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How JFK’s ‘Viva Kennedy’ Campaign Galvanized the Latino Vote

How JFK’s ‘Viva Kennedy’ Campaign Galvanized the Latino Vote

During his 1960 bid for the White House, John F. Kennedy faced a tight race. Kennedy and his Republican opponent, Richard Nixon, remained neck-and-neck in the polls throughout the campaign season. Kennedy gained leads after his historic TV debate performances, but Nixon gained momentum heading into Election Day.

One way the nation’s first Catholic president sought to gain an edge in the close contest was by courting a potential bloc that had been largely ignored by U.S. political candidates—the Latino vote.

Uniting Mexican Americans, Puerto Ricans, Cuban Americans

While Latino voters are now prominent in national political discussion, this was hardly the case before 1960. For most of the 20th century, Democrats and Republicans expected Latinos to serve as silent and loyal subordinates, when they bothered asking for their votes at all. Mexican Americans and Puerto Ricans constituted the bulk of the nation’s Latinos. But they had made few efforts to unite and amplify their voices.

Latino voters lived in different parts of the country, with Mexican Americans mostly in the Southwest, and the Puerto Ricans’ mainland population concentrated in the Northeast. They held distinct political and cultural identities rooted in their regions, states, as well as the homelands from which they or their ancestors had migrated.

Cuban refugees added to the mix after 1959, the bulk of them arriving in Florida. But they expected the imminent overthrow of Fidel Castro and a quick return to their island homes. So despite their overlapping linguistic and cultural traditions, and often common experiences of discrimination, poverty and political exclusion, most Latinos did not act as if they belonged to one community, political or otherwise.

All the same, the growth of large Spanish-speaking populations in all corners of the country raised a new political possibility: Could these distinct communities (at least Mexican Americans and Puerto Ricans) be forged into a single constituency? Given how little power they had amassed working separately, might some kind of national alliance change the political game?

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Edward Roybal Leads Effort to Activate Latino Vote

For ambitious Mexican Americans, the 1960 presidential campaign presented an early test. Edward Roybal was the leader in coalescing the Latino vote. A liberal city councilman from Los Angeles, Roybal attended the 1960 Democratic National Convention, where he helped convince the Kennedy campaign to authorize a vast voter turnout effort in Mexican-American communities.

The logic was simple—to defeat Nixon, Democrats needed a surge in Mexican-American votes, especially in Texas. As Ignacio García writes in Viva Kennedy: Mexican Americans in Search of Camelot, Roybal and other likeminded Mexican-American leaders expected a President Kennedy to reciprocate by acting on their behalf once he reached office. This included using federal power to improve their people’s economic and social condition, awarding Latino Americans prestigious federal jobs, and backing them in their struggles for respect and influence within state and local Democratic parties. The “Viva Kennedy” campaign was born.

For more than two months, Roybal and other Mexican-American elected officials, civil rights leaders, and activists raised funds and barnstormed on behalf of Kennedy and his running mate, Texas Senator Lyndon Johnson. They formed Viva Kennedy clubs from the California coast to the Great Lakes. They encouraged Mexican Americans to see Kennedy, a Roman Catholic, as a fellow outsider. To send him to the White House would, in some sense, punch their own ticket into the American mainstream.

As Sal Castro recalls in Blowout!: Sal Castro and the Chicano Struggle for Educational Justice, the Viva Kennedy clubs acted as conduits between the candidate and their communities. When John Kennedy received a rapturous reception on Olvera Street, “the birthplace of Mexican L.A.” and then later spoke before a jam-packed college football stadium in the largely Mexican-American section of East Los Angeles, Viva Kennedy campaigners brimmed with optimism at their people’s potential, if harnessed to an ascending and charismatic leader.

The Kennedy campaign confirmed that Mexican Americans were an emerging factor in national elections, and a new state of affairs in which they and their leaders no longer needed to deny their heritage to have a political voice.

Though led by Mexican Americans, all parties had an interest in extending the Viva Kennedy campaign’s reach far beyond its nucleus in the Southwest. In time, two Puerto Rican leaders from New York enlisted as Viva Kennedy co-chairmen. Their inclusion imparted the appearance of a truly national mobilization of the people John Kennedy sometimes referred to as “Latin Americans.”

READ MORE: The Brutal History of Latino Discrimination in America

JFK Speaks in Spanish Harlem

In October, the candidate himself campaigned in Spanish Harlem, the epicenter of Puerto Rican life in New York City. In his remarks, John Kennedy identified himself with this community of recent migrants, as fellow people of dignity who, like his Irish ancestors, had sought safety and opportunity in a land of progress. Campaign sound trucks blared through the barrio, and Kennedy buses whisked Puerto Ricans to registration sites.

New York political bosses had long kept the Puerto Rican electorate small, the better to reserve power and patronage for their white ethnic constituents. But thanks to the excitement and resources of the presidential campaign, the number of Puerto Ricans engaged in mainland democracy grew dramatically.

