By National Women’s History Museum

Women Run, Women Win: Latinas in Congress

Explore the stories and important impact of Latinas in Congress in this exhibit

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U.S. Capitol, lazyllama, From the collection of: National Women’s History Museum
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Latinas on the Rise

The future of the United States is tied to the growing, energized, and dynamic Latina population.

The number of Latinas in the United States is around 30 million. By 2060, the U.S. Census estimates almost 1 in 3 women in the U.S. will be Latina. Across the country, states have seen their Hispanic population grow substantially between 2010 and 2020. This growing Latina population is also younger than non-Latinas. Since 1989, more and more Latinas from across the U.S. have served in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.

Representing diverse political perspectives, Latinas in Congress show the growing power of their communities in U.S. politics. They represent their constituents and create change for their communities and the country at large.

Growing racial and ethnic diversity in Congress (2021-01-28) by Pew Research CenterNational Women’s History Museum

The Most Diverse Congress In History

The 117th Congress is the most racially and ethnically diverse in the history of the United States.   Serving in the 117th Congress are 46 Hispanic members, both men and women. While Hispanic people make up 19% of the U.S. population, they make up only 8.5% of Congress.

Viva Kennedy Pin (2012) by National Museum of American HistoryNational Women’s History Museum

What is Propelling the Growth of Latina Representation?

Many pundits and politicians talk about a “Latino vote” as a bloc. But is there really a “Latino vote?”
 
The idea of the “Latino vote” is traced back to the 1960 Presidential Election and a “Viva Kennedy” campaign that spotlighted Mexican Americans and their concerns. 

I Voted - Spanish (2020) by State of Alaska Division of ElectionsNational Women’s History Museum

The Changing “Latino Vote”

Hispanic Americans cannot be generalized. The “Latino vote” is not a monolith but a diverse population who have various—and sometimes competing—concerns that dictate their vote. Latinas in Congress represent their communities' different interests and span all political parties.

Small in Number, Powerful in Action

In 1917, the first Congresswoman was sworn in. In 1989, the first Latina was elected to Congress. Through the 2022 special elections, 24 Latinas have served in both branches of Congress—1 in the Senate and 23 in the House. Latinas only make up about 3% of the voting Congress members.

68.2% of all Latinas in the U.S. live in Florida, New York, California, Texas, Arizona, and Illinois. Latinas have represented 4 of these 6 states in Congress. 37 states and territories have never elected a Hispanic representative. With the Hispanic population growth across the country, this could change.

Latina Congresswomen hold a powerful voice and have created powerful action. They have sponsored or cosponsored numerous bills in Congress, and many are now law.

Official Congressional portrait of Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (2012-12-11) by U.S. CongressNational Women’s History Museum

The First Latina in Congress

Elected in 1989, Ilena Ros-Lehtinen (R) became the first Latina and first Cuban-American elected to Congress. From 1989 to 2019, she represented FL-27 in South Florida—a diverse, majority Hispanic district that included much of Miami and the surrounding areas.

Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen answers questions from the media (2011-09-13) by House Foreign Affairs Committee RepublicansNational Women’s History Museum

Fleeing Havana as a child,

she emerged as a powerful critic of the Cuban communist regime in her Miami community. She also had support from her Cuban-American constituents for her commitment to human rights.

Ros-Lehtinen's Legacy

Ros-Lehtinen advocated for immigration reform, health care, and supporting victims of domestic violence. Having experienced the benefits of a good education, she became a staunch supporter of educational access.

She was the first Republican Congressperson to publicly support marriage equality and an original co-sponsor of the DREAM Act. During her tenure, she sponsored or cosponsored 4,330 bills in Congress. 288 became law.

The Senate Democratic Women (1992) by Senate of the United StatesNational Women’s History Museum

1992 was known as “The Year of the Woman.”

A record-breaking 28 women were elected to Congress—4 in the Senate and 24 in the House. Among those women were Latinas, Nydia Velázquez and Lucille Roybal-Allard.

