The Joker Voted for Nixon

Fifty years ago today, on October 8, 1960, this photo of actors Ginger Rogers and Cesar Romero ran in the LA Times.


By 1960, Rogers was a household name and a Hollywood legend.  An Oscar-winning actress, she had starred in more than 70 movies, and was best known for re-defining the musical genre with her dance partner Fred Astaire.

Romero was no Rogers, but he was no lightweight either.  The New York born cubano had starred in scores of films, ranging from musicals, to comedies, to adventures.  Romero was well-known to movie goers in the 30s and 40s  as the preeminent “Latin lover.”  Later, he played everything from the “heavy” to the comedic foil.

Romero parlayed his initial type casting into a long career, from the big screen to TV.  Six years after this photo was taken, Romero’s name would be forever linked to “Batman” when he was cast as the Joker in the campy TV show starring Adam West.  Today, despite a diverse body of work spanning almost half a century, he is best know for his turn as the warped villian.

In the above photo, Romero and Rogers are attaching bumper stickers to cars.  The stickers are for Dick Nixon and Henry Cabot Lodge, the Republican nominees for President and Vice President in 1960.  One month after the Times published this, Nixon would lose the election to JFK by a mere 112,827 votes, less than 0.17% of the entire popular vote.

The election is particularly well-known in Chicano historical circles because of overt efforts by the Democratic Party to mobilize the Latino vote.  Among their tactics, the Democrats sponsored “¡Viva Kennedy!” clubs to reach out to Spanish-speaking voters in the Southwest and other parts of the nation.

They even enlisted the Senator’s wife in their targeted campaign:

This outreach effort may have been decisive for JFK.  In Texas he won over 90% of the Mexican American electorate, about 200,000 votes.  This helped give him the state and, hence, the presidency.  Overall, Kennedy won an estimated 85% of the Mexican American vote from coast to coast.

To many Mexican American politicos, the results inspired hopes of greater attention from the new administration, if not outright formal appointments.  Their hopes, however, were soon dashed.  JFK paid almost no attention to the issues facing Mexican Americans and other Latinos.

As the above picture reflects, the Republican Party might not have organized “¡Viva Nixon!” clubs across the nation but they didn’t ignore Latino voters entirely.  Romero, whose name and reputation would have been most powerfully regarded among Cuban and older Mexican voters, participated in at least a casual effort to garner some votes for “Tricky Dick.”

In subsequent years, celebrities like Romero and Ricardo Montalbán could help rally religious and conservative members of the Spanish-speaking population to vote for Nixon again and, even after that, Reagan.  Now, fifty years later, Republicans seem to have lost almost all the benefits of these early connections.

As a sustained immigration debate based firmly in racialist ways of knowing nurtures the continual exodus of Latino voters from the Republican side of the fence to the Democratic, it’s interesting to look back and see how the present reality was anything but certain in 1960.


Obama, Richardson, and, “Bueno…”

President-Elect Barack Obama (heard of him yet?) today announced he will nominate Bill Richardson to head the Commerce Department.  Richardson is currently the Governor of New Mexico (the one with all the flavor and half the calories) and was formerly a candidate for the Democratic nomination for President.  Richardson–whose mother was Mexican and who was raised in Mexico City until he was 13–becomes the first Latino/Hispanic Commerce Secretary since, well, the last guy.

Obama’s announcement was expected, coming weeks after leaks that Richardson had been asked.  Speculation had been that Richardson was interested in the Secretary of State post, which would have been a high-profile Latino appointment (on the level of Alberto Gonzalez…ayayay!).  Instead, the first Latino appointment in the Obama cabinet is to a relatively invisible department, though one with huge responsibilities.

At this morning’s press conference, Richardson offered some remarks, including the following ones in Spanish.

Not to be picky or anything, but Obama wasn’t the only one to tell us “Sí se puede.”

More importantly, Richardson suggests the political significance of his appointment in both his comments and choice of language.  As the Latino (so far?) in the Obama cabinet, he also becomes the de facto representative of Latino issues and interests in the same, not to mention Obama’s version of a political “thank you” to the millions of Latino voters who helped elect him.  Richardson’s comments about the flexing of “our” political strength and the need to continue to struggle for “our” rights are indicative of this.

