Michelle Kells, Associate Professor of Rhetoric and Writing, recently published a book on Mexican American civil rights leader, Vicente Ximenes. Beginning as a grassroots organizer in the 1950s, Vicente Ximenes was at the forefront of the movement for Mexican American civil rights through three presidential administrations, joining Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society and later emerging as one of the highest-ranking appointees in Johnson’s administration. One of the most influential government representatives of Mexican American issues in recent history, Ximenes succeeded largely because he could adapt his rhetoric for different audiences in his speeches and writings. In Vicente Ximenes, LBJ’s Great Society, and Mexican American Civil Rights Rhetoric, Michelle Hall Kells elucidates Ximenes’s achievement through a rhetorical history of his career as an activist.
Kells draws on Ximenes’s extensive archive of speeches, reports, articles, and oral interviews to present the activist’s rhetorical history and begins each chapter with an excerpt from the collection that showcases Ximenes’s ability to negotiate multiple public spheres. Exploring Ximenes’s legacy against the backdrop of the Cold War era, Kells’s analyses illustrate how Ximenes effectively agitated for open, inclusive, and pluralist democracy at regional and national levels. After a discussion of Ximenes’s early life, the author focuses on his career as an activist, examining Ximenes’s leadership in several key civil rights events, including the historic 1967 White House cabinet committee hearings on Mexican American Affairs, and highlighting his role in advancing Mexican Americans and Latinos from social marginalization to greater representation in national politics. Kells concludes by reflecting on the later years of Ximenes’s life and his contributions to the post-World War II civil rights movement.
Vicente Ximenes, LBJ’s Great Society, and Mexican American Civil Rights Rhetoric shows us a remarkable man who dedicated the majority of his life to public service, using rhetoric to mobilize activists for change at the grassroots level as well as at the highest levels of government to secure civil rights advances for his fellow Mexican Americans.