Nydia M. Velazquez Official Photo (2018) by U.S. House Office of PhotographyNational Women’s History Museum

Nydia Velázquez

(D, NY-7)

Velázquez: A New York Advocate

Nydia Velázquez (D, NY-7) was the first Puerto Rican-born woman in Congress. She represents a large Hispanic population in a district that includes parts of Brooklyn, Lower Manhattan, and Queens. Her main priorities include helping working people, small businesses, affordable housing, and healthcare. She is also a champion for Puerto Rican self-determination. She has sponsored or cosponsored over 5,049 bills in Congress. 259 became law.

Lucille Roybal-Allard (2013-01-01) by United States GovernmentNational Women’s History Museum

Lucille Roybal-Allard

(D, CA-40) 

Roybal-Allard: DREAM Maker

Lucille Roybal-Allard (D, CA-40) was the first Mexican American woman elected to Congress by constituents in areas in and around Los Angeles, which is majority Hispanic. Roybal-Allard’s key priorities include immigration; alternatives to incarceration; healthcare; civil rights for women, BIPOC, and LGBTQ+ communities; and healthcare reform. She has sponsored or cosponsored over 5,553 bills in Congress. 264 became law.

She is a co-author of the DREAM Act.

Number of Latina Candidates for U.S. Congress, 2004-2020 (2020-08-05) by Center for American Women and Politics, Rutgers University Eagleton Institute of PoliticsNational Women’s History Museum

2018, Another “Year of the Woman”

In 2018, 255 women ran for office. 14 won their elections or reelections to the Senate, and 102 won in the House.

Among those who won were five Latinas: Veronica Escobar (D, TX-16), Sylvia Garcia (D, TX-29), Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D FL-26), Xochitl Torres Small (D, NM-2), and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D, NY-14).

Escobar, Garcia, Torres Small, and Ocasio-Cortez were also the first elected Latinas in their districts. Escobar and Garcia were the first Latinas to represent Texas in the House of Representatives.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (2018-11-30) by Franmarie Metzler; U.S. House Office of PhotographyNational Women’s History Museum

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

(D, NY-14)

AOC: A Vocal Advocate

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (“AOC”) is the youngest woman to serve in the U.S. Congress. Taking office at age 29, she represents constituents in the eastern Bronx and north-central Queens. Her main priorities include climate change, criminal justice reform, economic inequality, education, gun reform, healthcare, housing, and immigration reform.

Many see her as the face and voice of a movement and as one of the most recognizable and influential members of Congress. She has sponsored or cosponsored over 923 bills in the House. 25 are now law.

Jenniffer González-Colón (2017) by Kristie Boyd; U.S. House Office of PhotographyNational Women’s History Museum

Jenniffer González-Colón: Resident Commissioner

Since 1900, Puerto Rico has been represented by a Resident Commissioner. They now serve in the House of Representatives. González-Colón (R) has served as Resident Commissioner since 2017. She is the first woman in this role.

She has sponsored or cosponsored over 910 bills in the House. 42 are now law.

Flag of Puerto Rico, 2009-01-31, From the collection of: National Women’s History Museum
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Millions of Constituents, No Vote

González-Colón represents 5 times as many citizens as the average House member. Yet, she cannot vote on bills that affect her over 3 million constituents.

Due to Puerto Rico’s status as a U.S. Territory, it has no voting representatives in Congress. The Resident Commissioner may only vote in the committees he or she serves on, not for bills, officials, or Speaker of the House.

Congressional Hispanic Caucus (2021) by Congressional Hispanic CaucusNational Women’s History Museum

More Latinas Running for Congress

In 2020, at least 75 Latinas ran for Congress. 41 ran as Democrats and 34 ran as Republicans. 72 ran for House seats and 3 ran for the Senate.

