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JFK's Viva Campaign in 1960 Photo: politico.com
JFK's Viva Campaign in 1960 Photo: politico.com

Remembering the JFK Campaign to Mobilize the Latino Vote

60 years have passed since the late JFK faced a tight race with Richard Nixon. The Latino vote was at the center of his strategy.

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Today, almost four years in the Trump Administration, Latinx votes are as prominent as they've ever been, and a matter of national discussion. 

However, that was not the case in 1960, as the U.S. political bodies treated most of the country's immigrant population with indifference. 

Both Democrats and Republicans expected the Latino community to keep out of political issues and remain silent.

At the time, the Latino population in America consisted mostly of Mexican Americans, Puerto Ricans, and Cubans, and their few efforts to amplify their voices fell short.

One could argue that, in 2020, the situation is entirely different. 

In a little over half a century, the Latinx community in the U.S. has made strides. While in government, we have a crucial representation from Latino officials, the Latino vote in 2020 is now considered a key piece in a presidential election most likely to change the course of the country forever. 

In 1960, Latino voters lived spread throughout the country. 

Mexican Americans were in the Southwest, Puerto Ricans were in the Northeast, and the Cuban refugees were arriving by the masses in Miami, Florida. 

Despite the growth of the population, very few saw potential in its voting power – until Edward Roybal came along.

As a liberal councilman from Los Angeles, Roybal was an ambitious leader in the 1960 presidential campaign, turning the spotlight on Mexican Americans eligible to vote.

He attended the 1960 DNC, where he helped convince the Kennedy campaign the authorization of a vast voter turnout for the Mexican-American population.

In October of that year, John F. Kennedy went to Spanish Harlem in New York City, where, with a majority population of Puerto Ricans, he made a speech about the value of migrants, echoing his Irish ancestry and the promise of safety and opportunity.

Campaign buses then took the community in Spanish Harlem to voter registration sites.

As if it were a historical echo, Joe Biden is centering part of his 2020 presidential campaign on Latinos. 

"The Latino community is a core part of the American community, and their contributions are evident in every part of society," opens Biden's comprehensive plan for the Latino community.

The former vice president has promised to pass a bill for legislative immigration reform that would give almost 11 million undocumented immigrants a chance at citizenship. 

But his plan does not stop short of immigration. He will also address financial circumstances that have disproportionately affected Latinos during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as a review of Temporary Protected Status (TPS), ensuring no one will be forced to return to unsafe situations in their countries of origin. 

JFK paved the way for an amplified voice in Latinos 60 years ago, and since then, our community has expanded not only in numbers but in power. 

This year during the presidential election, Latinos will potentially get to define the next 60 years in American history. 

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