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South Texas Living


Reminiscing: Election customs of the past




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Julia Castro
Apple Pie and Salsa
November 13, 2013 | 2,313 views | Post a comment

By the time this article is published, the November elections in our area will be history. Henry and I did our civic duty and voted. We had our voter registration cards in hand when we walked into the voting place. I finally learned to keep mine in the same place so that I could easily find it. There were many times in the past when I couldn’t find it and I would have to sign another paper. And once they had trouble finding me on the list at the courthouse. It was because I had changed my signature from Mrs. Henry Castro to Julia M. Castro. I wanted my own identity.

Later that evening of election, I was reflecting on elections of the past. When I was very young I would hear Papá and Mamá discussing upcoming elections. There were certain families that really got into it. Not only Anglos but the Mexican community as well. That was when you had to pay for a poll tax in order to vote. There were Mexican families who could not afford to pay for it so they didn’t vote. That’s when the politicians went to work. They would recruit people to work for them to get other people to vote for them. They did the legwork. They would offer to pay for their poll tax if they would vote for their candidate. If the person held out, they threw in a sack of flour or beans or some other staple food. Once they paid for their poll tax, there was nothing really to keep that person from voting the other way. But most of them did because they were gullible and were afraid the other person would come back and reclaim their “offering.” That’s what my folks used to say. Papá had a steady job at the Red & White Store so he paid his own poll tax. I don’t remember if Mamá voted or not. I think the women would just let the men worry about the politics.

I remember when I was in high school a couple of girls I knew got into an argument about politics on the school grounds. At one point one yelled to the other one, “Well, at least my dad can’t be bought for a sack of flour!” That remark resulted in some pushing and shoving. It did not come to the attention of the teachers so nobody got in trouble.

Sometimes politicians ignore women. Some years ago one came to our house to ask Henry for his vote. I was in the same room but he didn’t bother to ask me. “Bully for you,” I thought to myself. So I didn’t vote for him.

Another custom of the past was that the patriarch of a family would mandate who the family would vote for, including extended family. Not so anymore and that’s the way it should be.

They did away with the poll tax in 1964, but Henry sometimes still refers to his registration card as his “poll tax.”

Julia Castro, a retired Head Start teacher and mother of 10, lives in Floresville with her husband, Henry. Her email is juliamcastro1@gmail.com.
 

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