If you were a Mexican-American with a cavity in 1950s Texas, you hoped the dentist had a chair for Mexicans. Otherwise, you’d either have to suffer through it or travel to a town that did.
After Reconstruction, non-whites were relegated to separate and unequal facilities. African-Americans were the target of discrimination in every facet of life. But discrimination also extended to Mexican-Americans south of the Mason-Dixon Line.
It was in this context that President Lyndon B. Johnson ultimately took up the fight for civil rights. Johnson’s first job out of college was as a teacher at a Mexican School in Cotulla, Texas, one of the many segregated schools throughout the Southwest. His experience in Cotulla with the scourge of discrimination was personal, profoundly shaping his policy outlook and agenda as president.
“They knew even in their youth the pain of prejudice. They never seemed to know why people disliked them. But they knew it was so, because I saw it in their eyes … Somehow you never forget what poverty and hatred can do when you see its scars on the hopeful face of a young child … It never even occurred to me in my fondest dreams that I might have the chance to help the sons and daughters of those students and to help people like them all over this country. But now I do have that chance – and I’ll let you in on a secret – I mean to use it.”
This week, the LBJ Presidential Library commemorates the 50th anniversary of President Johnson signing the 1964 Civil Rights Act. President Obama along with four past presidents and a host of civil rights leaders will come together to celebrate one of the most important moments in our history as a nation.
It was not until the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act that African-Americans, Latinos and other disadvantaged groups gained the rights afforded to them by our Constitution.
The most immediate effect of the Civil Rights Act was the disappearance of segregated facilities. No longer could establishments serve “whites only,” or require blacks and Mexican-Americans to use separate bathrooms from whites.
The Civil Rights Act also allowed for the political incorporation of minorities. Because of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts, minorities gained a political voice at the ballot box and as elected officials.
For example, prior to 1965, black turnout in Mississippi was less than 5%; today it is upwards of 80%. In 1963, only two Latinos served in Congress; today a record 31 Latinos serve.
The 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act is a time for celebration. Yet it is also a time for reflection. Old civil rights challenges have taken new forms, while completely new obstacles have arisen. And Latinos – now the largest minority group in the country – are at the intersection of those old and new challenges. Continue Reading
This article originally appeared on MSNBC.com
A mother of six could be the next lieutenant governor in Texas.
Holding elected office was the last thing on Leticia Van de Putte’s mind when the opportunity unexpectedly presented itself. She had six children—all under the age of 10—and was running two small businesses in 1990 when a state legislative seat became vacant in a heavily Hispanic, lower middle class district in the heart of San Antonio. A quirk in Texas law left it up to the party precinct chairs to select the legislator to fill the seat.
Five men were running and after interviewing all of them, Van de Putte—who was one of the precinct chairs—was unsatisfied. Her husband nudged her to consider it. Her oldest child was more blunt: “There aren’t enough mommies there.”
Two decades later, Van de Putte, who is a pharmacist, found herself right back where she started, staring at an all-male slate. The positions being pushed by the Republican candidates for lieutenant governor left her angered and dismayed. Each one of them has pledged to end the Texas DREAM Act —a bill Van de Putte authored. They also promise to curtail what few options remain for access to abortion in Texas, to mandate the teaching of creationism in schools and to change the 17th amendment which established the direct election of U.S. senators by popular vote. More traditional pro-business policies were nowhere to be found.
Van de Putte decided to seek the lieutenant governorship. As she explained in her announcement speech: “mama’s not happy.” Van de Putte is running alongside state senator Wendy Davis, Democratic candidate for Texas governor. The two women will square off against an all-male Republican ticket. Below is an interview with Van de Putte, condensed for space and clarity.
Q: How does a ticket with two Democratic women at the top appeal to Texas voters?
I guess we’re going to find out. I think that there is a lot of synergy but that we both happen to be females, should that be the news? We just happen to be two gals. And the state has a history of electing women—(former Democratic governor) Ann Richards, and (former Republican senator) Kay Bailey Hutchison. There was a time when all of the major cities were headed by women. There were eight mayors in the cities in the 1990s – Fort Worth, Houston, San Antonio, El Paso, Corpus Christi. They were all women and the state didn’t fall apart.
Q: Do you consider yourself pro-choice? Continue Reading
This post originally appeared on MSNBC.com
Inside the Capitol Rotunda, to thundering applause, President Obama said: “leaders from the business, labor, law enforcement, faith communities, they all agree that the time has come to pass comprehensive immigration reform.” That was one year ago, when the state of our union, the president said, was “stronger.”
Weeks later four Republican and four Democratic senators came together to heed the president’s call for action. Months of intense debate followed, and a bill passed in the Senate.
That was the high point of immigration reform, and all indications suggest that the issue is unlikely to be a key point in next week’s State of the Union address.
But after a bruising, partisan year, Obama’s hands-off approach just might be needed to finally make a difference for more than 11 million lives.
In the summer of 2008, Obama made a promise – that comprehensive immigration reform would be achieved in his first year in office. La Promesa de Obama, as it came to be known in the Latino community, went unfulfilled.
In 2012, the president asked the Latino community to give him another shot at keeping his promise. Now La Promesa hangs over the president’s head.
It’s time for both parties to feel ownership over the issue. Continue Reading