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Puerto Rico Herald Interview with Rick Dovalina

President, League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC)

October 29, 1998

PRH: Really nice to be with today, Mr. Dovalina. You're in Washington today. I know your base of operations is in Texas and that you're here on a very special occasion. What was that occasion?

Rick: Well, we were invited to a state dinner at the White House last night. The president of Columbia was being welcomed in Washington and we were part of the delegation that was invited. It was a great event. It was one in a lifetime type-thing.

PRH: That's good and it's also an indication of the attention that is being given to Hispanic leadership, in the whole political process here in the United States. It's becoming a very, very important part of our political tapestry.

Rick: It is. We enjoyed having Newt Gingrich the Speaker at our convention in Dallas this year. And also the governor of Texas, who is a candidate for president, George Bush. We got a lot of flak from some of our members, because they were Republicans and we were inviting them to come speak at our convention. But, it's part of the process. We need to come to the table with these people. They need to know exactly how Hispanics feel about issues. And what better way than to sit down with them, face to face and talk about the issues.

PRH: Well is it in the interest of your organization and Hispanics generally to be making inroads into both parties?

Rick: Yes, very much so. Both parties dictate legislation in this country that effects Hispanics. And of course we need to be part of that process. We need to be part of the process where we get the laws in place that are going to be pro-Hispanic and help our people in this country.

PRH: LULAC I know for a long timeIs LULAC the oldest

Rick: LULAC is the oldest grass roots civil-rights organization in the country. We started in South Texas in 1929. So we're getting into our 70th anniversary this coming year. We're going back to Corpus Cristi, Texas for our convention where LULAC started.

PRH: What's the idea of LULAC?

Rick: LULAC started back the because there was blatant discriminationHispanics were not allowed to vote in Texas, Hispanics were not allowed to attend the same schools as everyone else, it was segregated. We were not allowed to go many places where whites would go. It started, three organizations got together and formed this united group. And basically, their goal was to fight that discrimination for equal rights. And it was very, very basic goals back then. It was pure fighting and discrimination. Now we've progressed into a different type of sphere in that now we no longer face that discrimination so blatantly, but we still have these movements now that we need to address. A movement to end affirmative action, the movement to end bilingual education in the country, that type of activity.

PRH: And do you see the political process as a part of your effort to achieve those objectives?

Rick: It's got to be. It's got to be the number one way that we're gonna affect change in this country, and that is by getting out the vote. It's alarming to me that Hispanics in five years will be the largest minority in this country, and that we already have the majority in ­ Hispanics ­ in education, in schools. There are already more Hispanics in the school system than any other minority. It's alarming to me that we're growing so much in these numbers, and we still don't have the political clout that should be associated with those numbers.

PRH: How do you get that?

Rick: Well, obviously number one is education. We need to educate our younger group of kids so that when they reach the age of eighteen, the age to vote, they will be interested in the process to vote. And number two, obviously, also is to get more people out, get them involved in politics, get the mentality to the point where, hey, they think they can make a difference, they know they can make a difference.

I'll give you a good example. Our friends from Puerto Rico, to them politics is a national sport, I'm told. They vote over eighty percent. And if we could learn something from our brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico, we could learn how they get so involved, enthused, in the process, it would be a great help to the Hispanics here in the Mainland. Because we don't vote in those numbers. We have the registered numbers, we just don't get out. We're working right now with several other groups in finding out ways that we can get the people out to the polls.

PRH: Now, your group, as I understand it, is predominantly Mexican-American. Is that a true thing?

Rick: That's true, it's now to the point where we're probably 60 to 70 percent, we do have a large population of Puerto Rican members, from the island of Puerto Rico, we have a Cuban delegation for Florida, and we're working with a Dominican Republic group from New York.

PRH: Obviously you find that you need to coalesce with different groups for certain issues. Has that been a successful effort?

Rick: I think it has. I think Puerto Rico is a prime example of what we can do as an organization nation-wide. When we started growing in Puerto Rico, they have certain issues that they wanted to address n Puerto Rico; and because of our presence in the United States, because of our long history as a civil rights advocacy organization in Washington, D.C., we're able to gather the forces, if you may, and support those issues. So Hispanics now are throughout the United States.

PRH: I'm sure you're aware of the fact that Puerto Rico's gonna have a so-called plebiscite; and I know that you and your group were very instrumental in coalescing with other groups to try to urge members of Congress to authorize that plebiscite; and although that effort fell short, still Puerto Ricans are going to be voting for certain ­

Rick: There was a resolution that was passed by the Senate that was positive at the very end.

PRH: Yes, that's right. That is true. My question is that one of the options in that plebiscite describes statehood. And no one knows how the plebiscite is gonna turn out, but if Puerto Ricans should decide to vote in favor of statehood, then of course there'd be a long fight here in the United States to have those wishes honored by Congress. And my question to you is, if that were the case, would you and your group argue for statehood - if that were the choice of the people - and what arguments would you use?

Rick: First of all, our position on this matter has been that we are for self-determination; and regardless of whether they become a state or want to become a state, that is a Puerto Rican issue on the island, they can vote on that. Our basic strategy was that, hey, we're fighting, it's a basic civil rights position, it's a right to self-determine their future, they participate, they don't have all the rights of citizens although they are citizens - they cannot vote- that's a very basic civil right that LULAC stands for.

By the same token, their men serve in the military, they die for this country, and yet they don't have the basic right to vote for the president that sends them to that war. So they're very basic civil rights that we're fighting for.

If they decide to become a state, if they vote and that's the route they want to take, certainly LULAC will take a position in favor of supporting their right.

Number one, if Puerto Rico becomes a state, we have approximately four, four and a half million more Latinos that are counted in the Census, which mean that there will be more moneys allocated for Latinos. You know, you get more Hispanics, you get more moneys allocated to these ventures.

The number two, of course we pick up two Hispanic Senators in the House. We don't have anybody right now, and so that would be a feat in itself to get two senators. And then we'll pick up six or seven more Hispanic legislators in the Congress, so that works for us.

We all gain by having more Hispanics counted, because right now, like I said, there's four million people on the island that . . . get counted, but they don't go into the numbers process for funding. So it would be a win-win situation for all Hispanics in this country to have Puerto Rico as a state.

And for their own well being, it's not a question of whether or not Cuba's ever gonna, that embargo's gonna to lifted, it's just a matter of time now, as I see it; that embargo gets lifted, there will be tremendous trade with the island, and of course Puerto Rico's further away, they may suffer, and so we want to rest assured that their future is secure.

PRH: Good. Well, thank you Mr. Dovalina.

Rick: You're welcome.

Related Articles:

ASSOCIATED PRESS, "Hispanic Vote Gaining Clout"

ORLANDO SENTINEL, "The Awakening Giant: Hispanic Voters Made the Difference"

LULAC, "Hispanic Voters Make Historic Gains"

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