Puerto Ricans frontrunners to gain control of U.S.’s largest Latino Civil Rights org, as number of chapters explode
The board of the League of Latin American Citizens, founded 93 years ago by Mexican Americans, ensured Puerto Ricans would assume new leadership.
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The 93-year-old Latino Civil Rights group, the League of Latin American Citizens (LULAC), originally founded by Mexican Americans in Texas, held its first in-person conference and elections since 2019 amid the pandemic in San Juan, Puerto Rico this week.
In 2022, Puerto Ricans have the numbers to seize control of the organization. Additionally, the LULAC board said Puerto Ricans could determine the leadership by continuing in-person voting as opposed to electronic voting.
According to LULAC, the number of councils in Puerto Rico, or chapters as they call it, significantly increased from 54 to over 343 in just the last year. That is higher than the number of councils in Texas, which is where all past presidents of the organization have called home. With the rise in Puerto Rican councils, they will look to seize control of the group.
Candidates include Puerto Rican-born, New York native, Juan Carlos Lizardi, who is also son of board member and Puerto Rico statehood activist, Elsie Valdez. He is challenging Mexican-American Dallas Attorney Domingo García who could be defeated. Lizardi is favored at the moment because anyone who wants to vote has to be in Puerto Rico to cast a ballot.
However, some members of LULAC oppose the idea of a U.S. Territory having a decision in its future. Years of disagreement over the island’s status has Latinos either neutral in the conflict or some limiting their positions in their support of the residents of the island.
LULAC CEO Sindy Benavides told The Hill last month that the organization maintained its position on statehood saying, “The moment is now.” In another statement made later in the month, Benavides said the group had not changed its position and that the organization maintains its support for future states of Puerto Rico to be decided by the residents.
On July 15, Democrats introduced a bill that would allow Puerto Rico to have a federally-run referendum to determine if the island could become the 51st state, an independent nation, or a sovereignty with agreement of free association with the U.S. The agreement, if passed, would allow the American government to oversee various governing policies.
“LULAC is a powerful group and the opportunity is that for one year or a few, it can help us,” said René Rodriguez, a professor at the University of Puerto Rico at Bayamón and a statehood advocate. “There is momentum and it’s historic and as a civil rights organization we should be there and we should be the lead.”
On top of the power struggle for control, the Latino community is still recovering from the consequences of the pandemic, including economic, and educational setbacks. All the while the organization is fighting lack of Latino representation as far as redistricting, immigration reform, and asserting Latinos in the landscape as both Democrats and Republicans fight hard for their votes with the 2024 elections nearing.
This past Tuesday, July 26, in an interview with Benavides, she said the rise of councils in Puerto Rico could be attributed to the years of suffering caused from the hurricanes and earthquakes that have rocked the island.
"The conversation around civil rights and equality in Puerto Rico is always forefront. That's the conversation I always heard,” she said. “I've certainly heard different individuals, some not affiliated with LULAC, talk about statehood.”