After Kennedy narrowly defeated Nixon, Puerto Rican leaders celebrated their role in the Democrats taking New York, then the largest Electoral College state. For their part, influential southwesterners declared that “Mr. Kennedy rode the Mexican burro into the presidency.”

READ MORE: What Is the Electoral College and Why Was It Created?

Kennedy Administration Neglects Promises

While Kennedy acknowledged that Mexican-American votes in Texas were critical to his win over Nixon, he largely neglected the promises made to Viva Kennedy campaigners—particularly Mexican Americans—once in the White House. Without the unifying force of the campaign and its celebrity candidate, the alliance of Latinos that Viva Kennedy represented collapsed.

Nevertheless, the Kennedy campaign of 1960 established the broad outlines of Latino politics in the years to come. It encouraged leaders in various Latino communities to see the presidential election as the foundation of a nationwide Latino political community, even as it appealed to members of those communities in different ways.

It also cemented the urge among Latino leaders to look to Washington as a source of allies and aid in their local political struggles. It gave aspiring politicians from each community a chance to rise in the Democratic Party. Some Viva Kennedy backers, like Edward Roybal, were soon elected to Congress.

In the coming decade, Roybal and other leaders from the varied Latino communities, virtually all of whom had some connection to the 1960 campaign, eventually found each other in the capital. There, they brought coherence to the national Latino constituency that first came into view in 1960. They lobbied to expand the Voting Rights Act to include Latinos, formed groups like the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, fought for a Hispanic census category, and established that the Latino vote was nationwide, permanent—and on the cusp of great influence.


Garcia: JFK and the Latino vote

2 of 5 First lady Jacqueline Kennedy was greeted by crowds at the Rice Hotel as she arrived in Houston with President John F. Kennedy and his motorcade on Nov. 21, 1963. na/HC staff Show More Show Less

When President John F. Kennedy arrived at the LULAC gala in Houston's Rice Hotel on Nov. 21, 1963, he was on a particular political mission. In fact, his whole tragic trip to Texas was based on recapturing a momentum he once had with Mexican-American and Latino voters.

More than in 1960 when he barely won the popular vote over Richard Nixon, Kennedy knew he needed Mexican Americans if he was to have a shot at a second term. In 1960, he lost the white vote in Texas by 150,000 votes but garnered 91 percent of the Mexican-American votes cast, giving him a 200,000 vote plurality and, thus, a 50,000-vote victory. Across the country, he had garnered 85 percent of the Mexican-American vote, the most by any presidential candidate before or since.

Kennedy knew he had to get at least that same percentage and probably more if he was to keep the presidency, and yet he knew that many leaders of that community were disappointed in his dismal record of appointing Mexican Americans to the federal bureaucracy and judiciary, as well as his lackluster effort on civil rights. Worse, with the exception of a few cases, Kennedy had basically ignored them for three years, refusing to even attend their conventions when invited.

By 1963, he could no longer ignore them, and in fact may have begun to change his own views - or at least commitments - on civil rights and minority issues. His brother Edward Kennedy, much closer to Mexican Americans because of the 1960 campaign, no doubt helped convince him to recapture their enthusiasm and political support.

When Kennedy ran for president in 1960, many Mexican-American leaders supported him because they believed their people needed political alliances to make significant changes in the barrio. After decades of civil rights and reform activities in which they had successfully challenged most de jure discrimination that Mexican Americans faced, things had changed little for people in the barrio.

Their assessment led a number of them to reach out to the Kennedy presidential campaign about the creation of an organization - the Viva Kennedy Clubs - to go after the Mexican-American vote. For these reformers, this effort would not only get Mexican Americans politically active but also would cement their loyalty toward American society.

The Viva Kennedy Clubs developed in much the same way that a lot of organizing efforts did for Mexican Americans of that era: through local initiative, led by local leaders who decided what the important issues were and then brought people together to promote them.

These reformers quickly took command of the Kennedy campaign rhetoric and fashioned it in such a way that issues affecting the barrio were the most important thing that Mexican Americans heard in the campaign. They then set out to build clubs, develop banners and fliers, and send out their leaders to speak to anyone who listened about Kennedy's commitment to Mexican Americans.

To succeed, they had to accomplish two particular goals. One was to convince their followers that John F. Kennedy was a real friend, and, two, they had to develop a national agenda that spelled out their grievances and their demands. The first they accomplished by calling him a friend, a fellow Catholic and an ethnic American like themselves every chance they got. By making him different from many other white Americans, they created a space in which Kennedy and they could comfortably coincide politically.

"The Americans of Mexican Descent, A Statement of Principles" became the organization's foundational document and the one that best expressed the views of this generation of Mexican-American reformers.

The document sought to underscore: that Mexican Americans were not foreigners in this land but were actually "people living in their 'traditional home'" that they were "subject people," invisible to most Americans and that the nation had an obligation to deal with their poverty and powerlessness.

The document spelled out the problems associated with being Mexican Americans, but unlike past documents, it emphasized that not all Mexican Americans were poor or uneducated. Some were quite successful and were waiting for the nation to use their talents.

