ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Willie Velasquez isn’t as well-known as other Latino activists like Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta and Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales.
But according to a new VOCES/PBS documentary airing next week, he was a key figure in developing the Latino voting bloc years before it became the nation’s largest minority group and before both parties actively sought Latino voters’ support.
Latino Public Broadcasting’s “Willie Velasquez: Your Vote Is Your Voice” aims to bring attention to the voting rights advocate who came from San Antonio’s poor west side and ended up rubbing elbows with the likes of President Ronald Reagan and Sen. Ted Kennedy. He persuaded Republicans in the 1970s and ’80s to reach out to Hispanics because of the growing Latino voter-registration numbers in swing districts.
Velasquez might have done even more to foster Hispanic political power if not for his sudden death at age 44.
“It feels like I’ve been working on his story for 30 years,” said director Hector Galan, who interviewed Velasquez in 1983 at the height of his popularity in Texas. “And here it is.”
An early protégé of the late U.S. Congressman Henry B. Gonzalez, a young Velasquez was mentored by the generation of Mexican-American activists who helped elect President John F. Kennedy. Velasquez saw how poll taxes and voter intimidation kept Mexican-Americans from the polls and sought to change that.