riHE EXPANDED horizons of Houston's Latin
American community took definite political shape
in 1958. Until then most political observers con
sidered the Latin American vote in Houston negligible,
being relatively small and with little unity.
In the summer of 1958, however, the Ciyjc Action
Committee (CAC) was established. The CAC evolved
from the support of Roy Elizondo, Alfonso Vazquez, E.
_P. Leal, and Dr. Alff eao Hernandez-for the candidacy ul
■^. State Senator Henry B. GonzalezTor Governor of Texas.
Gonzalez came to "speak in Houston and his vitality
inspired these individuals to rally Houston Mexican
Americans in support of his campaign.
This nucleus of people enlisted the help of friends,
relatives, and neighbors, and key figures from various
community organizations including Mary Lopez, Al
Matta, David Ortiz, and Koy Soiiz. Many""o"f"the men
were veterans of World War II and Korea. The group was
comprised of a mixture ot longtime noustonians and
relative newcomers to the city.
The CAC was truly a grassroots organization, resembling other spontaneous political groups coalescing
in Mexican American communities across the Lone Star
State. Its core membership consisted of twenty to thirty
people and their families who met regularly in homes
and in popular restaurants.
Houston's CAC broke political ground in 1959 by
holding several extremely successful fundraisers for
Gonzalez during his energetic though unsuccessful bid
for the state's highest office. These events involved
husbands, wives, children, and other relatives, thus
making the political process a family affair.
Responding to the alarming reality that in 1958 only
1200 Latin Americans had paid poll taxes in Houston,
CAC members launched a systematic poll tax drive
within the Houston Mexican community during late
1958 and early 1959. They organized a group of over
thirty people led by Alfonso Rodriguez, Walter Avalos,
Genaro Flores, Ruth Valdez and Carmen Lopez. They
concentrated their efforts in Magnolia Park, the North
Side and the Second Ward, in such places as theater
A^kr^/*/L^7) lobbies and food markets. On Saturday nights they
V would mount the stage at local night clubs during the
bands' intermissions to implore Mexican American
audiences to pay their poll tax so that they could make
their political will felt. They solicited at predominantly
Mexican American Catholic churches on Sundays.
In addition to advocating direct political participation
of Latin Americans, early in 1960 the CAC joined with
LULAC and the G.I. Forum to study and promote a free
lunch program in the Houston Independent School
District. Their action was sparked by a school board
member's remark that Mexican American children did
not need free lunches because they would rather eat
In 1960, the CAC became absorbed in the presidential
campaign of John F. Kennedy. Enthusiasm for the
candidacy of the charismatic, progressive, Catholic
Senator was overwhelming among Mexican Texans.
Because of their support for Gonzalez, the CAC leadership was contacted by state-level officials of the Viva
Kennedy-Johnson Clubs in Texas to head a local effort in
Houston. The CAC responded by establishing an office
in Second Ward, and the Viva Kennedy-Johnson Club
attracted many local Mexican Americans to its ranks.
The club sponsored letter-writing campaigns, poll tax
drives, bumper sticker brigades, telephone banks, and
community get-out-the-vote rallies in support of the
entire Democratic slate. These efforts incorporated both
longtime Mexican American political activists and new
participants in the political process.
The momentum of the successful 1960 campaign led
to the CAC becoming the Harris County chapter of the
Political Association of Spanish-speaking Organizations
(PASO) in October 1961, with Genaro Flores and John
Castillo as chairman and vice-chairman, respectively.
Roy Elizondo became district chairman of PASO and
eventually state chairman. >
Harris County PASO expanded its membership among
the middle and working classes and held political functions
of up to a thousand people. PASO members saw themselves as among the political vanguard of Texas Mexicans,