The reformers called for the end of the Bracero Program, a program they believed was responsible for Mexican-American poverty and illiteracy, particularly in the rural areas. The program, which brought workers from Mexico to make up a supposed worker deficit in U.S. farms and fields, forced many Mexican-American farm workers to leave agricultural jobs to find work that paid a living wage.

The document ended with nine recommendations. The most salient of these were based on an active and unobtrusive government and a pluralistic society that would deal with poverty, segregation, political powerlessness and which would recognize the talent of the Mexican-American middle class. The recommendations were utopian in nature in that they painted an America as a place where fine-tuning was always necessary but fundamental change never a need. While these reformers constantly and sometimes scathingly identified the lack of fairness in the larger society, they never rejected the 1950s vision of an America of plenty, of equality and, ironically, of fair play.

While the assessment of their people's ills and the proposed solutions were "Camelotish," they nonetheless created a national agenda that dealt with the long-forgotten concerns of Mexican Americans. They tied those concerns with a national electoral campaign and made many of their people believe that it was possible to make change by becoming part of the political process.

The failure of the American political system to adequately deliver on those concerns opened up the barrios to a larger civil rights effort in the 1960s. This new generation fought for many of the same rights. Their goal was not Camelot, but Aztlán, the legendary home of the Aztecs and Chicano activists' rallying cry - a place where "Viva Clubs" were not a prerequisite for change.

That, however, was in the future. When JFK arrived at the Houston banquet that Thursday in November 1963, all he could think of was how to recapture the past enthusiasm, and how he could at last deliver for those who chose him as an amigo long before he fully understood them.

García is the Lemuel Hardison Redd Jr. Professor of Western & Latino History at Brigham Young University and author of "Viva Kennedy: Mexican Americans in Search of Camelot."


Mexican-American Vets Ignited Kennedy's Latino Support

President John F. Kennedy speaks to Mexican-American activists at a LULAC gala in Houston's Rice Hotel on Nov. 21, 1963, the day before he was assassinated.

On the evening of Nov. 21, 1963, President John F. Kennedy, his wife Jacqueline, Vice President Lyndon Johnson and his wife, Lady Bird, walked through a wall of applause to take their place as honored guests in a Houston ballroom. They were making a brief stop at a formal dinner held by LULAC — the League of United Latin American Citizens — to show their appreciation for the Mexican-American votes that had helped the young president carry Texas in the 1960 election.

The crowd eventually settled down to hear the President tell them that Latin America was not just a friend, but a partner in the peace and prosperity he hoped the entire hemisphere would come to enjoy. And to make sure they understood him completely, he grinned at the crowd: "I'm going to ask my wife to say a few words."

Jacqueline Kennedy, dressed elegantly in a black Persian lamb suit and draped in pearls, stepped to the podium. Smiling, she told the audience how happy she was to be in Texas that evening — and how especially happy she was to be with them. "Estoy muy contenta. " she began, in her trademark whispery voice.

After years of being regarded as second-class citizens, denied access to some places and sent to the back door of others (often helpfully guided by not-uncommon signs that declared "no dogs, Negroes or Mexicans"), here was the respect LULAC's members long had been striving for. For the first time, a sitting president of the United States had chosen to visit a Hispanic group. Of the deluge of invitations that flooded the White House when the whirlwind trip through Texas had been announced, he had chosen them. After the Kennedys' brief remarks, the room rang with cries of "Viva Kennedy! And viva Jackie!"

Texas had been hugely important to Kennedy in his 1960 campaign. There were tens of thousands of potential voters in Mexican-American communities across the state, but until the late '50s and early '60s, many people chose not to vote. An expensive poll tax meant many poor Mexican-Americans couldn't afford to vote. And the slate of candidates offered by both parties was often too conservative (and yes, sometimes racist) to entice potential voters.

Veterans who'd returned from World War II and Korea expecting their service would open otherwise closed minds quickly found not much had changed, says Professor Ignacio Garcia, who teaches history at Brigham Young University and who is the author of Viva Kennedy: Mexican Americans In Search of Camelot.

"[Veterans] assumed that things would change, that they would be like they were in the foxhole, or the military unit," Garcia explains. "And when they came back and discovered things were not changed, they became very adamant about changing things."

One particularly adamant veteran was physician Hector P. Garcia (no relation), a former Army major who'd spent years pressing the Veterans' Administration to deliver services in a timely manner to Mexican-American vets. Dr. Garcia founded the American G.I. Forum as a civil rights group that enabled Mexican-American vets to press for equity. When they heard the young senator from Boston talk about wanting all Americans to contribute to move the country forward, they decided to back him. The forums, located in several cities in Texas and a few other states, became the vehicle for Viva Kennedy clubs. And the clubs, says Ignacio Garcia, "were probably the last time an ethnic constituency operated totally independently of one of the major parties. No memos, no talking points, no directives."

"Here's my mother, a dignified woman, jumping up and down — I just looked at her, like, Mama!"

