The landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965 made minority representation in government possible in the United States — and that includes Miami-Dade.
In the decades since, minorities have had to fight tooth and nail — not just to earn minority representation in government, but to keep it, and not see our presence diluted by efforts such as those shamefully advanced last week by Fabiola Santiago in what I think was a racist column.
Santiago’s attack is toward my belief, as a candidate for the largely Hispanic Miami-Dade Commission District 5, that it would be better represented by a Hispanic who has lived in the county all his life, and not the incumbent and my opponent Ohio-born Commissioner Eileen Higgins, who has not. The same principle applies to Black districts: They would be better represented by Black commissioners.
Santiago criticizes me for, among other things, “inflammatory fliers” that say: “A Hispanic district should have a Hispanic commissioner” or for reminding voters, I was “raised in Miami with our values.”
Such words are no less racist because they are channeled through a Cuban American like Santiago.
In the 1986 landmark decision of Thornburg v. Gingles, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down any attempts to impair minorities’ ability to elect representatives of their choice in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.
Since then, the courts have consistently rejected attempts to dilute the power of the minority vote and their right to elect members of their own community into government.
In Meek v. Metropolitan Dade County, in1992, a federal court found that Miami-Dade was diluting Black and Hispanic voting power in violation of the Voting Rights Act, preventing minority voters from electing their preferred candidates to the County Commission.
The court struck down the county’s unfair voting practice. This historic ruling is what allowed the legendary Congresswoman Carrie Meek, who was the lead plaintiff, to correct that wrong.
Two former mayors of Miami, the late Puerto Rican-born Maurice Ferre and Cuban-born Xavier Suarez, represented the Hispanic plaintiffs, who were also parties.)
County Commission seat for District 5, which includes all of Little Havana, the heart of the Cuban-American community in Miami, was created in the aftermath of this landmark ruling to correct that wrong. It was created so Hispanics could have representation.
Cuban Americans were not handed our representation in local government — we fought for it.
We had to scratch and claw, and kick down doors when necessary to earn our rightful voice in this community. Our labor continues to bear fruit to this day for the benefit of other Hispanic communities, having elected Puerto Ricans and a Colombian-American to the Miami-Dade Commission.
We did so, we earned it, and we are proud.
I have campaigned among voters from all walks of life, political parties, races and nationalities in this non-partisan race, and the vast majority agree with the notion that minority districts deserve minority representation. As the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and Courts across the land have said, time and time again, loud and clear.
The residents of District 5 deserve a commissioner who represents their shared values, and yes, their shared roots.
Cuban Americans have experienced racism and discrimination in the past.
It has not stopped us before, and it sure won’t stop us now.
Renier Diaz de la Portilla is an attorney and a candidate for the Miami-Dade Commission, District 5. He is a former state representative and Miami-Dade School Board member.