The shouting from the inner office belied the calm graciousness of the receptionist's greeting. "You're here to WORK! Yes, you have to do some of the bull----, but you're gonna get training and more responsibility. But you have to earn it, so when somebody TELLS you . . ." hammered the deep, authorative voice.
Five minutes later, his chastened subordinate having left the room, William P. Vazquez appeared, all smiles and no visible trace of the last minutes' heated discussion. Vazquez, 35, new director of the Office of Latino Affairs, was giving an impromptu demonstration of the spirit he hopes to bring to his administeration, juggling both the politician and street corner leader he feels are within him.
"What do you want to know? Ask questions," he says, gearing up to the rapid New York patter he favors. "My parents were born in Puerto Rico, came here in 1922. We were the first Puerto Rican family on the block" -- 112th Street in East Harlem. "That caused a few problems. I didn't find out for a while that 'spic' wasn't a soap," he says, shrugging and grinning.
Vazquez came to the Office of Latino Affairs, 2409 18th St. NW, last April 2 as deputy director under Aida Berio. When Berio resigned in October after 16 months in office, complaining that a lack of funds prevented her from doing her job adequately, Mayor Marion Barry searched for a new director, a cabinet level post since 1977. The search led back to Vazquez, a former consultant and community activist who has lived in the District for 10 years.
Vazquez says he came to Washington because he wanted to see how things were done, to meet the people who were making decisions about the lives of his people. Since Feb. 11, when the mayor announced Vazquez as his choice for the $42,874 position overseeing a newly doubled $200,000 budget, Vazquez has had the chance to be one of those people.
"The biggest problem for me was filling out the 171," said Vazquez referring to a standard form for federal job applicants. "I said, 'Oh God, I'm going to be a bureaucrat,'" he exclaimed, covering his face with his hands. And then serriously, "But I felt I had to do this because I come from a cesspool, and I know that people are not getting what they need to be getting.
If he is horrified by bureaucracy, however, it is an aversion he has learned to tolerate having floated into and out of public service for most of his career.
Born in New York City, one of six children of a hard-working house painter who sent his children to Catholic schools, Vazquez was a high school dropout. At 18 he had a wife and two chidlren to support, so he began to work for the city's health department in a now defunct rat extermination program. From the condescension with which some New York officials pooh-poohed community demands for the program to the carelessness with which it was implemented, Vazquez saw much that needed change.
"It was that experience that politicized me," he recalled. "I got to go all over the icty and see what was happening. At that point Puerto Ricans were coming in in great numbers, particularly to New York. And they would od the same things to Hispanics they had been doing to blacks; you know, 'Hispanic shot today, allegedly had a knife.' 'Hispanic arrested for being on a corner.'"
During his youth in East Harlem, Vazquez was surrounded by local leaders who became national figures during the heady late 1960s. He remembers listening to speeches by Malcolm X, Louis Farrakhan and other leaders of the Nation Of Islam, as well as Urban League executive Whitney M. Young Jr. and congremmmen Herman Badillo and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Vazquez says their speeches made him see East Harlem through more critical eyes.
He stopped working for the city -- by that time he was in public relations for the health department -- to work with a community group called the Real Great Society, which Vazquez says sponsored programs such as summer employment services for youth and small, community-run businesses.
He resigned after four years to come to Washington to work with a nationwide spinoff of the program. He soon grew disillusioned with that program as well.
"We started to believe our own press clippings," he says of the group, Youth Organizations United. Youth Pride, Inc., was a member organization. "We would travel all around and talk about the work we were doing -- but not doing any work," he says.
After leaving Youth Organizations, he made an ill-fated attempt to start his own agency to develop programs for Hispanic youth, then returned to school, getting an associate's degree from the now defunct Marjorie Webster Junior College and a bachelor's degree from an experimental program in Washington sponsored by Governors State University in Park Forest South, Ill. He then spent three years working as a consultant in durg abuse counseling.
He assumes the reins of an office that has often been criticized for its ineffectiveness in providing services desperately needed by D.C.'s growing, diverse Hispanic community.
Although the agency has functioned largely as a referral office for Hispanics in their dealings with the city bureaucracy, the cabinet-level status is viewed as critical because of the access it can provice Hispanics to the city government's inner circle.
Vazquez's appointment over Carlos M. Rosario, a former acting director of the office, was not greeted enthusiastically by all members of the community, some of whom have wrangled bitterly in the past over who should occupy the director's chair. The situation doesn't seem quite as acrimonious as in 1979, when Aida Berio won the post over Rosario, but some bitterness clearly persists.
"I wish there had been a more open process," says Berio, who is working as a consultant and awaiting a federal job. "The mayor wanted his there, and there he is."
"There's been a lot of uproar in the community, but that's healthy," said Sharon Armuelles, director of Ayuda, a bilingual legal services agency for the indigent. "But I have a lot of strong feelings that I'm not telling you, which I'll keep to myself. Besides, you don't concentrate on the past because it won't get you anywhere."
Some of the criticism of Vazquez has centered on his age, and by inference, a certain lack of insight into or experience with the community. But during recent interviews, several Hispanic leaders refused to elaborate, saying they didn't want to foster more disunity in the community.
For the moment, Vazquez is vague about his plans and priorities.
In an interview last week, he said the next few months will be devoted to "tightening up our internal organization, starting to look for resources, identifying places where we can place people on commissions, and (reaching) out to blacks and other groups." His recently fattened budget will allow him to hire three new staff people, bringing his staff to 10. b
His second year as director will be devoted to research and better documentation of the needs of the community, he said -- although a $72,000 study commissioned by the Office of Latino Affairs was released in April 1980. He says the city contains about 60,000 to 70,000 Hispanics, although the size of the population has always been a disputed and volatile issue, the 1980 census counted only about 17,800 Hispanics in the city.
The study commissioned by Latino Affairs estimated that 8,315 Hispanics live in the Adams-Morgan and Mount Pleasant areas, considered prinicpal residential areas for Hispanics. The study also indicated that many low-income Hispanics in these areas are being displaced.
Despite the problems, Vazquez's supporters are as enthusiastic about his as he is about the directorship. "I feel very strongly that Vazquez has a tremendous job in from of him," said Armuelles. "Willie's been very supportive of us in the past, and I think the community will be supportive of him."
"I think he's going to be an assertive, agressive leader," said Angel Irene, executive director of the Council of Community and Hispanic Agencies. "I think he's a very resourceful fellow, and I think that's the difference between him and some others."
"He was chosen for the expertise he has, his aggressiveness," said Marie Dias, special assistant to the mayor. "He's an excellent problem solver; he kind of just takes charge."
As an example, Dias recalled a December fire in Adasm-Morgan that forced a number of Hispanic families out of their homes over the holiday season. Vazquez worked through the holidy to find temporary as well as permanent homes for the victims, even visiting the temporary shelter to help with the cooking.
Vazquez says his commitment to the city will be shared by his staff and that he hopes others will pick it up, too.
"We want," he says, to start "integrating our people into the city at every turn. They have to find out that the trick is to participate, to be invited to the ANCs, to find out about the PTA. It's tedious, but we have to get involved."
"By the way," he says with a grin, "I've noticed there are no Hispanic journalists at The Washington Post."