Wanda Garcia, on her mother's support for Kennedy

The Viva Kennedy clubs planned and funded their own events, and they drew people by the thousands. Hector Garcia died in 1996, but his daughter Wanda vividly remembers the excitement at the Viva Kennedy-sponsored rallies. "He was like a rock star," she recalls. Even her normally reserved mother wasn't immune. At a rally, Wanda says she was astonished to look over and see her mother as frenzied as any of her own high school pals: "Here's my mother, a dignified woman, jumping up and down — I just looked at her, like, Mama!"

After the election, John F. Kennedy sent telegrams to the Viva Kennedy leaders, thanking them for their hard work, and saying it had made a considerable contribution to his Texas victory. But by the third year of his presidency, the Mexican-Americans who'd been so enamored of him were disappointed. They'd hoped their support would be rewarded with the placement of Latinos in important administration positions, but Kennedy had been very slow about moving in that direction.

Wanda Garcia remembers her father having terse conversations with Attorney General Bobby Kennedy about the need to do much more for the people who'd given his brother a victory in a critically important state.

So the trip to Texas — besides being an attempt to mediate the fight between gubernatorial challenger Don Yarborough and Governor John Connally — was designed to show Mexican-American voters that Jack Kennedy was ready to rededicate himself to their interests.

Max Krochmal, a history professor at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, says Kennedy's election in the fall of 1960 was a wake-up call: Politicians saw they could no longer take the Mexican-American vote for granted. And Mexican-American voters got a glimpse of what their political power could accomplish: "The Viva Kennedy campaign really produced a sense of unity among Mexican Americans rarely seen before or after," Krochmal says.

The LULAC dinner, then, was a new beginning. But it was also the end, because the next day, Kennedy would be assassinated in Dallas. But the Viva Kennedy clubs, and his appearance in Houston on Nov. 21 cemented a relationship between Democrats and many Mexican-Americans that continues today.


JFK's last night recalled as key event for Latinos

President John F. Kennedy was supposed to just stop by and wave hello.

Instead a group of eager Latinos persuaded him to come inside and speak to a packed room of Mexican-American civil rights activists. And then he persuaded his wife, first lady Jacqueline Kennedy, to address the crowd in Spanish.

It was Nov. 21, 1963. Hours later, the president was dead, his assassination overshadowing the significance of a speech that can be seen as the birth of the Latino vote, so instrumental in 2012 in helping re-elect the first black president, Barack Obama.

To historians, Kennedy's appearance at the Rice Ballroom in Houston was likely the first time that a president officially acknowledged Latinos as an important voting bloc.

Though there are no plaques marking the historic occasion, the event is a touchstone for activists even if the spot where Kennedy sat and heard a band play Mexican ballads and where the crowd yelled "Viva Kennedy!" is now a refurbished ballroom in a loft apartment complex that often plays host to weddings.

"That evening . that's where it began," said Ignacio Garcia, author of "Viva Kennedy: Mexican Americans in Search of Camelot" and a history professor at Brigham Young University. "But because very few people know about the meeting, it's like it never happened."

The surprise visit came after Mexican-Americans in Texas, New Mexico, California, Arizona, Illinois and Indiana helped Kennedy win critical swing states in 1960, thanks to an unprecedented voter registration drive in Latino communities. Independent "Viva Kennedy!" clubs sprang up. Sen. Dennis Chavez, D-N.M., and Texas legislator Henry B. Gonzalez of San Antonio, a future congressman, began speaking in Hispanic neighborhoods across the country and positioned themselves as the first recognizable national Latino political figures.

Just as in 2012, Republicans in 1960 did little to woo Latinos to support their presidential candidate, Richard Nixon. Latinos also identified with Kennedy, who was Catholic and Irish-American, a member of an ethnic group that had battled discrimination similar to what Latinos faced in the segregated Southwest.

On Election Day in 1960, Kennedy won 85 percent of the Mexican-American vote.

But during Kennedy's first months in office, Latino leaders expressed dismay that the president had failed to appoint Hispanics in his administration. Chavez even openly criticized Kennedy for his lack of appointments other leaders embarked on a letter-writing campaign over the slow movement on civil rights.

Sensing another close election in 1964 and hoping to ease tensions, Kennedy visited Texas in November 1963. Advisers suggested that he at least pay a quick visit to Mexican-American activists at a Houston gala sponsored by the League of United Latin American Citizens, then the largest Latino civil rights group in the country.

"The Secret Service told us that he may stop by, but not to advertise it because it wasn't part of his official schedule," said Alexander Arroyos, 76, who was an officer in LULAC at the time. "We could spread it through word of mouth. No one believed us."

The president was greeted at the door by Macario Garcia, who was awarded the Medal of Honor for his service during World War II. Inside the ballroom, Kennedy and the first lady found an enthusiastic crowd of World War II veterans, civil rights advocates and future elected officials.

Kennedy spoke briefly about foreign policy in Latin America and the importance of LULAC. The first lady told the crowd in Spanish that Texas had a deep history with Latinos. The crowd responded with chants of "Viva Kennedy!" A band played a ballad in Spanish as photographers took photos of the Kennedys and Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson and his wife, Lady Bird Johnson.

