A Latino Political Voice Emerges
Meanwhile, Latinos were also making waves in territorial politics, as politicians debated the use of the Spanish language in government proceedings. In 1868, Colorado’s Territorial Supreme Court objected to the use of the Spanish language in Territorial courts. This was a blow to Latino communities, as they were attempting to find their way in the new Anglo-dominated world of Colorado politics and law.
As communities began encountering the challenges of U.S. hegemony, grassroots organizations surfaced to protect those rights. El Comite de la Merced (the Land Grant Committee), formed in 1871 in San Luis, Colorado, offers one exam-
ple. It was likely the earliest formal grassroots Latino organization in the state. Community leaders formed this group to defend the community’s legal communal land rights, granted to them under the original Sangre de Cristo land grant and protected by the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. The communal land at the center of this activity was the mountainous portion of the original grant named La Sierraâ by the locals.
In addition to such grassroots activity, in the 1870s Latino politicians mobilized their influence in state government. In 1876, Casimiro Barela, Jesus Maria Garcia, and Agapito Vigil played crucial roles in the creation of Colorado’s Constitution at the Constitutional Convention. They lobbied successfully to have the state’s Constitution published in Spanish, English, and German. This apparent shift in the political winds from the 1868 Territorial Court Ruling underscores the ambivalence surrounding issues of race and citizenship in Colorado, as well as the political power wielded by Latino politicians. Interestingly, Latino politicians, such as Casimiro Barela and Agapito Vigil, also lobbied for women’s suffrage in Colorado.
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