Latinos are the second largest group of voters in the United States, and each year 1 million become eligible to vote. As with any community that has long faced discrimination and attacks on their right to vote, the challenge has been to expand registration and increase the impact of Election Day.
Many organizations have embraced the mission of Latino voting rights, working to amplify the many voices of this population, which, far from being homogeneous, is diverse both racially and by country of origin. . Most groups emerged in the mid-1960s and 1970s, strongly inspired by the black civil rights movement and, in some cases, aided by its leaders.
Until then, according to a 2009 study of racial voting rights in America by the National Historic Landmarks Program, Hispanic Americans were absorbed in other civil rights battles — from school segregation and issues of citizenship to discrimination in housing and employment. But in 1965, the National Voting Rights Act elevated political participation to their agenda. By 1975, Latino groups had successfully lobbied for an amendment to this law, which specifically lifted the barriers for non-English speaking voters.
Here are six groups that have historically had a significant impact on the growth and empowerment of the Latino electorate:
The League of United Citizens of Latin America (LULAC)
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Founded in 1929 in Texas as the result of a merger of several small Mexican American organizations, LULAC remains the oldest Latin American civil rights organization focusing largely on justice, education, housing, and employment. , in addition to the right to vote. When forming, the group drew inspiration from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and one of its founders, WEB DuBois, in its efforts to champion community rights and end discrimination. . LULAC’s early political efforts included lobbying to repeal a poll tax in several states and nationwide voter registration drives. During the 1960 elections, LULAC was instrumental in the development of the Viva Kennedy Clubs in Texas, a landmark effort that not only resulted in the support of the Democratic presidential candidate, but also served as a turning point in voter mobilization. Mexican Americans and candidates for political office. .
READ MORE: Suffrage Milestones in America: A Timeline
The American Hispanic Leadership Institute (USHLI)
Based in Chicago, the USHLI traces its origins to a 1971 meeting between several Mexican American activists and civil rights leader John Lewis. At the time, Lewis headed the Voter Education Project (VEP), an organization focused on increasing black voter registration in the South following the 1965 Voting Rights Act. These Mexican American leaders asked Lewis to expand VEP’s efforts in the Southwest and Midwest, and young activist Juan Andrade went to work with Lewis, becoming the Texas state coordinator of VEP. Andrade then created the Midwest Voter Registration Project in Ohio, modeling it on the VEP; which later became the USHLI in Chicago, promoting its mantra of “maximizing participation in the electoral process”.
Southwest Voter Registration Education Project (SVREP)
John Lewis also played a pivotal role in helping to establish SVREP in San Antonio in 1974, with a mission to enlarge Latino voters and protect them from disenfranchisement through obstacles such as poll taxes and testing. literacy in English. SVREP founder Willie Velásquez, an iconic figure in Latino suffrage, developed the organization by coining the phrase “Tu Voto Es Tu Voz” (“Your vote is your voice.” At the time of his untimely death in 1988 , SVREP had supported hundreds of Latino political candidates, conducted hundreds of nonpartisan election campaigns in poor and underrepresented Latino communities, and successfully fought more than 75 lawsuits to help overturn gerrymandering, eliminate language barriers, and Other Voter Suppression Practices SVREP has also developed a polling and research branch to study the voting habits of Latinos.
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Together, USHLI and SVREP registered over 5 million voters.
United Farm Workers Union
Co-launched in 1962 in California by labor activists César Chávez and Dolores Huerta, the UFW began as an effort to defend the rights of agricultural workers. It has expanded to include other efforts, including voter registration. “We don’t need perfect political systems; we need perfect participation,” said Chávez, who emphasized that community empowerment begins at the voting booth. Active in farming communities in California and other states, the UFW effectively used its labor organization as a base to expand voter registration efforts, particularly among Chicano workers. Huerta continued these efforts through the Dolores Huerta Foundation for Community Organizing, established in 2003.
Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF)
Since its founding in 1968, MALDEF has long worked to fight voter suppression, using the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund as a model. In 1970, he successfully challenged a Texas legislative initiative that created “mega districts,” which the U.S. Supreme Court later ruled unconstitutional for inhibiting minority voter turnout. This decision led to an expansion of the Voting Rights Act to include “language minorities”, offering bilingual ballots and voting instructions.
Read more stories about Hispanic heritage here.
Established in 1972 in New York as the Puerto Rican Fund for Legal Defense and Education, LatinoJustice helped make bilingual voting materials (including ballots) mandatory and widely available, not just for the Spanish-speaking community , but also for other linguistic minorities. communities. The group successfully challenged other repressive electoral practices, including the lack of bilingual assistance in the voting booth.
Other influential Latino civil rights organizations:
Labor Council for the Advancement of Latin America (LCLAA)
National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed (NALEO)