Before that moment, historians believe that no president had ever acknowledged Latinos as a voting bloc, said Emilio Zamora, a historian at the University of Texas at Austin.

President William Taft, who served from 1909-1913, may have met with a tiny group of Latino activists in El Paso, Texas, Zamora said. President Dwight D. Eisenhower likely shock hands with some Mexican-American voters in a campaign visit to South Texas in 1952. "But I think no president had ever publically thanked Mexican-Americans in that manner," said Zamora.

Fifteen hours after the historic meeting, Kennedy was dead.

Band members who had played for the president the night before wept as the news unfolded. When Arroyos heard about the assassination, he told his boss at an import company he was too upset to work. Arroyos rushed to collect from friends as many photos as possible of Kennedy's visit at the Rice Hotel as he could for a future edition of a LULAC newspaper.

On Election Day 2012, analysts routinely spoke of Latinos finally awakening as a "sleeping giant" by giving Obama around 70 percent of their vote. But Ignacio Garcia said that assessment ignores how Latinos have influenced presidential elections for more than 50 years.

In 1960, for example, their overwhelming backing helped put Texas and New Mexico in Kennedy's column during the tight race against Nixon. The Republican's campaign did not have a presence in Mexican-American neighborhoods and did not have a Spanish language TV ad, unlike Kennedy, who tapped the first lady for it. Kennedy also made promises to appoint Mexican-Americans to his administration.

Johnson enjoyed support from Hispanics who campaigned for him during his landslide victory in 1964, and Mexican-Americans came out strongly for Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, D-N.Y., during the 1968 Democratic primary in California.

In 2000, then-Texas. Gov. George W. Bush, a Republican, was able to edge Democrat Al Gore, thanks in party to receiving about 40 percent of the Latino vote, according to various estimates.

"The Latino vote did not come of age the night Obama was re-elected," said Garcia. "It came of age Nov. 21, 1963."

The reason the Latino vote is attracting attention in 2012 is that Latinos are now the largest minority group in the U.S. and voter participating rates are up, Garcia said.

Voter participation for eligible Latino voters has gone from 3.7 million in 1988 to an estimated 12.5 million in 2012, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. That number could to double within two decades, the center said.

Arroyos said most of the older activists shrug off the pronouncements that Hispanics are finally influencing national elections even though his generation helped give birth to the Latino vote. Still, he said even those who are still alive and remember that Kennedy speech probably don't even know what role they played that eventually led to the voting numbers in 2012.

"I didn't know that evening was so historic," said Arroyos. "I was just happy that he dropped by and just didn't say hi."

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


JFK's last night, largely forgotten, considered seminal event for Latinos as a voting bloc

President John F. Kennedy was supposed to just stop by and wave hello.

Instead a group of eager Latinos persuaded him to come inside and speak to a packed room of Mexican-American civil rights activists. And then he persuaded his wife, first lady Jacqueline Kennedy, to address the crowd in Spanish.

It was Nov. 21, 1963. Hours later, the president was dead, his assassination overshadowing the significance of a speech that can be seen as the birth of the Latino vote, so instrumental in 2012 in helping re-elect the first black president, Barack Obama.

To historians, Kennedy's appearance at the Rice Ballroom in Houston was likely the first time that a president officially acknowledged Latinos as an important voting bloc.

Though there are no plaques marking the historic occasion, the event is a touchstone for activists even if the spot where Kennedy sat and heard a band play Mexican ballads and where the crowd yelled "Viva Kennedy!" is now a refurbished ballroom in a loft apartment complex that often plays host to weddings.

"That evening . that's where it began," said Ignacio Garcia, author of "Viva Kennedy: Mexican Americans in Search of Camelot" and a history professor at Brigham Young University. "But because very few people know about the meeting, it's like it never happened."

The surprise visit came after Mexican-Americans in Texas, New Mexico, California, Arizona, Illinois and Indiana helped Kennedy win critical swing states in 1960, thanks to an unprecedented voter registration drive in Latino communities. Independent "Viva Kennedy!" clubs sprang up. Sen. Dennis Chavez, D-N.M., and Texas legislator Henry B. Gonzalez of San Antonio, a future congressman, began speaking in Hispanic neighborhoods across the country and positioned themselves as the first recognizable national Latino political figures.

Just as in 2012, Republicans in 1960 did little to woo Latinos to support their presidential candidate, Richard Nixon. Latinos also identified with Kennedy, who was Catholic and Irish-American, a member of an ethnic group that had battled discrimination similar to what Latinos faced in the segregated Southwest.

On Election Day in 1960, Kennedy won 85 percent of the Mexican-American vote.

But during Kennedy's first months in office, Latino leaders expressed dismay that the president had failed to appoint Hispanics in his administration. Chavez even openly criticized Kennedy for his lack of appointments other leaders embarked on a letter-writing campaign over the slow movement on civil rights.

Sensing another close election in 1964 and hoping to ease tensions, Kennedy visited Texas in November 1963. Advisers suggested that he at least pay a quick visit to Mexican-American activists at a Houston gala sponsored by the League of United Latin American Citizens, then the largest Latino civil rights group in the country.

