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Viva Kennedy Clubs: Looking Back at How JFK and Jackie Resonated with Latino Voters

First Posted: Nov 22, 2013 02:46 PM EST
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On Nov. 22, 1963 - 50 years ago today, the world in which Americans lived would change in a heartbeat with the horrifying news that their beloved President John. F. Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas, Texas.

Kennedy resonated with many Americans, especially with Mexican-American voters, and also won the affection of many Latinos living in Latin America.

It was a combination of attributes that made Kennedy resonate with Latinos, including his obvious charm, the fact that he was Catholic and the effort his wife, Jacqueline, made to address audiences in Spanish in both speeches and television ads.

It was also a time when American politicians would raise their brows in astonishment over the power of the Latino vote, which had been greatly overlooked and underestimated.

The Massachusetts-bred President connected to Mexican-American voters, and his campaign helped create the Latino Democratic political coalitions that continue to thrive today.

On the evening of Nov. 21, 1963, the night before was killed, the President and wife, Jacqueline, Vice President Lyndon Johnson and his wife, Lady Bird made a brief stop at a formal dinner held by League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) to show their appreciation for the Mexican-American votes that had helped the young president carry Texas in the 1960 election, according to NPR.

The President told the eager audience that "Latin America was not just a friend, but a partner in the peace and prosperity he hoped the entire hemisphere would come to enjoy. And to make sure they understood him completely, he grinned at the crowd: 'I'm going to ask my wife to say a few words.

"Smiling, she told the audience how happy she was to be in Texas that evening - and how especially happy she was to be with them. "Estoy muy contenta..." she began, in her trademark whispery voice."

Supporters shouted, "Viva Kennedy! And viva Jackie!" Thus, making the phrase "Viva Kennedy" a salute and a reminder to JFK of how the Latino vote turned out for him in droves in his 1960 presidential election, according to Texas Public Radio. "Viva Kennedy" clubs sprung up all across the Southwest in Mexican-American neighborhoods and mounted an unprecedented voter registration effort and get-out-the-vote campaign for Latino voters."

On Election Day in 1960, Kennedy won 85 percent of the Mexican-American vote. In Texas, where he lost the white vote, Kennedy won 91 percent of the Latino vote delivering the state's electoral votes and the White House, according to Texas Public Radio.

"Mexican-American voters in New Mexico also made the difference for JFK. The 'Viva Kennedy' clubs delivered -- and in return they wanted civil rights reforms, and appointments for Latinos to high-ranking civil service jobs and federal judgeships."

There were other obstacles to contender with, however, there was an expensive poll tax also affected many poor Mexican-Americans.

But did Kennedy really deliver for Latinos? Historian Ignacio M. Garcia said Kennedy says, no.

"He never quite got to the nitty gritty," Garcia said. "He never developed like Robert Kennedy did, who would become a good friend of César Chavez, or Edward Kennedy, who probably was the best Kennedy friend Latinos ever had."

"The candidate who the "Viva Kennedy" clubs supported never really existed," Garcia added. "That Kennedy was a useful invention for the fledgling national Latino vote."The Kennedy mystique allows them to create an agenda for their community, a national agenda, and Mexican-Americans now see themselves as a national community," Garcia said. "So Kennedy is very useful as that kind of tool."

But we will never really know what could have been after that fateful night, or if the Latino movement would have truly changed its course, but the fact is, at the end Kennedy was drawing attention to Latinos, which in turn, inspired them to reignite their spirits. 

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