Politicos Latinos

By ALAN LUPO  |  October 9, 2008

Although Sanchez says she is no precinct captain or anything of the sort, Latinos nonetheless credit her with getting out heavy votes for Kennedy in 1980, Dukakis in 1982. “At first,” Sanchez says “the people said, ‘I don’t believe in politicians at all,’ but they noticed that they got more attention, that registering and voting gives them some power.”

Wilfredo Torres, who helped register Latinos in Worcester, say, “My program is not political, but mental health. There’s a lot of connection between mental health and political activity. A significant amount of stress has to do with a lack of services—housing, health services—and it affects one’s mental health.”

Those who know what harm and good a bureaucracy can do to their clients are the ones who now want a piece of that bureaucracy. They want it because they think they can do the job as well as the people already there, and because they figure that Latinos in need should be able to turn to Latinos in power. Aura Garfunkel remembers Alex Rodriguez telling Latino leaders from all over the state, “This is our chance. You want a role? Then you come together.” Bringing them together was no simple task. Beyond the geographic jealousies that still infect Massachusetts, beyond the nature of all humans to be jealous or competitive, there are issues of a Latino nature that easily can turn a solidarity meeting into a brawl. Should Puerto Rico remain a commonwealth or become a state, or be independent? Is there racism among Latinos? Are the children of earlier Cuban immigrants more liberal than their parents?

The Latino coalition overcame all that. Rodriguez says that about 350 Latinos were active in getting out the vote for both Dukakis and Kennedy. Dukakis, who learned Spanish while on fellowship to Peru in 1954, worked the Latino precincts by speaking the language of those who live there. Carmen Anna Chico Duffy, a bilingual specialist for the Cambridge schools, was both the Hispanic chairwoman for Kennedy and the Spanish language media person for Dukakis. She appeared with Dukakis on Spanish-language radio programs. Those appearances had the hoped-for result, for later many Latino voters grabbed for the candidate’s hand and told him, ah yes, they had heard him on the radio. Carmen Duffy and her husband, Jack, designed an advertising campaign for the two Boston-area Spanish-language weeklies that compared the Dukakis and King records on a number of issues and urged readers to support Dukakis. Just about every well-known Latino in Massachusetts signed the ad.

For Latino leaders who might have wondered if Latinos were heeding the call to be political, the annual Puerto Rican festival last summer in Boston was a morale booster. Kennedy, King and Mayor Kevin White made personal appearances; and Dukakis workers also showed up. “The people,” Felix Arroyo says, “felt proud to see politicians coming to get their attention.” Vicky Mederos of Watertown, a member of the National Conference of Puerto Rican Women, worked a voter-registration booth at the festival. “We registered 500 persons in one week at the festival,” she says. Because she’s a federal employee, Mederos couldn’t take sides publicly, but she remembers a lot of Puerto Ricans saying, “We want to get that guy, King, out.”

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  Topics: Flashbacks , Michael Dukakis, John Sasso, John F. Kennedy School of Government,  More more >
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