Column: Chicanos’ Long Love Affair With Democratic Party Ends

Covering Mexican-American candidates in Tuesday’s primary election, a reporter can get the impression that they are more interested in gaining independence from the Democratic Party than they are in getting elected.

The Chicano candidate looks back in bitterness at the Democratic Party and casts a cynically hopeful eye at the Republican Party.

With the assassination of Bobby Kennedy, who publicly thanks the Chicano vote for its significant help in winning the California primary, the Mexican-American politician ended his long love affair with the Democratic Party.

“Actually,” says a Chicano party worker, “we discovered that it wasn’t a love affair at all but really a kept woman situation. The party took us for granted and gave little in return.”


This bitterness stems from the reapportionment of California’s political districts in 1962 by a Democratic Assembly under Jess Unruh.

“Those were hopeful days for the Chicano community,” recalls Bert Corona, a longtime Mexican-American activist. “We thought we could get at least four ‘safe’ Chicano districts. After all, the reapportionment committee was made up of so-called liberal members and who had been more to the party than the Mexican-Americans?”

“Instead, we got nothing.”

“Why do you think Ed Roybal can not afford to be a truly Chicano congressman?” asks Enrique (Hank) Lopez, another longtime Mexican-American activist. “Because the district he ended up with has more blacks and Anglos than Chicanos.”

Lopez, who ran for California secretary of state as a Democratic candidate 12 years ago, recalls his campaign with anger.

“The party gave me a piddling $1,500 to run a difficult statewide campaign and Pat Brown refused to appear on the same platform as me,” says Lopez. “Hell, the party wouldn’t even let me use a float in the parade.”

Lopez, who is now a New York attorney and author but is presently teaching a Chicano course at UC Riverside, feels strongly that one of the reasons black have been more successful politically than Chicanos is that they don’t allow either party to take them for granted.

“Blacks have learned to work within both parties and have not been blinded by unrealistic party loyalty as have Chicanos,” says Lopez.


Chicano politicians think that as a result of the treatment they have received from the Democratic Party, Mexican-Americans are becoming politically sophisticated enough to ignore their differences for the sake of eventually electing Chicano candidates.

The trend in the barrios right now is Chicanos first, party second. And the emphasis is on organization more than election.

Herman Sillas, who is running for state controller, is the only Mexican-American candidate officially endorsed by such Democratic bigwigs as Jess Unruh and Sen. Alan Cranston as well as the Mexican-American Unity Congress and the Mexican-American Political Assn.

The two Chicano organizations, however, have refused to endorse Unruh in the primary as they would have automatically in the past. Instead, they are supporting Richard Romo, a Peace and Freedom Party candidate for governor, if nothing else because he’s a Chicano.


At the Mexican-American Political Assn. endorsing convention in Fresno, MAPA president, Abe Tapia, a candidate for the 45th assembly district, urged Chicanos not to support “traditional liberal Anglo candidates, merely because they are ‘friends,’ unless they declare themselves as being in full support of all Mexican-American candidates as well as in full support of the farm workers and grape boycott.”

In the barrios at least, Tapia, who has been endorsed by Cesar Chavez, seems to be getting the message through.

As for the Republicans, Chicano politicians feel Mexican-Americans will fare better when a presumed Republican-dominated Assembly will reapportion political districts in 1972.

“In wanting to strengthen their own districts, the Republicans will tend to isolate the Chicano areas and so give us the Chicano districts the Democrats should have give us and never did,” say MAPA strategists.