Wednesday, November 20, 2013

JFK and Latinos

There have been some interesting stories about JFK and Latinos. Jacqueline Kennedy had famously spoken in Spanish, and he ultimately won 85% of the Mexican-American vote. There were "Viva Kennedy" clubs to get out the vote.  Mostly, it is a story of tremendous hope and little accomplishment:

For many Latinos President Kennedy’s first term was disappointing. A number of promises that Latinos felt Kennedy owed them had not materialized. The President had also fallen short on appointing Hispanics to high-level government positions.


The night before his assassination, JFK addressed the League of United Latin American Citizens in Houston. 
But as many scholars have written since, Kennedy did not deliver on the hope he inspired among Latinos. African American civil rights heroes also had been frustrated with Kennedy, despite being enamored of him personally.

Read more here:

But his speech is now part of historical lore, taken as a sign that he was committed to helping the Latino population, even though there were no real accomplishments behind the words.

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.

The symbolic gesture, though, was enough to spark hope. Even the Cesar Chávez Foundation credits him:

Many credit the current growing influence of the Latino vote as the result of President Kennedy’s pioneering efforts. 

Others, though, see that influence stemming more from failure to get attention from the White House, both with Kennedy and afterward:

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.

Mythology is an amazing thing.


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