History Lesson: The Latino Voting Bloc First Acknowledged by JFK

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This election wasn't the only one that had politicians acknowledging the power of the Latino vote. Did you know President John F. Kennedy was one of the first to acknowledge Latinos as an important voting bloc? It's true. 

It was November 21, 1963. President JFK was supposed to stop by and say hello to a group of Mexican-American civil rights activists at the Rice Ballroom in Houston, but instead the president was persuaded to speak to the group, reports the Huffington Post. The president then convinced his wife and first lady Jacqueline Kennedy to address the crowd in Spanish. The crowd yelled, "Viva Kennedy!" as he exited.

Just hours later, he was assassinated. To historians, the event marked a significant understanding of the Latino vote.

"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 visit came after Mexican-Americans in Texas, New Mexico, California, Arizona, Illinois and Indiana helped Kennedy win swing states in 1960, thanks to a voter registration drive in Latino communities. Senator Dennis Chavez (D-N.M.) and Texas legislator Henry B. Gonzalez of San Antonio began speaking on behalf of JFK, and positioned themselves as the first recognizable national Latino political figures. 

Many Latinos at the time identified with JFK, who battled somewhat similar discrimination at the time as a Catholic and Irish-American. He won 85 percent of the vote in 1960. 

Soon after, he was criticized for the lack of Latinos in office. In order to appease this bloc that supported huim, his advisers suggested that he pay a visit to the Houston gala sponsored by the League of United Latin American citizens, then the largest Latino civil rights group in the country. 

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

What do you think of this new revelation? Are you surprised the Latino vote came at such an early time in American history? Share in the comments

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