John F. Kennedy in Houston and Dallas, TX November 21-22, 1963

jfklulacTina Adame couldn’t stop smiling hours after meeting President John F. Kennedy and First Lady Jackie Kennedy.

The First Couple surprised Mexican American guests at a LULAC gala in Houston, and Tina went over every detail to anyone who listened the next morning at the engineering firm where she worked.

The president spoke about the importance of Hispanics in the country, she said. Then, Jackie addressed the crowd in Spanish. “It was magical,” Tina recalled.

Her boss, a Kennedy critic, overheard her talking about the visit to co-workers. “So, you got close to the president?” he asked. “Did you shoot him?”

Tina didn’t know what to say as her boss walked away shaking his head. At that moment, the president was leaving a Fort Worth, Texas breakfast. His next scheduled visit was Dallas.

In the law offices of Houston civil rights attorney, John J. Herrera, he, too, talked nonstop about the president’s visit. It took much back and forth with White House aides to make it happen, and now that it did, Herrera believed Latinos were finally national players after years of being ignored.

“This changes everything,” he told his son, Mike.

Kennedy was the first presidential candidate to aggressively reach out to Latino voters. Jackie Kennedy cut a Spanish-language television commercial. And during the televised debates with Richard Nixon, Kennedy used the words “Mexican and Puerto Rican” in his opening statement in a discussion about poverty.

Herrera had been a major player with the Viva Kennedy! Clubs that sprung up in the 1960 campaign. He promised the White House they could do it again. The president just needed to pay his respects to the Latino voters who helped give him the needed edge in the close election.

At the office the next day, Herrera retold the story of Kennedy’s visit to anyone who listened. Yes, he admitted, he was nervous. But he was about to see the president, again. Herrera planned on taking a 1 p.m. bus to Austin for a special Texas barbecue dinner before the First Couple flew back to Washington.

The bus would have cold drinks and a mariachi band for the three-hour trip.

As Herrera put on his coat, a lawyer next door ran into Herrera’s office. “President Kennedy has been shot in Dallas!” he yelled. Herrera and all the office workers ran to a radio.

Someone read the Associated Press Flash: the president was dead.

Herrera ran to a bathroom. He threw up. He looked up at the light and screamed uncontrollably, so loud his son would say years later he still hears his late father’s cry late at night.

Mike and Judge A.D. Azios kicked opened the door and pulled Herrera out. They escorted him to his car, and Mike drove his father home. The lawyer’s whole family, who had joined him in meeting Kennedy the night before, greeted him at the door.

“They have killed my president…they have killed my president,” Herrera repeated.

Then, he collapsed.

[Russell Contreras, an AP reporter in New Mexico, is on the Twitter. He’s also writing a book on JFK.]

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