HOUSTON — A New Organization is forming with the hopes of transforming how Latino voters cast their ballots and conceptualize the voting process in Harris County.
The group’s name tells a great deal about their concept; the Progresista Voter Union took many months to find their identity, but finally came up with a way to explain their intentions.
“We’re a union, plain and simple,” says Hector Chavana Jr., one of the co-founders of the organization, and publisher of El Pueblo Newspaper and OurNewAnahuac.net. “When you work for a company, it is difficult to fight for your needs as one person, so you join a union.
“The company might not listen to you, but they can’t ignore the all of the workers when they are unionized and when they act as one.”
Mario Salinas, the group’s president, explains the global benefits of the group.
“It makes sense for all Houstonians for Latinos to become civically engaged since we will be the largest part of this city’s future population,” said Salinas. “I hope that we can bring a voice to Houston’s largest population bloc that has largely remained voiceless.”
For Angela Sanchez, secretary of the group, the choice to join was personal: “After feeling that all my voting life I have been choosing the lesser of two evils in a lot of elections, I want to try and see if there is a better way and that is why I wanted to not only participate but help grow what this group has the potential to be.”
The basic rationale of the group is as follows: Latinos are one of the largest populations in Houston, and they do not have an independent group geared toward organizing, educating and directing the Latino vote. There are many groups encouraging and registering Latinos to vote.
Members of the PVU encourage that work, but they note that no other group is providing the answers of whom Latinos should vote for… and why. This is where the PVU differs and how they hope to complement the work of other groups, via endorsements, independent analysis and even organized boycotts of certain races if need be.
The early Texas history of Latino voting for most is really a story of many Tejano campesinos being escorted to the polls by an Anglo landlord and being ordered to vote for a particular candidate. This system gave way to a system of segregation in which every effort was made to keep Tejanos away from the polls.
Officials openly organized election dates to coincide with dates when Tejanos would have to leave for migrant work so that they would not be around on election days. On other occasions, excuses were often given, or invented, that a would-be voter had to prove citizenship or English-language skills before voting.
The most overt trick was that those in power would often draw political boundaries to split and dillute the Tejano vote.
Tejanos stood up against laws and tactics that diluted their vote in the sixties and seventies. The Civil Rights Act was passed, and the Chicano Movement introduced many young Chicanos to the political process. Since then, there has not been much of a Latino electoral grassroots effort outside of the two major parties.
Earlier this year, however, the City of Houston proposed a new map of political boundaries. The group, barely in formation, took action, along with many other groups in an informal coalition. Their analysis led them to believe that the new map did not take into account the tremendous growth in the Latino population, and that this new map diluted the Latino vote.
They protested, and by all accounts, helped the coalition to secure better representation and a new map.