FORT WORTH, Texas – Punctuated by the hoof beats of the Texas longhorns parading on cue from dusty pens to the duded-up tourists crowding Exchange Avenue, much about life and commerce in the Fort Worth Stockyards turns on tradition. That goes for the Hispanic residents whose modest frame homes have surrounded the national historic district for the better part of a century. They share several characteristics with the hundreds of thousands of Latinos flooding Texas in search of better jobs. They don’t trust banks. And they trust the government even less. Angel Hernandez is keeping the traditions of his grandfather, who still collects cans and stores them in the backyard of their Stockyards-area home. The nine-year-old student at Washington Heights Elementary gathered 30 cans from the neighborhood one Thursday in September. But on Friday he handed 50 cents to a fifth grader throughout the window of plywood replica of Unity One Federal Credit Union inside his school. “You get more money,” Hernandez says of his brand new account, “if you don’t spend it on something else.” Before day’s end, the makeshift branch of Unity One will collect $211 in deposits that range from dimes to $20 bills. Operated by fifth graders, the Washington Heights branch collected $2,852 for the previous school. Unity One opened a full-service branch in the Stockyards at the same time it launched the school program and has added 800 to 900 members. Joe Martinez left a bank job to head the new Unity One branch in the Stockyards last year in recognition of the community service he remembers from getting his first car loan. The student population at Washington Heights is about 94% Hispanic. The share of Hispanics within three miles of the new Unity One Branch is predominately Hispanic, with 24,555 households and household incomes averaging $34,862. They’ve traditionally been usurers’ prey. “We’re working to end the reign of check-cashing places that take a significant portion of the paychecks from Hispanic workers who haven’t opened bank accounts and don’t trust banks,” Martinez said. Sheila Lashley, the school’s counselor, helped Martinez launch the school branch. She’s signing up new members among children whose parents have never opened an account at a financial institution. “Our families keep their money under their mattresses at home. And that gets stolen,” she said. “Several of our families have opened accounts at Unity One because of this program.” The Stockyards and North Texas are major staging grounds for the industry’s newest initiative, say CUNA Chairman and Texas Credit Union League President/CEO Richard Ensweiler and Robert Rogers, president and CEO of EECU in Fort Worth. Ensweiler appointed Rogers to CUNA’s Hispanic Outreach Task Force, which issued its final report Oct. 26. Ensweiler said courting Hispanics means stressing nonprofit services on uncharted ground. “You just can’t put a sign in the window. You’ve got to `culturize’ the staff. You’ve got to have them talk the language – perhaps look the look,” he said. “You’ve to have the signs that are attractive and the colors that are attractive. “And the emphasis can’t be on the seal on the front door that says `insured by the federal government,’ ” he said. Rogers’ institution is converting the site of a trailer manufacturing facility for a Stockyards branch. Rogers said it will play a role as helping its Hispanic members revitalize the real estate around the Stockyards and along Samuels Avenue, a tree-lined street of stately three-story homes that has fallen into disrepair on the fringe of the area’s Hispanic gang turf. Mexico has been quick to embrace the North Texas initiatives. When Martinez opened the Washington Heights branch in the fall of September 2004, he was flanked by Mexican state officials and Luis Alberto Villarreal Garcia, the mayor of San Miguel de Allenda. With the help of the World Council of Credit Unions, Rogers and EECU signed a partnership agreement late this summer with Caja Popular Mexicana in Leon, Mexico. With 850,000 member, CPM is Mexico’s largest credit union. The agreement calls for developing mutual credit union services, building a training program through a series of internships, mutual funding of special projects geared toward simultaneous electronic transactions at CPM and EECU branches and exchange visits between credit union leaders. Rogers said the agreement should ease the technical challenges of using the International Remittance Network – the system by which Hispanic workers send their money home. “ I think the world is getting so small now and we’ve so much in common with the Mexican people that it’s essential we find a way to integrate our systems,” he said. Ensweiler said TCUL’s ties to a Dallas public relations firm helping with the Presidential campaign of Vicente Fox led to an ongoing relationship with Juan Hernandez, who took a leave from the University of Texas at Dallas to run Fox’s campaign and to serve in his cabinet. He found Mexico’s credit unions in disarray. “Credit unions in Mexico had gone through a situation similar to the savings and loans in the U.S.,” Hernandez said. “Many of them were downsized, and some had closed down.” TCUL and the Fox administration forged a coalition that Hernandez says helped slash the remittance fees charged by Western Union and others by 40 to 60%. Fox reported an overall reduction of 29% on remittance fees. Government Federal Credit Union of El Paso became the first Texas credit union to transfer funds using the IRNetwork on Oct. 11, 2000. TCUL and credit unions around Texas have endorsed the Matricula Consular, a form of identification issued by Mexico to its foreign nationals in the United States. In its final report, the Hispanic Outreach Task Force called on CUNA to establish an Hispanic resource center. The reported highlights the practices of Latino Community Credit Union in Durham, N.C. The nation’s fastest-growing credit union requires no credit history on auto loans of up to $10,000 but requires a 10% down payment for those loans and 20% on larger auto loans. LCCU said it doesn’t run a credit history for auto loans of up to $10,000. It noted members most often show up on Mondays, Fridays and when it rains. The task force found the Hispanic market woefully underserved and too important to ignore. It reported: * The Hispanic population grew 57% between 1990 and 2000 and numbered 36.4 million by 2002. Four to 6 million of those residents were undocumented, while one in five births inside the U.S. now are Hispanic. * The Hispanic population represents a young and significant share of the economy, with a median age of 27 and median household income of $44,000. * Hispanics represent purchasing power of $600 billion. That will increase to $1 trillion by 2007. In August, Texas joined California, Hawaii and New Mexico as states with “majority-minority” populations. The latest U.S. Census Bureau estimates put Texas minorities at 50.2% of the population. That’s up from 47% in 2000. Ensweiler and Rogers say the Stockyards project isn’t unique in addressing that problem. “But it’s one of the first in addressing an area that’s really Hispanic and underserved,” Ensweiler said. “I don’t think there’s been anything else quite that dramatic.” Rogers and Ensweiler insist it will take credit unions with an average $5 sign-up fee to redirect the flow of money to neighborhoods such as Angel Hernandez’. “The numbers show that nobody is really serving the Hispanic market. Everybody wants to take credit for serving them,” Ensweiler said. “But when you get passed the fact that they’re setting up all these Hispanic tellers and all of these kinds of things, bankers really aren’t interested in $10 or $15 in a savings account every weekend. They want more.” [email protected]

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