"The Secret Service told us that he may stop by, but not to advertise it because it wasn't part of his official schedule," said Alexander Arroyos, 76, who was an officer in LULAC at the time. "We could spread it through word of mouth. No one believed us."

The president was greeted at the door by Macario Garcia, who was awarded the Medal of Honor for his service during World War II. Inside the ballroom, Kennedy and the first lady found an enthusiastic crowd of World War II veterans, civil rights advocates and future elected officials.

Kennedy spoke briefly about foreign policy in Latin America and the importance of LULAC. The first lady told the crowd in Spanish that Texas had a deep history with Latinos. The crowd responded with chants of "Viva Kennedy!" A band played a ballad in Spanish as photographers took photos of the Kennedys and Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson and his wife, Lady Bird Johnson.

Before that moment, historians believe that no president had ever acknowledged Latinos as a voting bloc, said Emilio Zamora, a historian at the University of Texas at Austin.

President William Taft, who served from 1909-1913, may have met with a tiny group of Latino activists in El Paso, Texas, Zamora said. President Dwight D. Eisenhower likely shock hands with some Mexican-American voters in a campaign visit to South Texas in 1952. "But I think no president had ever publically thanked Mexican-Americans in that manner," said Zamora.

Fifteen hours after the historic meeting, Kennedy was dead.

Band members who had played for the president the night before wept as the news unfolded. When Arroyos heard about the assassination, he told his boss at an import company he was too upset to work. Arroyos rushed to collect from friends as many photos as possible of Kennedy's visit at the Rice Hotel as he could for a future edition of a LULAC newspaper.

On Election Day 2012, analysts routinely spoke of Latinos finally awakening as a "sleeping giant" by giving Obama around 70 percent of their vote. But Ignacio Garcia said that assessment ignores how Latinos have influenced presidential elections for more than 50 years.

In 1960, for example, their overwhelming backing helped put Texas and New Mexico in Kennedy's column during the tight race against Nixon. The Republican's campaign did not have a presence in Mexican-American neighborhoods and did not have a Spanish language TV ad, unlike Kennedy, who tapped the first lady for it. Kennedy also made promises to appoint Mexican-Americans to his administration.

Johnson enjoyed support from Hispanics who campaigned for him during his landslide victory in 1964, and Mexican-Americans came out strongly for Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, D-N.Y., during the 1968 Democratic primary in California.

In 2000, then-Texas. Gov. George W. Bush, a Republican, was able to edge Democrat Al Gore, thanks in party to receiving about 40 percent of the Latino vote, according to various estimates.

"The Latino vote did not come of age the night Obama was re-elected," said Garcia. "It came of age Nov. 21, 1963."

The reason the Latino vote is attracting attention in 2012 is that Latinos are now the largest minority group in the U.S. and voter participating rates are up, Garcia said.

Voter participation for eligible Latino voters has gone from 3.7 million in 1988 to an estimated 12.5 million in 2012, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. That number could to double within two decades, the center said.

Arroyos said most of the older activists shrug off the pronouncements that Hispanics are finally influencing national elections even though his generation helped give birth to the Latino vote. Still, he said even those who are still alive and remember that Kennedy speech probably don't even know what role they played that eventually led to the voting numbers in 2012.

"I didn't know that evening was so historic," said Arroyos. "I was just happy that he dropped by and just didn't say hi."


The Kennedys LULAC visit and speech was no ‘drop in’

Years later, Clint Hill, one of the Secret Service agents on the 1963 Texas trip, confirmed Herrera’s account, down to Mrs. Kennedy having made prepared comments and rehearsing what she would say to the LULAC crowd.

“It was no accident,” Hill said. “On way to San Antonio from Washington that day on the flight, she had been practicing her Spanish while we flew.”

But, of course, in politics, where image and illusion are of tantamount importance – and the Kennedy White House was a master of such orchestration – the made-up story of the Presidential party slipping in on the spur of the moment and the First Lady delivering an impromptu talk in Spanish all made for better copy.

Years later, the romanticism of the Kennedys “dropping in” on the Houston ballroom full of Hispanics would continue.

One report last year claimed that it “was likely the first time that a president officially acknowledged Latinos as an important voting block.”

Forgotten in that reporting bravado was that in 1960, the Kennedy presidential campaign had gone to great lengths to organize Viva Kennedy Clubs in Texas and California, as well as a few other states.

After his election, Kennedy had even publicly thanked his running mate, then Senator Lyndon B. Johnson, for his help in carrying Texas’ decisive electoral votes and in particular for using his own organization to deliver the large Latino vote in heavily Hispanic South Texas.


JFK’s last night recalled as key event for Latinos

President John F. Kennedy was supposed to just stop by and wave hello.

Instead a group of eager Latinos persuaded him to come inside and speak to a packed room of Mexican-American civil rights activists. And then he persuaded his wife, first lady Jacqueline Kennedy, to address the crowd in Spanish.

It was Nov. 21, 1963. Hours later, the president was dead, his assassination overshadowing the significance of a speech that can be seen as the birth of the Latino vote, so instrumental in 2012 in helping re-elect the first black president, Barack Obama.

