There may be more good news awaiting Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois when the results — influenced by a large Hispanic vote — are announced following the March 4 Texas Democratic primary.
Texas can be a whole different enchilada than California when it comes to Hispanic political and social thinking. It can be as different in the Lone Star State as the red salsa versus the green salsa sitting on the table in an authentic Mexican eatery.
My descendants are Texas Hispanics. We always viewed our California brothers and sisters (who voted in large percentage for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York on Super Tuesday) with curiosity, particularly during the 1960s and 1970s. It was not our intent to express that they were wrong in any way for their intense political activism and collective loyalty to specific leaders. They were just different when it came to needed “change” — the motivating word in the 2008 Democratic primaries.
Even the word “Chicano” did not catch on with my family and relatives. My mother said it carried the connotation of being slow and clumsy. She felt we had enough obstacles against us in society. Why add another?
Texas never felt any ripple effect from California’s Proposition 187 movement that grew out of then-Gov. Pete Wilson’s public attacks against Hispanic immigrants. Every tejano knew that sort of nonsense would not be practical. Then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush helped stop that movement in the 1990s before it reached the Mississippi River.
I don’t mean to suggest that Texas is without its own obstacles for Latinos. My father swore he would never live there. “They’re still fighting the Alamo!” he’d yell. Lynchings of Latinos continued into the 1900s. Corpus Christi’s late, great Hector Garcia founded the American GI Forum in 1948 to deal with rampant discrimination against Hispanics. In its first act, the civil-rights group partnered with then-Congressman Lyndon Johnson to get a Latino war hero buried in Arlington National Cemetery after a local funeral home refused to allow the hero to lie in repose with his white comrades in arms.
When Texas becomes majority Hispanic in little more than a decade, new enemies will need to be confronted. That kind of change provides some advantages for Obama’s “change” message in Texas that he didn’t have in California.
Here are a few tips for his campaign based on my family experiences:
— Fill your Texas support staff with Chicago Hispanics who know the senator well: My family crossed the border into Texas during the Mexican Revolution of 1910-1920, then relocated to central Kansas, where my father went to work for the Santa Fe railroad. My grandmother would regularly catch the train from Kansas to Chicago to visit relatives. Texas Latinos have a lot of kin in Chicago. And hearing of Obama’s good work from relatives’ lips will go a long way toward convincing Lone Star Latinos.
— Hit the Hillary flip-flop: Clinton staged an abrupt political retreat earlier this year when she deserted an effort by New York’s governor to allow immigrants to apply for driver’s licenses without having to prove legal residency. To the governor, it was a public-safety issue. Clinton deserted him when opinion polls showed a political backlash against the proposal. Obama has consistently supported the license proposal.
— Stress jobs, jobs, jobs: Unlike many politically active California Chicanos, my family believed working twice as hard and long as anyone else would provide them with the ultimate change– beginning within their own families. Money remains the power in U.S. society.
— Obama should stress his work on the immigration-reform legislation that failed last year in Congress. It had bipartisan support. Texas Latinos have shown themselves less aghast at reaching across the aisle to work with Republicans, even voting for them occasionally.
— Bring Latinos and blacks together: Obama can gain Hispanic support by encouraging healing in the rift between Latinos and blacks in many parts of the South. It exists. Dallas public schools suffered greatly while whites kept fleeing to the suburbs.
— Latino families in Texas constantly preach the value of education. Former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’ story is not just a once-in-a-lifetime tale. It happens. Black powerbrokers, still trying to cope with the unresolved needs of their own children, have shown themselves hesitant to embrace Hispanic needs and support a more balanced allocation of resources. Obama must preach to both groups how to work together so urban centers do not become educational wastelands.
Jose Antonio Burciaga, the late El Paso, Texas-born and -raised writer and muralist, used his talent to teach with humor about creating change through direct involvement. He pointedly cited the differences between Texans and Californians of Hispanic descent. In his book, “Drink Cultura: Chicanismo,” Burciaga devoted an entire chapter to his own “mixed marriage.” His wife, Cecilia, was born and raised in California.
Obama’s message of hope can help change the more disunifying aspects of the Chicano, tejano and black existence. And it can help all Texans accept the change that’s coming their way by the year 2020.
On March 4, Texas Latinos can give Obama the kind of delegate breathing room he needs to capture the Democratic nomination.
(Tim Chavez of Nashville, Tenn., is a political columnist. He can be reached at timchavez787(at)yahoo.com.)