LatinaLista — The announcement of Sen. Ted Kennedy’s death late Tuesday night from brain cancer wasn’t unexpected, but to an older generation of Latinos his death signals the end of an era when “honorary Latinos” were entrusted with championing the voice of la gente in Washington.
Sen. Edward Kennedy
For those who don’t know, Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy was responsible for getting many legislative measures passed that have allowed people of color to advance into more equal roles in U.S. society.
But while the White House eluded his grasp, the longtime Massachusetts senator was considered one of the most effective legislators of the past few decades. Kennedy, who became known as the “Lion of the Senate,” played major roles in passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act and the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act, and was an outspoken liberal standard-bearer during a conservative-dominated era from the 1980s to the early 2000s.
It was his brother President John F. Kennedy who first reached out and introduced himself to the Latino community. It was that simple acknowledgement that began a love affair between this Irish-American family and Hispanic Americans.
In the 60s and 70s, it wasn’t uncommon to enter Latino homes and see alongside pictures of deceased relatives hanging on the wall, a picture of President John F. Kennedy.
There are a couple of reasons why Latinos felt a kinship to the Kennedy clan: a shared Catholic religion and the fact that the Kennedy’s large family mirrored the size of many Latino families.
Yet, the biggest reason why so many Latinos looked upon John, Bobby and Ted as members of their own families was because, though they were wealthy, they spoke up for the rights of the poor and disenfranchised when many in Congress looked the other way.
What these men lacked in personal moral ethics at one time or another in their lives, they made up for in Washington when fighting to make sure the voices of the poor and all people of color were heard.
Sen. Kennedy and his brothers paved the way for Latinos, African Americans, Asians and Native Americans to pursue public office so that these communities no longer needed to depend on “honorary” politicians but could look to members of their own communities who had finally arrived in Washington.
Sen. Kennedy’s passing is definitely the end of an era. His children, nephews and nieces won’t enjoy the same kind of unconditional respect from the collective Latino community that the Senator and his brothers did, and that is the way it should be.
It is a new century and a new political age where people of color are using their voices to be heard — thanks, in no small part, to a man, with a funny accent himself, whose voice lives on with the election of every politician of color who hasn’t forgotten that democracy works best when everyone has the same fighting chance for the American Dream.