To historians, Kennedy’s appearance at the Rice Ballroom in Houston was likely the first time that a president officially acknowledged Latinos as an important voting bloc.

Though there are no plaques marking the historic occasion, the event is a touchstone for activists even if the spot where Kennedy sat and heard a band play Mexican ballads and where the crowd yelled “Viva Kennedy!” is now a refurbished ballroom in a loft apartment complex that often plays host to weddings.

“That evening … that’s where it began,” said Ignacio Garcia, author of “Viva Kennedy: Mexican Americans in Search of Camelot” and a history professor at Brigham Young University. “But because very few people know about the meeting, it’s like it never happened.”

The surprise visit came after Mexican-Americans in Texas, New Mexico, California, Arizona, Illinois and Indiana helped Kennedy win critical swing states in 1960, thanks to an unprecedented voter registration drive in Latino communities. Independent “Viva Kennedy!” clubs sprang up. Sen. Dennis Chavez, D-N.M., and Texas legislator Henry B. Gonzalez of San Antonio, a future congressman, began speaking in Hispanic neighborhoods across the country and positioned themselves as the first recognizable national Latino political figures.

Just as in 2012, Republicans in 1960 did little to woo Latinos to support their presidential candidate, Richard Nixon. Latinos also identified with Kennedy, who was Catholic and Irish-American, a member of an ethnic group that had battled discrimination similar to what Latinos faced in the segregated Southwest.

On Election Day in 1960, Kennedy won 85 percent of the Mexican-American vote.

But during Kennedy’s first months in office, Latino leaders expressed dismay that the president had failed to appoint Hispanics in his administration. Chavez even openly criticized Kennedy for his lack of appointments other leaders embarked on a letter-writing campaign over the slow movement on civil rights.

Sensing another close election in 1964 and hoping to ease tensions, Kennedy visited Texas in November 1963. Advisers suggested that he at least pay a quick visit to Mexican-American activists at a Houston gala sponsored by the League of United Latin American Citizens, then the largest Latino civil rights group in the country.

“The Secret Service told us that he may stop by, but not to advertise it because it wasn’t part of his official schedule,” said Alexander Arroyos, 76, who was an officer in LULAC at the time. “We could spread it through word of mouth. No one believed us.”

The president was greeted at the door by Macario Garcia, who was awarded the Medal of Honor for his service during World War II. Inside the ballroom, Kennedy and the first lady found an enthusiastic crowd of World War II veterans, civil rights advocates and future elected officials.

Kennedy spoke briefly about foreign policy in Latin America and the importance of LULAC. The first lady told the crowd in Spanish that Texas had a deep history with Latinos. The crowd responded with chants of “Viva Kennedy!” A band played a ballad in Spanish as photographers took photos of the Kennedys and Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson and his wife, Lady Bird Johnson.

Before that moment, historians believe that no president had ever acknowledged Latinos as a voting bloc, said Emilio Zamora, a historian at the University of Texas at Austin.

President William Taft, who served from 1909-1913, may have met with a tiny group of Latino activists in El Paso, Texas, Zamora said. President Dwight D. Eisenhower likely shock hands with some Mexican-American voters in a campaign visit to South Texas in 1952. “But I think no president had ever publically thanked Mexican-Americans in that manner,” said Zamora.

Fifteen hours after the historic meeting, Kennedy was dead.

Band members who had played for the president the night before wept as the news unfolded. When Arroyos heard about the assassination, he told his boss at an import company he was too upset to work. Arroyos rushed to collect from friends as many photos as possible of Kennedy’s visit at the Rice Hotel as he could for a future edition of a LULAC newspaper.

On Election Day 2012, analysts routinely spoke of Latinos finally awakening as a “sleeping giant” by giving Obama around 70 percent of their vote. But Ignacio Garcia said that assessment ignores how Latinos have influenced presidential elections for more than 50 years.

In 1960, for example, their overwhelming backing helped put Texas and New Mexico in Kennedy’s column during the tight race against Nixon. The Republican’s campaign did not have a presence in Mexican-American neighborhoods and did not have a Spanish language TV ad, unlike Kennedy, who tapped the first lady for it. Kennedy also made promises to appoint Mexican-Americans to his administration.

Johnson enjoyed support from Hispanics who campaigned for him during his landslide victory in 1964, and Mexican-Americans came out strongly for Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, D-N.Y., during the 1968 Democratic primary in California.

In 2000, then-Texas. Gov. George W. Bush, a Republican, was able to edge Democrat Al Gore, thanks in party to receiving about 40 percent of the Latino vote, according to various estimates.

“The Latino vote did not come of age the night Obama was re-elected,” said Garcia. “It came of age Nov. 21, 1963.”

The reason the Latino vote is attracting attention in 2012 is that Latinos are now the largest minority group in the U.S. and voter participating rates are up, Garcia said.

Voter participation for eligible Latino voters has gone from 3.7 million in 1988 to an estimated 12.5 million in 2012, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. That number could to double within two decades, the center said.

