As the 2016 presidential campaign season ramps up, there’s a lot of talk about the “Latino vote” and the Latinas behind the 2016 presidential candidates. This relatively new focus on the Latino vote – together with the inclusion of Latinos in campaigns – is a promising sign that Latinos will be taken into account when public policy is shaped. However, Latinas are already making history as candidates in their own right. In fact, Latinas have won seats across the country, and many made history on Tuesday. Even more, many of these Latinas were advocates and champions for their communities even before they decided to run.
Take Judith García for example. At the age of 24, she serves as a bilingual counselor at Health Care for All, where she advocates for members of her community to gain access to health care services. She also volunteers in several capacities to improve housing and living conditions, sustainable waste disposal, and educational success in Chelsea, Massachusetts, where she was born and raised. García was elected to represent her community as a Chelsea City Councilor for District 5.
In Colorado, Jordan Sauers joined Judith in becoming an elected Latina Millennial. Jordan however, made history by becoming the first Latina to hold her seat. No stranger to forging a path where there isn’t yet one, she is a founding board member of Latino Young Philanthropists and ACCESSO. When interviewed by LatinasRepresent about why she chose to run, Sauers was quoted saying, “I understood if I wanted things to change, I had to do them myself.” Now that she has been elected to Northglenn’s City Council to represent Ward 1, she will be able to do just that.
Lorena González also made history when she was elected to Seattle’s City Council Position 9. As a candidate, she has built her platform around affordable housing and social inequality, grounded in her past experience with these issues – and there’s a lot of it. In fact, González has been recognized by several national organizations for her work with civil rights law. During her time as legal counsel for Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, she has also helped draft legislation to overcome institutional inequality. This includes helping to introduce and pass a paid parental leave policy for city employees. There is no doubt that her commitment to upholding civil rights and fighting injustice will serve her well in her new role.
In Yakima, Washington, two Latinas have made history as well in a different way. Recently, the American Civil Liberties Union won a case against the City of Yakima because of the suppression of the Latino vote in City Council races. This case, involving the Voting Rights Act, changed the Yakima City Council districts. In the wake of this re-districting, Dulce Gutierrez and Avina Gutierrez ran and won seats on the Yakima City Council. They became the first Latinas elected to Yakima’s City Council – simultaneously. Dulce, only 26 years old, was elected to represent Yakima City Council, District 1. She was raised in Yakima and chose to return home after attending college at the University of Washington. She works at a local business, and has served as State Committeewoman for Yakima County. Avina will represent Yakima City Council, District 2. At the age of 35, Avina runs her own consulting firm, joining the growing ranks of Latina entrepreneurs. On the council, she hopes to improve Yakima’s infrastructure and strengthen neighborhood associations to improve overall public safety.
What do these women have in common? They are all a part of a movement of Latinas getting involved in politics. Moreover, most of these women are the first Latinas to serve in the positions to which they were elected. And consider this: Latinas currently hold a mere 1.7% of the total seats in state legislatures and 1.2% of the total seats in Congress – despite the fact that Latinos make up 17% of the total population. This means that there are 9 Latinas in the 114th Congress, all of which are in the House of Representatives, since the United States has yet to elect a Latina to the Senate. This is not surprising, considering the first Latina congresswoman, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, was first elected in 1989. But as Judith, Jordan, Lorena, Dulce, and Avina have proven, lack of precedent won’t stop Latinas from running for office.