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Column: Sentiment of Minority Building for Chicano Voting Rights Act

Roberto Aragon goes to Harvard soon but intends to return and fight for what he calls a “Chicano Voting Rights Act.”

As executive director of the Greater Los Angeles Urban Coalition, Aragon could not rightly speak out on controversial issues. His decision to resign his post and work on a university master’s degree changed all that. Overnight he’s become publicly what he’s been privately all along—a Chicago activist.

Aragon belongs to what might be described as a Chicano Kennedy-type family. He has six brothers, each of whom is impressive in his own way.

His brother Manuel is general manager of the City of Commerce Investment Co. and formerly executive director of EYOA. The other brothers are Charles, who has been writing pop and rock music for years; Joe, who will start his third year at USC law school and was chairman of the Chicano Law Student Assn. last year; Lalo, who is working on his doctorate degree at Harvard Business School; Luis, who has just completed his fist year at Yale, and Conrado, who plans to go to law school after he gets out of the Army.

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Among the many projects in Roberto Aragon’s teenage mind is a plan which would change the Immigration and Naturalization Act so that many thousands of Mexican legal alien residents in this country could become citizens by taking their naturalization tests in Spanish.

The foundation of this project is a bold challenge to the widely held premise that English is the national language. Spanish, he contends, is as much a part of the Southwest as cactus and as “American.”

He figures there are about 250,000 Mexican nationals who are permanent adult residents of Los Angeles, Orange and Riverside Counties. Yet, in each of the last three years fewer than 500 Mexican nationals have become citizens in this three-county area. Reason? Most of the 250,000 do not speak English.

As long as there is no massive outlay of public funds to teach these people English they should be allowed to take citizenship tests in Spanish, Aragon argues.

(Non-English-speaking people over 65 years of age, by the way, are allowed to take citizenship tests in their native tongue, but Aragon is interested in the young, more active potential voter.)

The Chicano Voting Rights Act, says Aragon, would do for the Mexican-American community throughout the Southwest what the Voting Rights Act did for the black community in the South.

“Our estimates are that if the Spanish-speaking community could overcome its voter registration deficits which are rooted in the problem of noncitizenship, its political strength could be increased as much as 40% in California,” Aragon says.

“Without that, the Mexican-American community is unlikely to achieve any gains at all in its local, state or national representation.”

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The Chicano Voting Rights Act, Aragon says, is a must because the establishment, especially on the local level, cannot be trusted to look out for the needs of the Chicano.

Aragon, an optimist and idealist by nature, has recently been embittered by the Los Angeles City Council’s failure to include in a proposed new charter an amendment which would expand membership of the council from 15 to 17 members. Under this plan, which would form at least one district with a majority of Mexican-American voters, the election of a Chicago councilman would be possible.

The amendment, however, will be placed separately on the ballot and not as part of the new charter proposal.

“Putting the expansion plan separately from the charter is a sure way of killing the plan which might have given us at least one Chicano councilman,” says Aragon. “It’s the worst sort of tokenism.”

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Aragon figures that most of the money and effort will be spend on the charter proposal and that none will be left over to push the expansion plan.

The plan, spearheaded by black Councilman Thomas Bradley and supported by black Councilman Billy Mills and Gilbert Lindsay, “was ruined by so-called white liberal councilmen like Edmund Edelman who should be helping the Chicano community and are not,” says Aragon.

Edelman protests that the reason he supported the idea of separating the charter and the expansion plan was because that was the only way conservative councilmen would go along with the new charter proposal.

Nevertheless, Aragon represents a growing number of Chicano moderates who are losing faith with the white liberal establishment. That’s why, they say, some sort of Chicano Voting Rights Act is necessary.

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The fact the Mexican-American Political Assn. in its convention last weekend refused to endorse Jess Unruh, a while liberal, for governor and instead endorsed a Chicano Peace and Freedom Party candidate, Ricardo Romo, indicates the Chicano’s growing disenchantment with white liberalism.

It also shows a growing unity among Chicanos.

“I would have worked for Unruh,” says Aragon, “but after what the Mexican-American Political Assn. did I can’t.”

All this might mean a second term for Gov. Reagan, muse Chicanos, but right now Chicano unity, which means political power, is more important to them than who gets elected.


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