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Measuring if we are further ahead 50 years later

November 24, 2018

During the recent midterm election cycle, a lot was said about young people not turning out to vote.

Many of them feel it doesn’t matter. Many think the process is too clunky and inconvenient. Many don’t care about elections because they don’t think the candidates reflect them and therefore, couldn’t possibly represent them.

All of that might be true, but it isn’t that hard to figure out: The young people who don’t vote choose not to make themselves heard for the same reason that they don’t dedicate much time to cholesterol readings; they believe time is on their side.

Thing is, things weren’t the same 50 years ago. In 1968, life in America was different than it is today. Americans were leaving home to fight a war in Vietnam and to march for civil rights here at home. And here in San Antonio, advocacy groups were forming in a part of the country that saw young Mexican-Americans denied the right to a solid education and punished for speaking Spanish at school.

Because San Antonio was the birthplace of a lot of Mexican-American social advocacy, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights held a six-day hearing at Our Lady of the Lake University in early December of ’68. The commission, a group that came to be because of the Civil Rights Act of 1957, focused on challenges facing Mexican-Americans back then, such as educational equity, equal protection under the law, fair employment practices and economic indicators that measured home ownership and income parity. The commission was the first government entity that took a real look at how these indicators affected the lives of Mexican-Americans in a move that was, at the time, described as holding up a mirror so the community could see how it was being represented.

Because of gatherings such as this, changes were made across the nation.

Last weekend, some of the people who were at that hearing half a century ago — along with many of those whose experience was changed because of hearings such as that — gathered at the OLLU campus on San Antonio’s West Side for “50 years later: Holding up a mirror,” a conference to reflect on what has changed and to see what still needs to be done.

Former San Antonio Mayors and HUD Secretaries Henry Cisneros and Julián Castro were part of a conversation Nov. 16 that addressed what still needs to be done. Cisneros talked about working locally and how San Antonio specifically can change things by addressing problems such as the lack of affordable housing and all of the things that are currently happening in Washington that shouldn’t be tolerated. But it was Castro, who has long advocated education as the key to a brighter future for the San Antonio community and who is working to create, who suggested that young people need to take a page from young people of 50 years ago.

Those young people, the 20-somethings who helped push for change in the late ’60s, are today’s 70-somethings. To put that into perspective, the youngest of those 20-somethings were contemporaries of Donald Trump, 72, and Henry Cisneros, 71.

By contrast, someone who turns 20 this December has never lived in a world without eBay, which might be one reason our system of voting seems so tedious and old-fashioned. That 20-something doesn’t really have a sense of an America where it was legal to rap someone on the knuckles for speaking Spanish in school.

So when conferences like the at Our Lady of the Lake force all young people of every stripe to take a good, long look at the way things are as opposed to the way things used to be — and how much of the job is still left — one can only hope that those young voters come away with a sense of why they need to keep things going.

Mariaanglinwrites@gmail.com

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