As election day approaches, we find ourselves on the verge of knowing if the “sleeping giant” of the Latino vote has at last been roused from apathy. But the project behind our slowly emerging electoral identity is one that actually goes back generations, to the presidential campaign of John F. Kennedy and, on a smaller scale, even further back to the campaign of Ike Eisenhower.
But while those mainstream politicians began to sense the political expediency of courting the Latino vote, the real driving force behind modern Latino political power was a Texas-based activist by the name of Willie Velasquez, founder of the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project. Known far and wide for his motto “Su Voto Es Su Voz,” Velasquez predicted the eventual importance that Latinos would have in the democratic process, and dedicated his tragically short life toward harnessing that power.
A short clip from the documentary Willie Velasquez – Your Vote is Your Voice, shows how Willie’s influence played out in a pioneering Texas senatorial campaign that would redefine how politicians courted the Latino vote. It all began in 1978, when a San Antonio ad exec was approached by the Republican Senator John Tower and asked to come up with a campaign targeting the state’s Latino population. Unfamiliar with the ins and outs of politics, the exec tapped Willie Velasquez for insight, and he was happy to oblige.
The result was “El Corrido de John Tower” which sang the praises of John Tower in the style of a traditional Mexican ballad. It was a watershed moment in the development of political advertising and it garnered Tower an unprecedented 32% of the Latino vote – enough to tip the scales in his favor in the midst of a tight race.
It’s a fascinating piece of political history, but it’s also a reminder that Latino voting power isn’t built around party loyalty, but rather around a clear articulation of our needs and values. From there, may the best party win.
Check out the full documentary below.