By Marshall Garvey
As the issue of immigration reform is debated in Washington and America witnesses a growing Latin American voting demographic, many might be surprised to learn that the first “Latino” President was none other than Richard Nixon. In his first year in office, 1969, he established the Cabinet Committee on Spanish-Speaking People. Throughout his presidency, he would appoint more Latinos than any President had before, including John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, and would remain unsurpassed until Bill Clinton in the 1990’s.
In fact, Latinos had more impact on a presidential election in 1972 than ever before, or since. Seeking re-election, President Nixon reached out to the Latino community discussing his strategy to funding education, health, small business, and other programs in Latin American communities in areas like Texas, California, and the Southwest. He was often joined by some of his most prominent Latino appointees, including Cabinet Committee chairman Henry Ramirez, U.S. Treasurer Ramona Banuelos, and Office of Economic Opportunity head Phillip Sanchez. The strategy proved successful, for both the President and the Latino community.
Even today, after recent Presidents such as Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama have made substantial efforts to appeal to Latin American demographics, President Nixon’s historic appointments still warrants singular recognition. Henry Ramirez, now 84 and the author of the memoir “A Chicano in the White House,” claims President Nixon was the best friend Latinos ever had in the White House.
In a phone conversation with journalist Tony Castro, Ramirez said, “There was one day when Nixon called me into the White House that I’ll never forget. Nixon had lived among Mexicans and Mexican Americans in Whittier. He knew us. He knew us intimately. He says, ‘Henry, we anglos have built and invisible wall of discrimination against your people, and you and I together are going to knock that wall down.’ That’s all Nixon wanted to do. That’s all we were really trying to do.”
Below, watch the Nixon Legacy Forum on Creating Opportunities for Latino Americans