Changing Priorities for Hispanic Voters

While more Hispanic Americans tend to vote for Democrats, over the past few election cycles there are increasingly more Latinas who vote for Republican candidates. In 2020, Republicans picked up more Hispanic votes than in 2016. This was particularly true in Florida, where 52% of Cuban-Americans voted for Republicans.

Texas has increased the number of Latina representatives in Congress, reflecting more recent demographic trends and the growing power of Texas’s Hispanic community. Texas has the second highest Latina population (5.7 million) in the country.

The Latino vote in presidential elections, 2008-2016, Pew Research Center, 2016, From the collection of: National Women’s History Museum
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Three Key Priorities Emerge

Since 2000, health care accessibility, the economy, and immigration have become top priorities for Latina Congresswomen and their constituents.

Sylvia R. Garcia, Insulin, Congresswoman Sylvia Garcia, 2022-05-23, From the collection of: National Women’s History Museum
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Health Care

Latinas are more likely to be uninsured and not have access to high-quality health care than woman in any other demographic group. According to the Census Bureau, in 2019 82.7% of Latinas were insured compared to 93.7% of white, non-Hispanics. Latina Congresswomen make health care affordability and accessibility central to their campaigns and priorities once elected.

Rep. Norma Torres (2017) by United States CongressNational Women’s History Museum

Of the 24 Latina members who have or are serving in Congress

18 cite health care among their top issues. Some of those who champion health care accessibility include: Grace Napolitano (D, CA-32), Jaime Herrera Beutler (R, WA-3), Norma Torres (D, CA-35) (pictured at right), Veronica Escobar (D, TX-16), Sylvia Garcia (D, TX-29).

Major laws sponsored or cosponsored by Latina Congresswomen include the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (2010).

The Economy

According to NBC, there are more than 12.6 million Hispanic women in the labor force—the second largest group after non-Hispanic white women. Hispanic Americans are also starting businesses at a faster rate than the national average across almost all industries. According to PEW, Latinas’ labor force participation has steadily increased for decades, a trend that is likely to continue.

The economy is of extreme importance to both business owners and workers. A poll by UnidosUS and Latino Decisions found that more Hispanics are concerned about their jobs and the economy than other issues.

Salazar introduces FORCE ACT, Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar, 2021-01-13, From the collection of: National Women’s History Museum
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Veronica Escobar Official Portrait, U.S. House Office of Photography/House Creative Services, 2019, From the collection of: National Women’s History Museum
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Maria Salazar (L) and Veronica Escobar (R)

Of the 24 Latina members who have or are serving in Congress, 14 cite the economy, economic opportunity, job creation, and/or small businesses among their top issues. Some of those who champion the economy include: Nanette Diaz Barragan (D, CA-44), Veronica Escobar (D, TX-16), Sylvia Garcia (D, TX-29), and Maria Elvira Salazar (R, FL-27).

Major laws sponsored or cosponsored by Latina Congresswomen include the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act or the CARES Act (2020).

Nanette Diaz Barragan, C-SPAN, 2018-06-21, From the collection of: National Women’s History Museum
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Immigration

Many Hispanics, including Latina Congresswomen, are the daughters and granddaughters of immigrants or immigrants themselves. Having directly experienced or heard the stories of their family’s experience of the U.S. immigration system, many Latina Congresswomen are passionate about immigration reform or border security.

Catherine Cortez Masto (2022-01-24) by U.S. Senate Photographic StudioNational Women’s History Museum

Of the 24 Latina members who have or are serving in Congress

11 cite immigration in their top issues. Many of these Latina members identify as Mexican Americans. Some of those who champion immigration reform include: Catherine Cortez Masto (D, NV) (pictured on right), Grace Napolitano (D, CA-31), and Terese Leger Fernandez (D, NM-3).

Major legislation sponsored or cosponsored include versions of The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, also known as The DREAM Act.

Latino Victory Logo, Latino Victory Fund, From the collection of: National Women’s History Museum
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Latinas Run, Latinas Win

Many groups are working to elect more Latinas to Congress. Latino Victory, a PAC that supports progressive Latino candidates, has a “First Latinas” program “aimed to increase Latina representation at all government levels by supporting Latina candidates who would be the first elected in their seats.”

