The Latino Vote
9:44 am
Tue November 27, 2012

Historians Say A Speech JFK Gave The Night Before He Died Started The Latino Vote

Historians say Kennedy was the first president to court the Latino vote.
Credit U.S. Embassy New Delhi

The Latino vote was one of the most talked about voting blocs this year, mostly because this demographic helped propel President Obama into his second term in office this year -- especially in important swing states such as Florida and New Mexico.

There have been many conversations in the media about some of the nuances of the Latino vote,  but what is rarely discussed is the longevity of the Latino vote and when the Latino vote actually became a thing.

According to the Associated Press, it all began with a speech President John F. Kennedy gave right before he was shot to death in Houston.

To historians, Kennedy's appearance at the Rice Ballroom in Houston was likely the first time that a president officially acknowledged Latinos as an important voting bloc. 

Though there are no plaques marking the historic occasion, the event is a touchstone for activists even if the spot where Kennedy sat and heard a band play Mexican ballads and where the crowd yelled "Viva Kennedy!" is now a refurbished ballroom in a loft apartment complex that often plays host to weddings.

"That evening ... that's where it began," said Ignacio Garcia, author of "Viva Kennedy: Mexican Americans in Search of Camelot" and a history professor at Brigham Young University. "But because very few people know about the meeting, it's like it never happened."

In South Florida, JFK is actually a divisive figure for a large and influential part of the Latino vote. After the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, Cuban-Americans have largely sided with Republicans because JFK was a Democrat, among other reasons.

However, as the Latino vote has grown, it has also skewed Democratic.  According to the Pew Research Center, in this past election "Latinos voted for President Barack Obama over Republican Mitt Romney by 71 percent to 27 percent."