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A Latinx Resource Guide: Civil Rights Cases and Events in the United States

1974: Southwest Voter Registration Education Project

"Su Voto Es Su Voz" (Your Voice is Your Vote).

—Willie Velasquez

Camilo J. Vergara, photographer. Voting, alley by Whittier Blvd. and Dittman Ave., Los Angeles, 1997. 1997. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

In 1974, William C. Velasquez, a former founding member of MAYO, in San Antonio, Texas established the Southwest Voter Registration and Education Project (SVREP), a nonpartisan organization championing voter participation and political empowerment among Latinxs and other minorities.

Through grassroots organizing, SVREP conducted door-to-door registration drives and Spanish-language voter campaigns in areas with low voter registration rates. In 1991, SVREP chartered the Southwestest Voter Research Institute (later renamed the William C. Velasquez Institute) to produce critical research and analysis on Latino/a voting patterns, provide public policies, and increase the Latinx electorate influence. In addition, SVREP and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) paired up during the 1970s to address and file lawsuits against gerrymandering, a political maneuver restricting the Latino/a or minority electorate from gaining political representation. With over 75 legal lawsuits filed, SVREP and MALDEF succeeded in redrawing multiple electoral districts from oppressive gerrymandering practices.

Velasquez died in 1988 at the age of 44 as Texas reached 1.2 million Latina/o voters, doubling their participation from 1980. The organization continued its advocacy and initiatives, and by 1991, 13 southwestern states had SVREP charters. Under Andrew Hernandez’ tenure as president, the organization evolved into the international arena, organizing election drives and/or researching and overseeing elections in Nicaragua, Costa Rica, El Salvador, and South Africa. They delivered extensive reports to the Reagan administration.

From 1994 to 2018, Antonio Gonzalez served as president of SVREP, expanding the Latinx electorate from 5.4 million to 15.5 million. SVREP sued over 100 cities and school districts for suppressing voter practices. Currently, Lydia Camarillo serves as the president of SVREP, during a time when the Latinx electorate is projected to reach 17.5 million.



William C. Velasquez organizes the Citizens’ Voter Research and Education Project as an assistant director of field organizing with the National Council of La Raza (now known as UnidosUS).

1972-1974 The Southwest Voter Registration Education Project (SVREP) is organized and founded by William C. Velasquez, who becomes the president of the organization.
1977 SVREP and MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund) file lawsuits against gerrymandering in southwestern states.
1977-1980 SVREP mobilizes the Native American electorate in New Mexico and Arizona and the African American community in Texas.

SVREP charters the Southwest Voter Research Institute (now known as the William C. Velasquez Institute), the polling and research component of the organization.

1988 The Southwest Voter Research Institute produces comprehensive research on voting patterns in Nicaragua and Costa Rica; Willie Velasquez dies while Mexican American registered voters reaches 1.2 million; Andy Hernandez becomes president of SVREP.
1991 The Southwest Voter Registration Education Project is chartered in 13 southwestern states.
1993 Elected Latina/o representatives increases to 259% since the founding of SVREP in 1974.
1994 Antonio Hernandez becomes president of SVREP.
1995 President Bill Clinton awards the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Willie Velasquez, the second Latino to receive that distinction.
1997 The Southwest Voter Research Institute renames itself to The William C. Velasquez Institute, in honor of its founder.
2006 The Latino/a electorate reaches 10 million.
2018-Present Lydia Camarillo becomes president of SVREP; under her tenure, Latinx registered voters have surpassed 15.5 million.


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