Latinos For Obama Meetings

Ms. Terry Rivera, a longtime Santa Fe County Democratic Party official, started a local chapter of the Latinos for Obama in June 2008.  She invited several people to the first meeting and had Democratic Activist Miguel Lucero talk to us about the political and social history of the Latino movement.

Miguel told us that, New Mexico’s Spanish-speaking population, was intrigued by the concepts of freedom, democracy and the “United States of America.”  Under General Galven (namesake of Galveston, Texas) an army was raised to assist in the American Revolution of 1776.

Historically, New Mexico’s Spanish-speaking population, was guaranteed that elections and laws would be printed in BOTH Spanish and English by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848 that ended the “War with Mexico.”  Spanish-speakers didn’t vote or voted through a ‘Patron system’ whereby a village elder would tell you who to vote for.  The voters were mature males who owned land or animals.  The Patron would be the largest landowner or a ‘Mayordomo’ who controlled the water rights or church properties.

As a Territory of the United States, New Mexico was desperate to become a state and local legislators knew that having people vote more and be registered in the party in power in Washington, D.C. would give the best possible support for statehood.  All the Spanish-speaking voters registered Republican because Abraham Lincoln was a Republican and the idea of treating all men equally was an intriguing thought to the natives who had been conquered by the White army of the United States in 1846.

During the Civil War, the Territory (which included Arizona at the time) was divided in half and the southern half was Confederate and the northern half stayed in the Union.  Most Spanish speaking people enlisted in the Union Army.  The Confederates were mainly from Texas and the cotton field owners near Mesilla joined with them and Lt. Colonel John R. Baylor, CSA, made Mesilla the Capitol of the southern territory of New Mexico.  The Confederate plan was to drive the Union Army out of New Mexico and then seize the gold fields near Denver to finance the War Between the States.  The Confederates had won three major battles already and were ready to lay seize to Santa Fe.  The Union Army withdrew and just outside of Santa Fe at Glorieta Pass they ambushed the Confederates and drove the Texans all the way back to Albuquerque and eventually Mesilla were they stayed the rest of the war.  The Battle of Glorieta is dubbed the Gettysburg of the West.  New Mexicans remember it as the second time Texas invaded New Mexico.

During this time, all the Spanish-speaking voters registered Republican because it was the party of the martyr Abraham Lincoln.  The Republican Party also had a good platform for farmers and large landowners.  It was very independent-oriented and the “rugged individualism” of President Teddy Roosevelt was a popular theme.  The Spanish-speaking population stayed registered as Republicans until the Republican-caused Great Depression and the 1932 Election of FDR.

New Mexico’s Spanish speaking population is composed of the original descendants of the Spanish Conquistadors, and much later Mexican immigrants.  The identity of these peoples is hard to categorize with a ‘one-size-fits-all’ label.  Northern New Mexicans have always just said they were Spanish-Americans and have vehemently refused the ‘Mexican-American’ label that the U.S. Census Bureau imposed.  The term “Hispanics” fit the older generation while the young activists adopted the term “La Raza” (The Race) in the 1960-70’s; even “Brown Power” and later “Chicano.”   The term “Latino” which arose in the political scene in the 1990’s bundled Hispanics from Latin America, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Mexico and South America; and could cover the following racial categories: White/Caucasian or Black/African, Asian, Native American, or Pacific Islander.

But this term “Latino” had its historical roots with Maximilian I, Emperor of Mexico 1863-1867.   He was placed on his throne by Napoleon III of France, the Austrian Hapsburgs and the Mexican Conservatives.  The Mexican Liberals under Benito Juarez opposed him and revolution broke out.  In an effort to bring all fractions together, Maximilian brought his allies from Brazil and what Napoleon III called “Latin America” and stated that all were “Latinos” including Mexicans since the Romance languages of Spanish, French and Portuguese linked them.  It was a term that didn’t stick well with the locals and eventually the revolution deposed Maximilian and he was executed by President Juarez and the new democracy.

Latinos and Blacks have historically competed for jobs, housing and education; with the majority Whites pitting them against each other in this economic struggle to achieve political success.

Latinos complained about Mayor Tom Bradley’s election bid in Los Angeles in 1973, Mayor David Dinkens election bid in New York in 1989 and Mayor Willie Brown’s election bid in San Francisco in 1996; that for their voting support they were promised more economic support that never materialized.

