Editor’s Note: This piece first ran on October 15 in the Houston Chronicle. The author recahed out to us and gave us permission to republish it here.
HOUSTON — In 2018, the LULAC Council 60 Clubhouse on Bagby Street was designated a National Treasure by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. To mark the occasion, I took some time to look over files we have stored and saved for the makings of our own museum someday.
That is when I saw a sign from decades ago that made me realize how important our work is.
The sign read: “Buy your poll tax before January 31. Be ready to vote.”
I remember as a young boy when my father, A. John Castillo, as a member of LULAC Council 60, would sit at the neighborhood Weingarten’s in Near Northside and volunteer to sell the poll tax to our area residents made up of mostly Mexican Americans. I often heard our neighbors say that they wanted to vote but just couldn’t afford the tax, a whole $2. It was a sacrifice, and for families on a fixed income, it was a hard sell. But my father sat there, day after day, tenacious and committed. He would tell me that only by voting could these types of Jim Crow tactics be challenged and eliminated.
I had not thought of those days for a long time.
Now, I am the president of that same LULAC Council that my father served. Finding that sign reminds me that we still have a lot of work to do to defy the direct and indirect efforts to disenfranchise and disempower our community by making it harder to vote.
This brings me to take a stand on behalf of LULAC Council 60 and our community and condemn Gov. Greg Abbott’s recent move to reduce to only one drop-off site per county for mail-in ballots.
This reminds me of that poll tax designed to make it that much harder for people in our community to vote.
Although mailing their ballots is an option, if elders prefer to drop them off and they have to drive an hour out of their way, it looks like an update of charging hard-working families to vote—make it cost more time, more research, more energy. This is shameful.
This brings back to me that sad memory of the past efforts to suppress our right to vote as American citizens.
Abbott knows that our county encompasses over 1,700 square miles. Does he care about the safety and well-being of the citizens of Texas? Did he not take an oath to protect our state?
He should encourage and empower voters to exercise their right to vote. Voting is not a privilege. It is a constitutional right. It is time to leave Jim Crow tactics and lay them to rest as part of our tragic past.
I am outraged that Abbott won an appeal over a court’s decision to overturn this move. And I am troubled by the Texas Republican Party’s suit against drive-thru voting, though the suit has been tossed out for now.
Any changes now to the voting rules are much too close to the elections and may lead to once again discouraging citizens from exercising the most important American right—voting.
The entire notion is offensive. Abbott should not only drop his appeal. He also owes my father an apology.
Al Castillo is president of LULAC’s historic Council 60.