Mexican American Democrats

By: Cynthia E. Orozco

Type: General Entry

Published: May 1, 1995

Updated: August 2, 2020

Mexican American Democrats, a statewide organization of Democrats founded in 1975 to promote the interests of Mexican Americans, represented a shift away from the nationalist politics of the Raza Unida party. In 1972 Mexican Americans formed a caucus at the state Democratic convention and selected eighteen Mexican-American delegates and nine alternates to the Democratic national convention in Miami that year. They helped elect Joe Bernal to the Democratic National Committee, the first Mexican American ever to serve on that committee. In 1974 Houston city comptroller Leonel Castillo decided to run for state Democratic party chairman at a convention where 300 of 4,000 delegates (or 7 percent) were Mexican Americans. He mustered 43 percent of the vote, raising the political hopes of Hispanic Democrats and anti-Republican Anglos. Between 1974 and 1976 Mexican-American delegates to the state convention tripled, thus providing a broadening base for action. Membership is not limited to Mexican Americans.

In January 1976, Mexican American Democrats held its first state meeting in Austin. Bernal was elected temporary chairman and Rick Hernández, a MAD founder, executive director. Among the committees in 1977 were Voter Registration and Screening and Endorsement. In 1982 the constitution stipulated that the chairman and vice chairman of the organization be of the opposite sex. The purpose of the organization was "to seek full representation of Mexican Americans at all levels and in all activities of the Democratic Party, taking appropriate public stands on issues relevant to our communities; and proposing, supporting, and when necessary, opposing legislation relevant to the Mexican American community." Members selected the first permanent officers in October 1977 in Waco. Chairmen have included State Representative Matias (Matt) García of San Antonio (1977–79), Marc Campos of Houston (1979–81), Richard Moya of Austin (1981–83), Juan Maldonado of San Juan (1983–85), Ruben Bonilla of Corpus Christi (1985–87), Norberto Salinas of Mission (1987–89), Nora Linares of San Antonio (1989–91), and Roberto Alonzo of Dallas (1991–93).

Outstanding members have included Alfonso Pérez and Mary Castillo (Houston), labor leader Pancho Medrano and Adelfa Callejo (Dallas), Minnie García and Sylvia Hernández (San Antonio), Alicia Chacon (El Paso), Judith Zaffarini (Laredo), and Margaret Gómez (Austin). At its height in the late 1970s MAD had forty-seven chapters and 6,000 members. In 1991 it had thirty-three chapters and 3,226 members. In September 1976 MAD had nine representatives on the state Democratic Executive Committee. In 1990 more than 1,000 Mexican Americans (not all MAD members) attended the state convention. MAD has pressed for state-level appointments and worked to place Hispanic staff in policy-making positions on statewide campaign staffs. It has made endorsements on the local, county, and state level and promoted Mexican-American officeholders and candidates. In 1990 MAD supported Dan Morales in his successful race for attorney general. In 1976 Jimmy Carter tried to get MAD's endorsement but could not muster the two-thirds vote needed; individual members nevertheless helped him win Texas. In 1988 MAD collaborated with twenty-nine South Texas county judges in support of Michael Dukakis. MAD's work has led to several high-level federal appointments of Mexican Americans. Carter named Leonel Castillo commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service and Rick Hernández director of operations of the Small Business Administration.

MAD cooperates with the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, the Southwest Voter Registration and Education Project, and the Mexican American Legal and Defense Education Fund, especially in the areas of legislation, voter registration, and redistricting. MAD opened state headquarters in Austin and Houston in May 1976. In August 1979 it opened a state office in Austin with Grace García as executive director. A meeting is held annually. MAD has published a newsletter since the 1970s.

Joe Bernal Papers, Benson Latin American Collection, University of Texas at Austin. Vertical Files, Benson Latin American Collection, University of Texas at Austin.

  • Peoples
  • Mexican Americans
  • Organizations
  • Associations
Time Periods:
  • Texas Post World War II

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Cynthia E. Orozco, “Mexican American Democrats,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 14, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

May 1, 1995
August 2, 2020

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