¿Qué Pasa, USA? The State of the Latina Address
At 17 percent of the U.S. population as of the 2013 census, Hispanics are the nation’s largest ethnic or racial minority. Yet Latinas make up less than 2 percent of members of Congress. It was not even three decades ago, in 1989, that Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen became the first Latina to serve in the House. Since then, only 10 more Latinas have served in Congress, and a Latina has yet to be elected to the Senate. I can’t help but think of that old Cuban TV show, “¿Qué pasa, USA?,” Spanish for “What’s going on, USA?”
The good news is that Latinas are making remarkable strides in attaining political office, especially over the last decade. Sonia Sotomayor became the first Latina U.S. Supreme Court justice in 2009, and the very next year Susana Martinez was elected governor of New Mexico — the first Latina to serve as governor of any U.S. state. Also in 2010, Lucy Flores became one of first Latina members of the Nevada Assembly. Now, with the 2016 election season underway, a number of Latinas are playing key roles in campaigns, including directing operations and public policy efforts. With such amazing role models, there is an opportunity for young Latinas today to start building off the work done by such poderosas — Spanish for “powerful women.” And one of the key ways to get started is through student government.
Research by Running Start found that 56 percent of women in the current U.S. Congress began their leadership careers in student government. Denison University graduate Ana Morales is already on track. As a sophomore at Denison, Morales attended a campus Elect Her workshop put on by AAUW and Running Start. Later, she ran and was elected to the Denison Campus Governance Association in 2013. Elect Her workshops like the one Morales attended and was inspired by have also been held at several Hispanic-serving institutions, including Crafton Hills College (Yucaipa, California); Mount San Jacinto College (Menifee, California); California State University, Chico; University of California, Merced; and the University of New Mexico.
By 2060, Latinos are expected to make up nearly one-third of the U.S. population. It’s critical that we empower Latinas to run — and win — government positions so that our nation’s leadership is reflective of our citizenry. Through Elect Her, AAUW and Running Start are helping change the face of leadership and train the next generation of Ileana Ros-Lehtinens, Michele Lujan Grishams, and Grace Napolitanos.
This post was written by AAUW Elect Her Intern Regina Monge.
Elect Her is the only national program that trains college women to run for student government and future political office.
Despite historic gains, women still make up less than 20 percent of Congress.
Women of color have often been the leading voices and innovators in the fight for gender equality.