smiled at the appreciative onlookers. The winner, selected at a pageant later held at Lake Worth Casino dance hall, received a college scholarship.
Dick Salinas organized two-day Mexican festivals at Echo Lake Park where Latinos and friends danced to Tejano bands, heard patriotic speeches, and ate tamales and tacos.
Salinas recognized the need for Latinos to flex political and economic muscle. He ran unsuccessfully for city council in 1969 and 1973. He said he sought office because the council needed “more bilingual and bicultural councilmen to make it a little more modern.” Despite the setbacks, he raised the Latino citizenry’s political aspirations by encouraging voting through registration drives and support for Democratic state and national candidates.
Along with Latino businessmen Pete Zepeda, Manuel Jara, and Ron Fernández, he co-founded and was elected the first president of the Mexican American Chamber of Commerce in 1973. Owner of immigration service and tax assistance agencies, El Tango nightclub, a record store, and Tex-Mex radio station KTIA, he challenged white-owned businesses to hire Mexican Americans.
Belinda González Hampton, former KTIA employee, and Toni Lopez, called Las Comadres, discussed community issues with Salinas on air in Spanish. Hampton said, “He wanted to represent the real people, the barrio folks ... people went to him for assistance ... he told people, ‘Don’t be afraid to step out and step up’.”
Fort Worth power brokers recognized Salinas for his influence in the Latino community and consulted often with him. Mayor Kenneth Barr declared Sept. 11, 1999, as Dick Salinas Day — a pity the council in 2017 could not find unity with his heritage.
Author Richard J. Gonzales writes and speaks about Fort Worth, national and international Latino history.