Mexican-American William Velásquez is truly one of the unsung heroes of the Latino civil rights movement. Not only did he work alongside Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez with the United Farm Workers, Velásquez also dedicated much of his short life to ensure that Latinos were politically active and able to vote. As the elections inch closer and closer, it is important to remember not just the man, but his legacy. There is even a new documentary on PBS, “Willie Velásquez: Your Vote Is Your Voice,” telling his story.
William Velásquez dedicated his life to making sure Latinos could participate in the political process.
— Basil Tsiokos (@1basil1) October 3, 2016
Velásquez worked tirelessly with Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta for farm worker rights before moving on to establish the Southwest Voter Registration and Education Project (SVREP). At the time of its founding, Velásquez was fighting against poll taxes, gerrymandering and pure intimidation being used to block Latinos from using their voice in elections.
“Willie Velasquez’s work brought millions of Latinos into the political process, both as voters and as candidates,” filmmaker Hector Galán told KPBS about his documentary on Velásquez. “As we go through this current election cycle, it’s important to look back at how far the Latino electorate has come and how our vote continues to truly be our voice.”
Velásquez is the founder of both the Mexican American Youth Organization (1968) and Southwest Voter Registration and Education Project (1974).
— Fox News Latino (@foxnewslatino) October 2, 2016
He went even further than just starting two organizations to get young Latinos mobilized to vote. Velásquez helped found La Raza Unida Party to further give Latinos a chance to join in the political system to enact change from within. In the 1970s, his activism was taking off. Having just left the UFW, Velásquez became one of the first people to use a computer to electronically collect voter registration information.
In 1988, as his career as a political activist for Latinos was reaching its peak, he died of kidney cancer.
— klru (@klru) September 27, 2016
Velásquez’s work was not unnoticed by national politicians. In 1995, Velásquez was posthumously awarded the Medal of Freedom — the highest civilian honor — by then-President Bill Clinton.
“His name was William C. Velasquez, but everyone knew him as Willie,” President Clinton said at the time, according to KPBS. “Willie was and is now a name synonymous with democracy in America. From the farm fields of California, where he organized workers with Cesar Chavez, to the halls of Harvard, where he taught politics, Willie Velasquez was driven by an unwavering belief that every American should have a role in our democracy and a share in the opportunities of our great nation.”
So, in this political season when you hear some politicians demonize the Latino community, remember your role.
CREDIT: Election 2016 / GIPHY
Do what Rosie Perez says, and millions have fought so hard for, and vote!
CREDIT: Election 2016 / GIPHY
Countless Latinos have fought hard in the past for your right to vote. Don’t squander it by sitting at home this November.