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How Willie Velásquez Organized for Latino Voting Rights

Few people have had as profound an impact on the political empowerment of America’s Latino electorate as Willie Velásquez. His grassroots work registering and mobilizing Latino voters, starting in his home state of Texas, parlayed the frustrations, hopes and pride of a diverse, fast-growing segment of the U.S. population into a powerful force at the ballot box.

He became especially known for his rallying cry, “Su voto es su voz” (“Your vote is your voice”).

Unlike the voting rights work of southern Black activists like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Medgar Evers and John Lewis, which garnered wide national attention at the time, Latino voting rights efforts in the American Southwest flew much more under the radar. But the impact of Velásquez and the group he founded in the early 1970s, the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project (SVREP), is no less impressive. By the time of his death at age 44 in 1988, SVREP had fostered hundreds of Latino political candidates, organized countless nonpartisan voter drives to engage poor, disenfranchised Latinos and successfully litigated more than 75 lawsuits to help reverse gerrymandering, eliminate language barriers and other suppressive voter practices.

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