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Puerto Rico Herald Interview with Rick Dovalina
President, League of United Latin American Citizens
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
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
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
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.
ASSOCIATED PRESS, "Hispanic
Vote Gaining Clout"
ORLANDO SENTINEL, "The Awakening
Giant: Hispanic Voters Made the Difference"
LULAC, "Hispanic Voters Make