Historically in New Mexico, we have not had a lot of Black people, but they have had generally good relations with the Latino population.  In 1536, Spanish explorer Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca was shipwrecked on the coast of Texas with three others.  One was Esteban (Estevan), a Moorish Servant.  The four wandered through the Southwest in search of the Seven Cities of Cibola (the fabled cities of gold).

Esteban, came back with Coronado in 1540 to lead him to New Mexico and stayed in Zuni after Coronado left, welcomed as a Messiah.  He eventually wore out his welcome and wreaked havoc amongst the tribal members and was put to death by them.  The next Blacks in history were escaped and freed slaves that came in 1850’s out on the Santa Fe Trail from Missouri and through Texas.  Then Blacks came as cowboys on the Goodnight-Loving Trail in 1866 and the Buffalo Soldiers stationed at Fort Selden from 1866 to the 1880’s.  Blacks worked on the railroad in the 1880’s and 1890’s (also a massive Chinese workforce was also here with Chinese restaurants being opened all over New Mexico after the construction was done), then in the Mesilla Valley cotton fields after the 1900’s.  Blacks started working in the oil fields at Hobbs and at the military bases in the 1940’s at Albuquerque (Kirkland), Santa Fe (Bruns Army Hospital and the Japanese Relocation Camp), Alamogordo (Holloman) and Clovis (Canon).

Hispano New Mexicans are very patriotic and have fought in many wars with distinction including the Indian Wars.  This dates back to our quest for statehood.  The Civil War required us to defend the Union to preserve our chance for statehood.  Many joined the Roughriders and followed Teddy Roosevelt up San Juan Hill in 1898 hoping to win not just a war but also statehood; which was eventually won in 1912.

A few Hispanics went into World War One, but the National Guard had already been called into service to fight Pancho Villa after he attacked on American soil at Columbus, New Mexico in 1916.  In World War Two, Latinos had the most casualties per capita.  The New Mexico National Guard was rushed into the Philippines in 1942 to fight the Japanese and thousands died during the Bataan Death March.  Korea and Vietnam also saw heavy Latino support.  So that a John McCain as a war hero plays to the Latino community.  It is important to educate people about his anti-veteran voting over the last 26 years.

John F. Kennedy, a Catholic, was immensely popular in New Mexico in 1960.  A powerful speaker who came on a train tour—he became the hope for the poverty stricken Hispanics.  His assassination devastated both the Hispanic and Blacks communities that were unified behind him.  In 1964, LBJ, a Texan, was on the ballot and it didn’t thrill New Mexicans.  But in 1968, Bobby Kennedy electrified crowds with his speaking ability and his ties and compassion with Cesar Chaves and farm workers gave hope to New Mexican Hispanics.  To some, including myself, Obama, reminds our community organizers of the Kennedy’s message.

In the 1980’s Albuquerque became a relocation center for the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement.  This included the Mariel Boatlift, the release of Cuban Prisoners by Castro, the relocation of San Salvadorian rebels, Vietnamese refugees (including Black Ameriasians children) and Haitian refugees.  These relocations added different types of Spanish speakers and Blacks to the melting pot in New Mexico.  Mexican and Guatemalan immigration in the 80’s, 90’s and today continue our diversity expansion.

In concluding, Mr. Lucero stated that although Northern New Mexico votes Democratic at a 60-80% rate it needs to be motivated by the Obama campaign to turn out.  Instead of picking a unifying title for the organization that is better than Latinos for Obama, it is more important to be out in the local communities and be visible and use Spanish-language radio to educate people about Obama.

But why is this “unification” for Obama, the candidate, so foreign to us?

Many of the “Latinos for Obama” were in Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition.  The symbol for the campaign was a rainbow of green (for environmentalists), red (for Native Americans), yellow (for Asians), white (for Whites), black (for Blacks), and brown for Hispanics.  So each Democratic Party constituency had a stripe in the coalition.  The fact that Jesse was Black was immaterial to the Coalition members—he was just the leader, a temporary CEO of this cause for the greater good.  We had that brown stripe and that was all that mattered.  When we called in phone banking and people answered “But he is a Black Man” — and we said “So?”.

Taking this lesson from the Rainbow Coalition we have our own stripe again: it is in the ‘Hope’ and ‘Change We Can Believe In’ themes of the Obama campaign.  These are messages and symbols that resonate in the Latino community that has been bypassed for so long.

William Henry Mee

Santa Fe, N.M.