Arroyos said most of the older activists shrug off the pronouncements that Hispanics are finally influencing national elections even though his generation helped give birth to the Latino vote. Still, he said even those who are still alive and remember that Kennedy speech probably don’t even know what role they played that eventually led to the voting numbers in 2012.

“I didn’t know that evening was so historic,” said Arroyos. “I was just happy that he dropped by and just didn’t say hi.”


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How JFK’s ‘Viva Kennedy’ Campaign Galvanized the Latino Vote - HISTORY

This is from a post I made to usernet nearly 10 years ago…
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Joe Molina went to Crozier Tech High School, did time in the navy during WWII, came back, got married and went to business college. This lasted 5 months before he had to quit and get a job due to his wife becoming pregnant. The job he landed in was at the TSBD.

Having at least a basic education, and landing a job that did not involve back-breaking work for $60.00 a month made Molina one of the luckier men of Mexican extraction at that time, in that place: Dallas Tx, February, 1947.

The blatant injustices of the era (where, for instance, signs saying “no dogs, no Mexicans allowed” were commonly seen in shop fronts and public amenities), led Dr Hector Garcia to form the American GI Forum in 1948.

From its beginnings in a tiny Corpus Christi school room, it soon spread nationwide.

But it was an incident one year later that launched Garcia and his GI Forum into the national spotlight. That year, a Mexican-American war hero’s wife was refused the use of a funeral home to wake her deceased husband, Felix Longoria, in Three Rivers, Texas. Garcia interceded on her behalf and a media storm ensued. It wasn’t long before Garcia had Senator Lyndon Baines Johnson arranging for Longoria’s internment in Arlington.

From then on Garcia had the ears of politicians, and the status among his people equal to that earned by Martin Luther King, Jr in the African-American community. Maybe most important though, was his burgeoning friendship with LBJ.

In 1960, despite being labelled an agitator and receiving death threats, Garcia co-founded the Viva Kennedy Club in support of Kennedy’s presidential campaign. This effort helped him gain the reputation of “someone who understands delivery systems in this country”. In a nod to Garcia’s help in that narrowest of victories, Kennedy appointed him ambassador to a West Indies treaty-signing.

Disillusionment with Kennedy among those Hispanics who had campaigned so successfully on his behalf however, soon set in. A few appointments here and there were seen as tokenism, and the relationship between Kennedy and the Hispanic community represented by Garcia stagnated.

LBJ’s sudden ascension to the throne, however was seen as favorable.

If Kennedy met with Mexican-American Civil Rights groups during the Texas trip, it had the same purpose as the rest of the trip – mending relationships.


Remembering the JFK Campaign to Mobilize the Latino Vote

60 years have passed since the late JFK faced a tight race with Richard Nixon. The Latino vote was at the center of his strategy.


Today, almost four years in the Trump Administration, Latinx votes are as prominent as they've ever been, and a matter of national discussion.

However, that was not the case in 1960, as the U.S. political bodies treated most of the country's immigrant population with indifference.

Both Democrats and Republicans expected the Latino community to keep out of political issues and remain silent.

At the time, the Latino population in America consisted mostly of Mexican Americans, Puerto Ricans, and Cubans, and their few efforts to amplify their voices fell short.

One could argue that, in 2020, the situation is entirely different.

In a little over half a century, the Latinx community in the U.S. has made strides. While in government, we have a crucial representation from Latino officials, the Latino vote in 2020 is now considered a key piece in a presidential election most likely to change the course of the country forever.

In 1960, Latino voters lived spread throughout the country.

Mexican Americans were in the Southwest, Puerto Ricans were in the Northeast, and the Cuban refugees were arriving by the masses in Miami, Florida.

Despite the growth of the population, very few saw potential in its voting power – until Edward Roybal came along.

As a liberal councilman from Los Angeles, Roybal was an ambitious leader in the 1960 presidential campaign, turning the spotlight on Mexican Americans eligible to vote.

He attended the 1960 DNC, where he helped convince the Kennedy campaign the authorization of a vast voter turnout for the Mexican-American population.

In October of that year, John F. Kennedy went to Spanish Harlem in New York City, where, with a majority population of Puerto Ricans, he made a speech about the value of migrants, echoing his Irish ancestry and the promise of safety and opportunity.

Campaign buses then took the community in Spanish Harlem to voter registration sites.

As if it were a historical echo, Joe Biden is centering part of his 2020 presidential campaign on Latinos.

"The Latino community is a core part of the American community, and their contributions are evident in every part of society," opens Biden's comprehensive plan for the Latino community.

The former vice president has promised to pass a bill for legislative immigration reform that would give almost 11 million undocumented immigrants a chance at citizenship.

But his plan does not stop short of immigration. He will also address financial circumstances that have disproportionately affected Latinos during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as a review of Temporary Protected Status (TPS), ensuring no one will be forced to return to unsafe situations in their countries of origin.

JFK paved the way for an amplified voice in Latinos 60 years ago, and since then, our community has expanded not only in numbers but in power.

This year during the presidential election, Latinos will potentially get to define the next 60 years in American history.