Long remembered for his efforts on the part of civil rights for African Americans, US President John F. Kennedy is also being remembered by the Latino community as the nation marks the 50-year anniversary of his assassination in Dallas.
Today, the Latino vote is a highly-sought commodity among politicians, but it was with the election of JFK that the Mexican-American vote played its first prominent role in national politics, being possibly the deciding factor in delivering the state of Texas to the Democrats at a time when Mexican Americans faced many of the same restrictions as blacks.
“The Viva Kennedy campaign really produced a sense of unity among Mexican Americans rarely seen before or after,” said Max Krochmal of Texas Christian University to NPR.
JFK attended a formal dinner held by the League of United Latin American citizens in Houston on Nov. 21, 1963.
“Historically, it’s the first time that a sitting American president has ever appeared and spoke before a predominantly Latino organization,” said Al Maldonado of LULAC in to KHOU in Houston.
“This organization has done a good deal for this state and for our country,” Kennedy said during the dinner according to KPBS. “And I’m particularly glad that it emphases the not only the opportunity for all Americans a chance to develop their talents, education for boys and girls so they can pursue those talents to the very end of their ability.”
The First Lady also spoke to the crowd, and while she had much less to say, she said it in Spanish, a fact that went over quite well at the gathering.
What the White House contingency was not aware of at the time, was that the event was staged as a ploy to get the President to visit the Hispanic organization. The “State Director’s Ball” that LULAC had invited JFK to, was never an event until the organization found out that Kenneday was going to be in Housotn.
“Actually, it came about when LULAC discovered the president was going to be in town,” Maldonado tells KHOU. “LULAC got together and decided, ‘We need a reason for the president to come visit us.’ So they came up with the idea of having a state director’s ball here at the Rice Hotel hoping that that would influence the president to come by and visit them.”
And apparently, the plan worked.
The support for the Hispanic community that was hoped for by Latinos voting for JFK never quite materialized. The next day after the LULAC dinner, he was killed in Dallas.
“He never quite got to the nitty gritty,” said historian Ignacio M. Garcia in an interview with KPBS. “He never developed like Robert Kennedy did, who would become a good friend of César Chavez, or Edward Kennedy who probably was the best Kennedy friend Latinos ever had.
“The Kennedy mystique allows them to create an agenda for their community, a national agenda, and Mexican-Americans now see themselves as a national community. So Kennedy is very useful as that kind of tool.”
–Courtesy of Latino Post