Mexican American Political Power
Digital History ID 622
Vilma S. Martínez
In 1974, two Mexican Americans were elected to governorships--Jerry Apodaca in New Mexico and Raul Castro in Arizona. They were the first Mexican Americans governors since the early years of New Mexico statehood. Since the mid-1970s, Mexican Americans have made impressive political gains. What does the future hold?
Even though age or citizenship status makes a large share of its population ineligible to vote, Mexican Americans account for the margin of victory in many states with large numbers of electoral votes. In 2000, Hispanics (mainly Mexican Americans) comprise thirty-one percent of the voting population in California and twenty-eight percent in Texas.
Yet in political power, Mexican Americans fall far behind their numbers. Mexican Americans tend to be younger, poorer, and more politically detached than many other Americans. They are less likely to register than non-Hispanics and less likely actually to vote. Voter turnout rates continue to lag ten to fifteen percent behind that for other groups. But the prospects look bright. Between 1994 and 1998 the Latino voting in nationwide midterm elections jumped twenty-seven percent, while overall voter turnout fell thirteen percent.
Although the Voting Rights Act of 1965 prohibited literacy tests and other restrictions on voting rights, many Mexican Americans in the Southwest were still denied the ballot. In the testimony here before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in 1975, Vilma S. Martínez of the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund describes the techniques used to deprive Mexican Americans of the vote in a south Texas county.
...Throughout the Southwest, Mexican Americans have not been able adequately to make their weight felt at any level of government. In Texas, where Mexican Americans comprise 18% of the population only 6.2% of the 4,770 elective offices-298 of them-are held by Chicanos. California is worse. There, Mexican Americans comprise 18.8% of the total population. Yet, in 1970, of the 15,650 major elected and appointed positions at all levels of government-federal, state and local-only 310 or 1.98% were held by Mexican Americans.
This result is no mere coincidence. It is the result of manifold discriminatory practices which have the design or effect of excluding Mexican Americans from participation in their own government and maintaining the status quo.
Now, Mr. Chairman, the United States Commission on Civil Rights is charged with informing the congress and the nation about such discriminatory practices on the part of state and local officials. I would like to review with the Committee what the Commission found in Uvalde County, Texas. What the Commission found in Uvalde, Mr. Chairman, exists all across the State of Texas. The pattern of abuse in Uvalde County is strikingly reminiscent of the Deep South of the early 1960's. The Civil Rights Commission study documents that duly registered Chicano voters are not being placed on the voting lists; that election judges are selectively and deliberately invalidating ballots cast by minority voters; that election judges are refusing to aid minority voters who are illiterate in English; that the Tax Assessor Collector of Uvalde County...refuses to name members of minority groups as deputy registrars;..."runs out" of registration application cards when minority voter applicants ask for them;...refuses to register voter applicants based on the technicality that the application was filed on a printed card bearing a previous year's date.
Other abuses were uncovered...[including] widespread gerrymandering with the purpose of diluting minority voting strength; systematic drawing of at-large electoral districts with this same purpose and design; maintenance of polling places exclusively in areas inaccessible to minority voters; excessive filing fees required in order to run for political office; numbered paper ballots which need to be signed by the voter, thus making it possible to discover for whom an individual cast his ballot....
Source: Testimony of Vilma S. Martínez (San Francisco: Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, 1975), 1-14.
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