House Republicans launched the Hispanic Leadership Trust, a PAC designed to protect incumbents and grow the Republican’s Congressional Hispanic Conference, in May 2022.

CHSA Logo by Congressional Hispanic Staff AssociationNational Women’s History Museum

Latinas beyond the Senate and House

Though more Latinas are joining the Senate and House, Latinas in Congress are not just the elected officials. They are staffers, custodial and cafeteria staff, public safety officers, and many others.

The Congressional Hispanic Staff Association represents the growing number of Hispanics serving as Congressional staffers. In 2021, Latinas were the majority of the CHSA’s Board of Directors.

Congressional Hispanic Caucus Members (2022-03-08) by Congressional Hispanic CaucusNational Women’s History Museum

The Power of Latinas in Congress

No matter the issue for which they are advocating, Latinas in Congress are on the rise. They represent their communities with their powerful voices while centering their cultural identity. More Latinas are voting than ever before, showing that when women run, women win.

Citations


AAUW Latina Initiative, "Status of Latinas in the United States," American Association of University Women, https://www.aauw.org/app/uploads/2021/07/StatusOfLatinas_2.0.pdf

Barbara Rodriguez, “‘The bench is loaded’: A record number of Latinas are running for governor,” The 19th, February 11, 2022, https://19thnews.org/2022/02/latina-governor-candidates-record-number-2022/

Benjamin Francis-Fallon, “Perspective: Where the ‘Latino Vote’ was born, The Washington Post, December 19, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2019/12/19/where-latino-vote-was-born/

CAWP Staff, “Latina Candidates in 2020, Center for American Women and Politics, Rutgers University, August 5, 2020, https://cawp.rutgers.edu/blog/latina-candidates-2020

Isvette Verde, “Opinion: Some Latinos Voted for Trump. Get Over It,” The New York Times, November 5, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/05/opinion/sunday/trump-latino-vote.html?searchResultPosition=1

Jenniffer González-Colón, Library of Congress, https://www.congress.gov/member/jenniffer-gonzalez-colon/G000582

Jenniffer González-Colón, U.S. House of Representatives, https://gonzalez-colon.house.gov/copyright

Jonathan Vespa, Lauren Medina, and David M. Armstrong, "Demographic Turning Points for the United States: Population Projections for 2020 to 2060," U.S. Census Bureau, February 2020, https://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/publications/2020/demo/p25-1144.pdf

Jose A. Del Real and Arelis R. Hernandez, “Democrats lose ground with Latino voters in Florida and Texas, underscoring outreach missteps,” The Washington Post, November 4, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/latino-vote/2020/11/04/8f510046-1edc

Julia Weis, “2020 Election Brings More Latino Representation to Congress,” Salud America, November 24, 2020, https://salud-america.org/2020-election-brings-more-latino-representation-to-congress/

Katherine Schaeffer, “Racial, ethnic diversity increases yet again with the 117th Congress,” Pew Research Center, January 28, 2021, https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2021/01/28/racial-ethnic-diversity-increases-yet-again-with-the-117th-congress/

Suzanne Gamboa, “Latinas are well represented in the labor force. In Congress, not so much,” NBC News, February 4, 2022, https://www.nbcnews.com/news/latino/latinas-are-well-represented-labor-force-congress-not-much-rcna14814

Sabrina Rodriguez, “‘A slap in the face’: House Dems’ Super PAC sparks Latino backlash,” Politico, April 17, 2022, https://www.politico.com/news/2022/04/17/house-dems-super-pac-latino-00025694

Credits: Story

Exhibit researched, written, and curated by Emma Z. Rothberg, Ph.D, Associate Educator, Digital Learning & Innovation.
Initial research conducted by Serena Zets, Fall 2021 Museum Education Intern.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.