A black wide-brimmed hat with white embroidery resembling a flower petal hangs high on a squarish wooden pillar.
Below the decoration, Daniel Sanchez paces back and forth along a couple of narrow tables configured to be a single long one.
It’s a sunny and quiet Saturday morning. But inside Cabrito Nuevo Leon Restaurant in Northside Fort Worth, there’s a bustle missing for a long time. Lines of guests file in for breakfast.
Hugs, fist bumps, handshakes and buzzing chatter inundate the restaurant’s main hall while staffers pour steaming hot coffee on white cups across about 20 tables. Smiles and grins are no longer hidden behind masks for those who chose not to wear them – a majority.
Sanchez, in a black sportscoat and jeans, holds a mic close to his mouth. “Bueno dias,” he greets the crowd full of familiar faces, reuniting after being kept apart by COVID-19 restrictions. The Fort Worth Chorizo & Menudo Breakfast, organized by the League of United Latin American Citizens is back.
“I missed the people. This is my community,” Sanchez told the Fort Worth Report.
Voices of Fort Worth’s Latin community took center stage Saturday, reverberating communal concerns through a physical public discourse. Sanchez and others said they had craved the fellowship even more than the chorizo.
“I missed the natural organic feel of this type of environment,” said Sanchez, spokesperson of LULAC Fort Worth.
The monthly breakfast event went on a hiatus in March 2020 when the fear of coronavirus started to grip public life. The event returned for the first time exactly a year later last month. April’s breakfast indicated continuity and brought hope back to the group.
Concerns from COVID-19 still looms large, though. The pandemic has not ended yet.
More than 53,000 Hispanic residents in Tarrant County have so far been infected by COVID-19, according to the county’s public health department. About 25% of all COVID-related deaths in the county were Hispanics.
Under such circumstances, the decision to hold a large indoor event wasn’t taken lightly, Sanchez said.
“Distribution of vaccines and everybody having a stockpile of masks and ways to be cautious, we decided it was a good time to come in,” he said. “We still try to practise social-distancing This is my first time without my mask in public for over a year.”
About 120 people attended the April 10 event, a slightly larger number than came in March. Before the pandemic, over 150 usually turned up for the breakfasts.
“We look for unique stories of survival, of people overcoming challenges to come share their stories,” Sanchez said. “Maybe it inspires somebody or causes a spark on somebody to do something about their situation.”
LULAC is the largest and oldest Hispanic organization in the country. One of its key community events, Chorizo & Menudo Breakfast, has taken place in different cities for more than half a century. The event started in Fort Worth about 10 to 15 years ago, Sanchez said.
As authentic Mexican dishes were served, the food for thought was local politics and civic matters.
LULAC invited several city and community leaders as speakers to the event. All sat on one end of the long table and gave individual monologues. They then took questions and comments from the gathered crowd sitting on the other end of the hall.
“What I want y’all to understand is that community engagement is critical,” Noakes said. “We want to go into the community and be a part of the community. We want to be there as someone to look to when you need help. We want to make sure that when you need us, you call us.”
Following Noakes’ remarks, the mic turned over to the attendees, a few of whom focused on rising crime statistics and said police usually respond late to calls in their neighborhoods.
“I’m well aware of the drug dealings, the issues going on in the area,” responded Criado, who oversees operations of the North Division.
“We’ve got to keep in mind, in terms of criminals, they don’t have to follow the rules,” Criado added. “But we do. Sometimes it’s difficult. It takes time for us to catch them and hold them accountable.”
A troupe of candidates running for local offices in the May 1 election filled the rest of the allocated speaking time. Fort Worth mayoral candidate Deborah Peoples and Ann Zadeh joined City Council seat challengers Tara Wilson, Elizabeth Beck and Mar’Tayshia James. Dora Tovar, who is running for Arlington City Council, also spoke.
The breakfast gave the attendees a chance to learn about the candidates, the type of in-person opportunity that organizers hope enhance civic engagement.
“The No. 1 thing is for people to get involved,” said Norma Garcia-Lopez, one of the attendees to repeatedly question the speakers. “Know who’s running for City Council, know who’s running for elected positions. If we don’t know, our voices won’t count. Our voices matter.”
For the longest time, Garcia-Lopez said, Hispanic communities have been overlooked by city leadership. She said having meetings such as the Fort Worth Chorizo and Menudo Breakfast helps unite and amplify their voices.
“To build a dialogue, it is so important,” she said. “Trust needs to be built among leaderships and the community.”
She has been attending the breakfast event, held the second Saturday of every month, for almost a decade. During the pandemic, the group members tried holding meetings virtually. But, Garcia-Lopez said, that didn’t generate the same engagement and feelings.
“We weren’t able to meet during the pandemic,” she said. “And COVID affecting especially the Black and Brown communities, it was needed to be informed.”
LULAC Fort Worth’s free breakfast was funded by LULAC’s Dallas chapter, which organized a similar breakfast April 3 at El Ranchito Restaurant in Dallas.
“It’s good to be back,” Gorostieta said.
Council member Carlos Flores, who represents Fort Worth District 2, also came and stayed throughout the two-hour event, although he wasn’t one of the speakers.
Flores said he had missed not being able to attend such community events.
“It makes very imminent sense to be in touch with the concerns that are voiced in community forums, like Chorizo Menudo,” Flores said. “It helps me be more effective in responding to those concerns and to those needs.”
As the event ended Saturday, many stayed longer to share stories and catch up with old friends.
Event moderator Sanchez finally pulled up a chair at one end of the restaurant. One by one, people came up to share their takeaways from the event.
As they said their goodbyes, they promised to see each other soon.
Chorizo and menudo will be served again next month.
If You Go
WHAT: Chorizo Menudo Breakfast
WHEN: 9 a.m. May 8
WHERE: Nuevo Leon Restaurant, 1544 Ellis Ave., Fort Worth
INFO: Chorizo Menudo Breakfast