Juán Francísco ... continued

Next Steps: Running For Office

I ran for City Council and I ran for State Rep. What was in my mind at the time was that we needed to begin to create the idea within the Hispanic community that it is possible to run for office. To me it was not just a matter of whether we won or lost. It was the education. That’s what I did. And so I went into it and I raised awareness and people began to say, why not? Why not?

When I ran [for office], I ran as a Republican, and this is how that happened: I attended a conference in Washington D.C. and I heard many very outstanding speakers talk about how the minority community can be more effective in politicking the United Stated, and I heard a particular black speaker who addressed the issue of loyalty, party loyalty. And I was listening very carefully because he said something that stuck in my head from that time on. He said, you know, if you really look closely you would find out that most of the minority community in the United States identify primarily with the Democratic Party. This is because of tradition, and also because of the issues that the Democratic Party is supposed to represent, it’s the working class and this and that. But, to put all your eggs in one basket is a mistake, because they will take you for granted and if you say that you are just loyal to that party, then they are not going to pay attention to your demands, because you have nowhere else to go. He said we are going to be better if we begin to evolve from that and think that if we do play the game with the Republican Party, then the Democrats will not be able to take us for granted. And I saw that reality here very clearly.
So the economic base is there. And then you have the numbers. What the new laws in immigration have done in regard to new immigrants, is that it has forced people to actually become citizens. At the beginning some people were trying to fight that as a racist type of thing, but it’s not. It was a good thing, because now, more than ever we have lots of people who can vote.
Juan Francisco
Even though I wasn’t, or we weren’t involved full-fledged in the political process, I did notice how here the Minority community was so involved with the Democrats, yet, at that point in time, I [saw no Minorities] anywhere in power. I said why? Because they’re being taken for granted. I said, well that’s not going to happen in the Hispanic community, because if I can do anything about it, I will. I knew that it meant political suicide. It meant being ostracized so to speak.

As I said, this was very educational to me. It’s a matter of principle, and the Hispanic community is going to be gaining a lot by adopting this type of philosophy, I felt. So my philosophy is that I don’t like to just speak, but to set the example. And I presented the idea to the political committee, and so that committee, we determined that that committee was not going to be partisan committee, it was going to be bipartisan. So we had Republicans, Democrats and Independents inside that committee, and I represented the Republicanism, not the ideology of the Republican Party, although people probably think that, not that. . . I differentiated clearly enough as a believer in Christ. . . But I must say, Religion did play a role in my decision [to run as a Republican]. I noticed that the Democratic Party was very openly pro-abortion, and in my opinion I do not agree with that, so I said, that does it. It might be near-sighted and narrow-minded, but to me it meant a lot. But the main reason [I ran as a Republican] was that I wanted the Hispanic community to realize that this is a two party system and when you really look closely enough there’s not a great, whole difference between the two. You know, they’re going to discriminate against you whether they are Republicans or Democrats. So why then put all your eggs in the Democratic basket? And people began to say, true. So we began to support different party politics. Republican candidates, Democratic candidates, and that was very effective, because we found ourselves all of a sudden in power.

I think I was the first Latino in Rhode Island to run for office… Robert González was elected [as a delegate] to the Democratic Conference. I remember he ran for that and he was elected to that. As for other pioneers, there was Victor Mendóza [who today works for the state], José Alemán, who is the vice-principal of Central High School. Among the women, we have Rosario Peña, Olga Noguera...

As far as today’s Latino community and the issues they face, I think the issues are basically the same, because those will always be the general issues. Education, you know, it’s always an issue that never dies. Immigration, police brutality. . . But I also think there’s something else, and that is that we have made our presence felt. And I think in that sense there’s a little bit more respect than there was at that time. Today, we have more Latinos in the police force and other areas. We’re still blocked from certain areas, but that’s beginning to change when you have an elected Latino Councilman. And, you know, I think that people for the first time in the Latino community are beginning to think about the idea of a Hispanic mayor. I think about it all the time. I don’t think [about who it would actually be] right now, I’m not that naive in politics not to realize the political structure, what it is right now. And I don’t want to override [by saying we will soon have a Hispanic mayor], and I realize that our black brothers and sisters have been here long enough, and much longer than us, and I wouldn’t like to…it’s not immediate because I think that probably you’ll see, maybe a black mayor before that happens. I’m just counting the hours until a black or Hispanic comes up and says, ‘I want to go through it. I think that kind of issue should be supported whether it’s a Hispanic or a black or whatever.’ But I think that minorities are not opposed to making a difference, even on that level. And I think the people in power know that. But if people woke up and realized all the power they have now, and I think that’s beginning to happen, and they made a concerted effort to exert their influence . . . you know, we have the economic base. You can’t walk through Providence without seeing the Hispanic businessman in action. They’re all over the place. Our presence is there.

So the economic base is there. And then you have the numbers. What the new laws in immigration have done in regard to new immigrants, is that it has forced people to actually become citizens. At the beginning some people were trying to fight that as a racist type of thing, but it’s not. It was a good thing, because now, more than ever we have lots of people who can vote. So, at least, I think we are a deciding force in elections now, and the evidence is not just simply the numbers. The politicians know they can no longer ignore [the numbers], it’s reflected in the decisions that are being made. Latinos are considered for the School Committee, people who had worked in the community, so many Hispanics now there, whereas before if you had one it was a big deal. And that I think is going to increase, and if any politicians want to survive politics and they ignore the power now of the Hispanics in the city, then I think that they do not know what they are doing. So, it’s a real thing that’s happened. Imagine when the Hispanic voters and the black voters enter into an agreement? That’s possible I think. You know, that’s the way that the first Hispanic to be appointed to the School Board was selected, it was that way. It was a coalition between blacks, Hispanics and others who got together and decided that the injustice had gone on long enough. ◼︎

Interview by Indira Stewart.
March 2000

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