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Posted on 11-18-2013
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50 YEARS: John F. Kennedy's last night was dedicated to Latinos at a LULAC gathering
Was JFK the first president to acknowledge power of Latino Vote?

Russell Contreras, Associated Press

It was Nov. 21, 1963. Hours later, the president was dead, his assassination overshadowing the significance of a speech that can be seen as the birth of the Latino vote, so instrumental in 2012 in helping re-elect the first black president, Barack Obama.

Latinos helping President Obama win swing states during the election was huge, but not new. It happened before and started with Latino support during John F. Kennedy's drive to the presidency. And the night before he was assassinated, he made a surprise thank you visit to a Houston gathering of Latinos.

And as was the case in the recent election, USA reports that in 1960 Republicans were challenged with Latino voters.

Latinos also identified with Kennedy, who was Catholic and Irish-American, a member of an ethnic group that had battled discrimination similar to what Latinos faced in the segregated Southwest.

President John F. Kennedy was supposed to just stop by and wave hello. Instead a group of eager Latinos persuaded him to come inside and speak to a packed room of Mexican-American civil rights activists. And then he persuaded his wife, first lady Jacqueline Kennedy, to address the crowd in Spanish.

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" ...
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