Joe Salazar, the embattled Democratic representative from Thorton, Colorado, had a victory this week. A measure he sponsored designating February 2-8 as Chicano History Week passed the legislature with overwhelming bipartisan support — a happy win for a lawmaker whose race-related measures, including a Native American mascot bill, have been easy targets for Republicans to kill.
With his House seat up for grabs in the 2016 elections, Salazar is considered a vulnerable Democrat. But that isn’t why five Republicans say they voted against Chicano History Week.
We’re all Americans, they said. Why single out one group over another? One lawmaker argued the measure is divisive.
The resolution recognizes the history of Chicanos and Chicanas in Colorado, and how “intellectual development of the proud Chicano community includes not only American accomplishments but also accomplishments that predate the first English settlements in the United States by centuries.”
Introducing the measure in the House on Feb. 2, Salazar reminded his colleagues that he was doing so on the anniversary of the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which ended the Mexican-American war. In the years since, he said, Mexican-Americans in the United States have been impoverished, placed in inferior schools, and for a time were not allowed to participate in court proceedings.
“This is an important moment in this General Assembly and this august body to know about,” he said.
Multiple Democratic lawmakers spoke in favor of the resolution for roughly half an hour.
But when the time came to pass or reject the bill, five House Republicans voted no. They were: Reps. Justin Everett, Steve Humphrey, Patrick Neville, Lori Saine, and legislative newcomer Tim Leonard.
Littleton lawmaker Everett didn’t want to vote for something “that’s going to separate us or divide us instead of bring us together,” he said, adding:
“I just don’t like singling out any group. We ought to be talking about what brings us together instead of divides us, and I don’t think that Salazar’s resolution did that, so I’m not going to support it. I want to have a dialogue on what brings us together, what makes us Americans, what makes us Coloradans. And playing the kind of politics that divides us just doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.”
Neville, of Castle Rock, gave a similar explanation for his vote.
“I’m kind of tired of dividing people into different classes,” he said. “I guess I’d rather us all work together instead of being put into classes, especially based on race. I’d rather we make character judgements than race, that’s kind of where I’m at.”
Asked if he worried a vote like this could turn into a campaign bludgeon during election season in a state with so many Latino voters, Neville said, “I suppose they could try, but again, we should be judging people by their character, not based on ethnic background or anything like that. It’s based on accomplishments.”
Saine, of Weld County, said her vote was less about specific language in the text of the resolution than it was about what she felt was a divisive debate on the House floor over the measure. The resolution, she said, highlights one culture over another.
“We’re all Americans,” she said. “And all cultures are valuable.”
Reps. Steve Humphrey of Severance and Tim Leonard of Evergreen couldn’t be reached by the time this story was posted. We’ll update it if we hear from them.
The full text of the Chicano History Week resolution is as follows:
WHEREAS, The date that the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed, February 2, 1848, is commonly regarded as the birth date of Chicanos; and
WHEREAS, People of Indigenous and Mexican origin and descent have greatly contributed to the economy, development, and growth of this state and the nation, serving the arts, business, media, industry, agriculture, education, and society in myriad ways; and
WHEREAS, Despite being promised the rights of citizenship by treaty, the early Mexican-Americans were stripped of their land, homes, and property; and
WHEREAS, The early Mexican-Americans faced seemingly insurmountable hardships; their basic rights were denied, their language and culture were suppressed, and their opportunities for employment, education, and political representation were thwarted; and
WHEREAS, As with many national boundary changes resulting from war treaties, the historical documentation of the early Mexican-Americans was destroyed and their constitutional rights were abrogated, leaving them stripped of their dignity, unique culture, and recorded contributions to society; and
WHEREAS, The illusory superiority of the supposed conquerors of the Mexican-American people resulted in the promotion of a disparaging image of those of Mexican descent; and
WHEREAS, Chicanos recognize that they are the result of a unique confluence of histories, cultures, languages, and traditions; and
WHEREAS, The State of Colorado served as a pivotal battleground for Chicano rights starting in the 1960s that still continues today; and
WHEREAS, Colorado’s very own Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales, a world-renowned boxer, poet, and political activist, founded the Crusade for Justice and convened the first-ever national Chicano Youth Leadership Conference in March 1969; and
WHEREAS, From the Conference came El Plan Espiritual de Aztlan, a manifesto demanding self-determination for Chicanos; and
WHEREAS, Gonzales also released the internationally and critically acclaimed poem “Yo Soy Joaquin”, which still speaks to the Chicano struggle to achieve economic and social justice in the United States; and
WHEREAS, Gonzales recognized that the political establishment has always been adverse to the Chicano community, particularly in education, so he and his wife, Geraldine Gonzales, along with several families, founded Escuela Tlatelolco in 1970 to lay a foundation of academic excellence, cultural pride, confidence, and leadership for all children; and
WHEREAS, Colorado’s contribution to the Chicano Movement also served as a catalyst in the founding of incredible organizations in the San Luis Valley, Pueblo, Denver, and on college campuses statewide, many of which exist today; and
WHEREAS, In a complex and diversified cultural society, it is essential to understand, accept, and appreciate all traditions and lifestyles in order to eliminate prejudice and the other effects of stereotyping that have plagued our nation for centuries; and
WHEREAS, The people of this state must recognize that the cultural and intellectual development of the proud Chicano community includes not only American accomplishments but also accomplishments that predate the first English settlements in the United States by centuries; now, therefore,
Be It Resolved by the House of Representatives of the Seventieth General Assembly of the State of Colorado, the Senate concurring herein:
That we, the members of the General Assembly of the state of Colorado, hereby proclaim the week commencing February 2, 2016, as Chicano History Week in Colorado, in recognition of the multitude of Chicanos and Chicanas throughout the great state of Colorado, and their Indigenous and Mexican ancestors, who had the courage and determination to stand up, face, and improve the economic, educational, political, and social lives of Chicanos and Chicanas locally and nationally.
Be It Further Resolved, That copies of this Joint Resolution be sent to the family of Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales; the Colorado Latino Leadership, Advocacy, and Research Organization; Servicios de la Raza; the Colorado Latino Forum; the Executive Director of the Colorado History Museum; the Executive Director of the Denver Public Library; the Superintendents of all Colorado school districts; the mayors of all Colorado municipalities; all Colorado county commissioners; all Colorado public university college presidents; and Colorado’s Congressional delegation.
[Photo credit: marc falardeau via Flickr]