In 1960 I cast my first vote for a United States President. I remember paying my Poll Tax ($1.75 tax that allowed one to vote) and the white guys at work made fun of me by telling me, “Well James, you’re now a full fledge Mexican American! Without a Poll Tax you’re just a plain old Mexican!” Not offended by my white co-workers comments we all had a good laugh.
Aside from the racial comments made by my white co-workers some soon became upset with me when I told them I was going to vote for Senator John F. Kennedy, a Catholic. Some responded, “James, the Pope is going to be running the United States if this clown (JFK) gets elected! We don’t want any high official of the Catholic Church running our country!” My only response to them was that I, with my vote, wanted to prove that a Catholic without any interference from the Catholic Church hierarchy could govern our country.
It had had been 32 years since JFK; a Catholic had made a run for the presidency. In 1928, Al Smith, a Catholic and a Democrat, lost to Herbert Hoover, a Republican! In the end, the Republicans were identified with the booming economy of the 1920s, whereas Al Smith, a Roman Catholic, suffered politically from Anti-Catholic prejudice which was associated with Hoover winning by a landslide victory. Hoover’s victory was short lived when the Great Depression occurred during his watch. From that point forward the Depression made it very difficult for a Republican to occupy the White House for many years. Thus, Democrats came into power in 1933 under the leadership of President Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) who to my knowledge held the presidency for 3 terms (1933-1945). Though the United States had not recovered totally from the Great Depression under President Roosevelt, World War II quickly grew the economy out of the Depression with the help of the war machinery industry, which helped tremendously to put many people back to work.
Besides hearing negative comments about me voting for a Catholic in 1960, I also heard many unsavory comments hurled at the Republican candidate, former Vice President Richard M. Nixon, for President Dwight Eisenhower. Unbeknown to many, President Eisenhower was despised by many segregationists like Arkansas Gov. Orval Faubus, a Democrat, for allowing black students to enroll in white public schools and colleges in 1957. Gov Faubus intervened by sending the National Guard to stop the integration of Arkansas schools. However, few blacks and others are unaware that President Eisenhower sent United States Army troops to Little Rock, Arkansas, to protect black children who enrolled in previously all white public schools from harassment and physical harm from anti black racists and the Klan. I vividly recall anti Nixon slurs like, “I’m not voting for no N-loving Republican!” So here you have it folks, Texas Democrats not knowing whether to vote for a N-loving Republican or a Catholic! By the slimiest popular vote ever (34,220,984 JFK — 34,109,157 Nixon) the Catholic Democrat beat the supposed black loving Republican. JFK by the way carried Texas, which was then a Democrat stronghold state.
Needless to say, my initial exposure in voting for a President was an eye opener for me, which left a lasting impression that sort of shaped my political philosophy. “How so James?” some might ask. Well folks, as a Hispanic, I endured the discrimination many blacks underwent along with Hispanics during those troubling times. To be quiet honest, I should have voted for Nixon instead of JFK being of the terrible discrimination Hispanics endured in those years. But, my desire for a Catholic to lead our nation made me side with the Democrat Catholic candidate.
Living in a predominately Hispanic and Democrat stronghold in North Fort Worth I often was asked by those seeking political office for my help due to my involvements in my Catholic parish, as a newspaper writer and fund raiser. Often, I would help those Hispanic Democrats who were well educated and had a genuine interest to improve our Hispanic community. I never helped those individuals who were affiliated with radical Hispanic groups or were community activists. Again, I’d make political enemies with those, though Democrats, who were against those I supported. As the old saying goes, “I couldn’t win for losing!”
In the 1980s I openly supported President Ronald Reagan, much to the disgust of my Hispanic neighbors and supposedly friends. And when President Reagan cleaned President Carter’s clock that infuriated my Hispanic neighbors even more. When President Reagan won his second term, the hatred by Hispanics towards me became more intense, but I welcomed it and often challenged those who disagreed with me much to their disgust. My answer was simple, “This is America and you and I can vote for whoever the hell we want!”
By now, some of you are wondering why I rendered this account of my voting experience with the title of my piece. Folks, I voted the 1st day of early voting. My wife went later. While there my wife told me an elderly gentleman was livid when they wouldn’t allow him to vote. Seems that the gentleman had recently moved into our precinct and had not received his voting registration certificate. Though he had all sorts of identification and his former voting certificate from his previous precinct he was held back. He then began to shout, “I’m a Korean and Vietnam veteran and I went to fight for this country for our freedoms! I’m going to have leg surgery tomorrow and I don’t know if I can come back before the polls close on Nov. 6th! Ya’ll are not allowed to ask minorities and even those who are here illegally for a voter ID and here ya’ll are treating me like I’m not worthy to vote though I went to fight for our country!” My wife, a Hispanic, stated, “James, I hate to say this, but I agreed with the vet!”