And then a Latino with a press badge had to go and ask an appropriate question related to the nature of this political appointment, recognizing the above:

Did he just say Secretary of the Commerce Department “is a pretty good job”?  Obama kind of struggled with his answer, no?  I think he found his way at the end–at least the politically expedient way–by saying he is appointing people based on qualifications and not race or ethnicity.  (Can’t be known as the affirmative action president, now can we?)

I would have been happier if he said the way his administration will appease Latino voters is to make sure their interests and issues are an integral part of his foreign and diplomatic agendas.  In that way, “our” issues are the responsibility of everyone in his White House.  But I’m not the President, now am I?

Am I?

And, finally, I love Obama’s concluding verbal nod to latinidad, “Bueno…”


National Public Radio’s program All Things Considered featured a related story later in the day.  (I wonder if they have any openings?)  You can listen to it here.

John McCain Knows What it Means to be Mexican

Guess what? I’m going to register my Chicanito self as a Republican and vote for John McCain because, simply put, he gets me.

When asked about how he intended to woo Latinos this fall, McCain said he had a much easier task than did his opponent.

“Hispanic culture is an integral part of my state: Spanish was spoken in Arizona before English was,” McCain said. “So I understand the issues, I understand the patriotism, I understand all of the issues that affect Hispanic Latino voters, and I was very happy in the primaries to receive an overwhelming majority of the Hispanic votes in those primaries because they know me and they know me well. Senator Obama has little or no encounters with their issues.”

See? Juan…lo siento, John McCain is a Senator from a State where a lot of other Mexicans live and have lived for a long time. That makes him an expert, you see. And just like Señor McCain tells us, if you’re thinking that Barack Obama knows you–just because he spent his adult life working on inner-city, urban issues affecting communities of color (like poverty, gangs, drugs, discrimination)–well, you’re wrong. People of color have very little in common in this nation.

Man I feel better. It’s like I’m lighter, more free. You see, I always thought that for a politician to support immoral and poorly planned war–like Vietnam or the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan–was an equally unjust abuse of Latinos. After all, most of the infantry men and women fighting and dying in these wars are poor, rural/urban young people, people who are disproportionately Latino. But now I don’t.

And I always thought that support for free trade and outsourcing, and busting unions and fighting minimum wage laws, and for bailing out S & L crooks was bad for working people, bad for poor people, and bad for most Latino people. But I guess not.

And I used to think that supporting immigration reform just so a bunch of your state’s big business people could use, objectify, and economically abuse your people was a bad thing. But, well, I mean, I guess…

What a minute! I’ve lived in California my whole damn life and I don’t know anything about surfing, or the way almonds are grown, of even where California cheese comes from. And come to think of it, John McCain has almost never supported the issues I believe are fundamental toward the political, economic, and social equality of Mexican and other Latinos in this nation.

Ah, man, you got me! You pesky little viejito, you fooled me this time! I actually thought you were serio, man. Okay, I get it now. Bet you can’t fool me again.

How Do You Get Latino Votes? (the VERY unexpected part 3)

And, thanks to Hans, a reminder that some people know how to get it right!

Here’s an Obama ad produced for the Latino market/electorate.

p.s. Yes, I know Obama’s people didn’t directly produce this but, dammit, they are sure going to benefit from the talent his candidacy inspires!

p.p.s. I KNOW!!  They even got the “hesitant Latina” Jessica Alba to appear as a Latina!!

How Do You Get Latino Votes? (unexpected part 2)

And if you’re not in 1960…

Yesterday I posted a link to a video of a commercial Jackie Kennedy (wife of John F. Kennedy) did for her husband’s campaign–a commercial done completely in Spanish.  The 1960 election is the first national election where either of the two major parties made any organized effort to garner Latino votes.  While it would have been nice if the presidential candidate could have done such a commercial themselves, it was important, meaningful, and successful of JFK’s people to choose his wife.

And then today I saw/heard this.  It is one of John McCain’s Spanish-language radio ads, his most recent to date.  In it, an announcer now does the job of the former first-lady-to-be, promising McCain is the answer to these economic bad times.  “When we are filling up the gas tank, we are not Republicans, Democrats or Independents. We are Hispanics…”