The power of the Latino vote today has its roots in Mexican American engagement of the pre-World War II era. In 1935 the Latin American Club of Houston held voter drives aiming to reach 10,000 qualified Hispanic voters. Over the next 25 years, despite a $1.50 poll tax designed to prevent minority voter participation, Houston organizations such as the League of United Latin American Citizens Council 60 (LULAC), the Civic Action Committee (CAC) and the Political Association of Spanish Speaking Organizations (PASSO) sought to empower Latino Houstonians to use their voice and their vote. By the 1960 presidential election Latino voters would come out in unprecedented numbers to influence politics on the national stage electing John F. Kennedy to the United States Presidency. His visit to Houston three years later would officially acknowledge Latinos as an important voting bloc.

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Political Cartoon

Political cartoon “A Giant Awakening (No Longer the Sleeping Giant)”, 1964. Houstonian and political cartoonist Alfonso Vazquez captured the political optimism of Mexican Americans during the 1960s. -MSS0093.114 Alfonso Vazquez Collection

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A Giant Awakening, 1964

 

 “…what we were trying to do was to let the word spread like when you drop a rock into still water and let the little waves begin to spread out, and it was just exactly what happened. Although we were just a little rock, we were making waves.” –  Interview with Alfonso Vazquez, September 26, 1978

 

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Excerpt From Speech A John J. Herrera Speech, Feb. 13, 1971
Excerpt from a draft of a speech by John J. Herrera given during National LULAC Week on February 13, 1971 at Rice Hotel in Houston, Texas. Herrera recalls the status of the Hispanic community in Houston in the 1930s. - MSS0160 John J. Herrera Papers
John J. Herrera, President LULAC
John J. Herrera (1910-1986), past President of League of United Latin American Citizens, practiced law in Houston from 1943 to 1986 and was a leading civil rights advocate for Mexican Americans in Texas.
Voter Drive Latin Americans Drive for 10,000 Qualified Voters
News clipping “Latin Americans Drive for 10,000 Qualified Voters,” circa 1938. - MSS0161 Juvencio Rodriguez Collection Box 1, Folder 6
See Vote Device Latin Americans To See Vote Device
News clipping “Latin Americans To See Vote Device,” circa 1937. -MSS0161 Juvencio Rodriguez Collection Box 1, Folder 4
Poll Tax Latin-American Club Starts Campaign for Poll Tax Payments
News clipping “Latin-American Club Starts Campaign for Poll Tax Payments,” circa 1937. -MSS0161 Juvencio Rodriguez Collection Box 1, Folder 5
Pickett Latin Sons Endorse Pickett
News clipping “Latin Sons Endorse Pickett” circa 1940. According to a November 1940 article in the Houston Chronicle this was the first endorsement ever by a Mexican American organization in Houston. -MSS0161 Juvencio Rodriguez Collection Box 1, Folder 5
 blue Buy Your Poll Tax
LULAC poster “Buy Your Poll Tax”, circa 1949. -MSS0328 Ernest Eguia Collection Box 1, Folder 24
Pay your poll tax drives
From 1902 to 1964, Texas law required payment of a poll tax in order to register to vote. This tax was effective at keeping minority groups from voting. In response, Latino organizations in Houston and across the country organized “pay your poll tax drives” to register Latino voters.
Poll tax receipt for John J. Herrera, County of Harris - 1936 Harris County poll tax receipt for John J. Herrera,
Harris County poll tax receipt for John J. Herrera, 1936. - MSS160 John J. Herrera Papers
Henry B. Gonzalez Henry B. Gonzalez Campaign rally
Campaign rally for Henry B. Gonzalez (center) in Houston, Texas, circa 1958. -MSS0093.028 Alfonso Vazquez Collection
Henry B. Gonzalez
Henry B. Gonzalez (1916-2000) fought segregation battles in the Texas legislature throughout the 1950s. By the time of his visit to Houston in 1958 he inspired Houston Mexican Americans to support his campaign for governor. While unsuccessful, he would later become the first Mexican American from Texas elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
civil action bulletins Civic Action Committee Bulletin, September 1960
Civic Action Committee (CAC) Bulletin, September 1960. -RGE0015 Political Association of Spanish Speaking Organizations Box 1
Civic Action Committee (CAC
CAC evolved from the support of several Houston Hispanic leaders for the candidacy of Henry B. Gonzalez for governor of Texas. Between 1958 and 1959 the CAC launched a systematic poll tax drive. This grassroots effort included speaking at churches, local night clubs, theater lobbies and food markets.
Viva Kennedy President John F. Kennedy with banner
President John F. Kennedy with banner “Viva! Kennedy Harris County PASO” in the background, circa 1960. -MSS0093.006 Alfonso Vazquez Collection
Viva Kennedy (and Viva Johnson) clubs
Viva Kennedy (and Viva Johnson) clubs were originally partisan groups of Mexican Americans who supported the election of John F. Kennedy to the presidency. The Viva Kennedy clubs were the first statewide partisan organization of Mexican Americans in Texas.
Political Association of Spanish Speaking Organizations (PASO)
Inspired by the Viva Kennedy Clubs Latino leaders from organizations across the Southwest met to discuss the effort to effect political unity within the Latino community. The Political Association of Spanish Speaking Organizations (PASO) was formed as a result of these discussions and in 1961 the Civic Action Committee evolved to form the Houston chapter of PASO.
PASO Voter Registration PASO headquarters, circa 1960s
Political Association of Spanish Speaking Organizations (PASO) headquarters, circa 1960s. -MSS0093.74 Alfonso Vazquez Collection
Roy Elizondo, State PASO Chairman, and Moses Leroy Roy Elizondo, State PASO Chairman, and Moses Leroy noted labor and Civil Rights leader
Roy Elizondo, State PASO Chairman, and Moses Leroy noted labor and Civil Rights leader. This moment in PASO history is one example of collaboration between Mexican American and African American activists and reflects a significant history in the Civil Rights Movement in Texas. - MSS0127-PH012 Moses Leroy Collection
LULAC banquet at Rice Ballroom, November 21, 1963
President John F. Kennedy and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy with Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson and Lady Bird Johnson at Houston LULAC banquet at Rice Ballroom, November 21, 1963. -MSS0255.022 Alex Arroyos / John F. Kennedy Collection
President John F. Kennedy 1963, LULAC reception
On November 21, 1963, President John F. Kennedy attended a reception in Houston, Texas sponsored by the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC). That night is widely recognized as the ¬first time a U.S. president acknowledged Latinos as a signi¬ficant voting bloc
50TH Anniversary JFK/LULAC Memory Project
For more images from this historic night in Houston browse the Alex Arroyos / John F. Kennedy Collection and Listen to interviews from the 50TH Anniversary JFK/LULAC Memory Project