Last Updated on January 30, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1208
Chapter 10: The Return of Juan Seguín: Latinos and the Remaking of American Politics
In the introduction of the chapter, Gonzalez identifies Juan Seguín as a Latino soldier who fought on the side of Davy Crockett and Sam Houston during the American campaign in Texas. After serving two terms as mayor of San Antonio, Seguín was chased out of town by Anglo “newcomers,” making him the last Hispanic mayor of the city until 140 years later. For Gonzalez, Seguín is emblematic of the way in which American history has largely excluded Latinos from the narrative about the founding of the United States.
Gonzalez shifts focus to the ways in which Latinos have become an undeniably powerful voting bloc by the end of the 2000s. He notes that Latino voter registration increased 460 percent in just over 30 years, relative to a 62 percent overall increase. To explain how this happened, Gonzalez lists several contributing factors: increased legal citizenship, high population growth, cross-cultural Latino unity, middle-class success, and emerging political influence.
Gonzalez addresses each of these factors using five distinct phases of Latino engagement in American politics, the first of which spans from 1950 to 1964. Dubbed the “Integration Period,” Gonzalez explains how Latino veterans returning from World War II felt emboldened to demand equal treatment as American citizens for the first time. Their organizing efforts eventually led to the recognition of Mexican Americans as a substantial group in the US, since their support helped President Kennedy win much of the Southwest during his election. With the passing of the Voting Rights Act, many Latinos gained better access to the vote, in large part due to the Civil Rights Movement’s push to end racial discrimination.
After the infamous Watts race riot, Latinos entered a new period Gonzalez calls “Radical Nationalist.” Lasting until 1974, this stage of political involvement saw Latino youths leading demonstrations and riots, all in rejection of the attempted integration of their parents’ generation. Disillusioned with discrimination by the Anglo community, young Latinos formed radical nationalist groups as the Hispanic community diversified. Eventually, this organizing trend led to the development of moderate civil rights groups that focused solely on Latinos, such as the National Farm Workers Association led by Cesar Chavez.
By 1975, radical and nationalist group membership waned, ushering in the “Voting Rights” period. This stage focused on the goal of political equality. Unlike its predecessors, this new political wave involved the lower-class workers in voter registration while filing an unprecedented number of voting rights suits, many of which enfranchised Mexican and Puerto Rican immigrants who had previously been politically inactive. Simultaneously, a growing backlash from the so-called New Right stoked white fears that Latinos were stealing jobs and upending American values.
Beginning in 1985, Latinos began joining with blacks and liberal whites in support of political candidates. Gonzalez calls this new era the “Rainbow Period,” named after Jesse Jackson’s famed rainbow coalition theory. After several successes using this alliance—like the election of New York City’s first black mayor in 1988—Latinos became associated more heavily with the Democratic Party. Gonzalez says this model’s key to success was the inclusion of poor people of color as part of the movement’s target demographic. At the same time, many suburban white voters left the Democratic Party. By the middle of the 1990s, internal divides between the black leaders of the rainbow movement and other groups of color stalled its political success. Racism and stereotypes hindered blacks and...
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