Latinos are one of the fastest-growing populations in this country. However, there are few Latina leaders in politics and public policy to serve the unique needs of their communities or to serve as role models to propel more Latinas into the political arena.
The numbers are alarming. Twenty-five million Latinas live in the United States, yet no Latina has ever served in the U.S. Senate and only one has been elected as governor. In our nation’s history, with some 12,000 members of Congress, only 10 have been Latinas. Of the 8,236 seats in state and national political office, only 109 are held by Latinas. Statistically speaking, Latinas make up 1.3% of state senators and representatives and less than 1% of state executives.
More than 125 women, primarily Latina, were encouraged to run for political office or seek appointed positions at all levels of government at LatinasRepresent Boston–an event held at UMass Boston on September 29.
Hosted by the Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy, based at the John W. McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies, in partnership with the Gaston Institute and the Women’s Pipeline for Change, LatinasRepresent is joint initiative of Political Parity and the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda to call out the lack of elected Latina leaders and change the political landscape to reflect all Americans.
Prominent Latina elected officials, including Massachusetts Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz, as well as current and former candidates shared candid insights based on their own experiences running for elected office. Chang-Diaz urged participants to "exercise the power we all have in us to speak.” She also noted that it has to be the “right time in your life” to run for office.
Latina participation in politics can help rebuild trust in government remarked Nellie Gorbea, a candidate for Rhode Island’s secretary of state: "It really matters to people that there is someone who will stand up and speak out for them.” She encouraged participants considering public office: “If you are here, you are ready for office. If wait until you are ready, you will never run.” Gorbea also added that for those who were not inclined to become candidates that “there are ways of trying to change the world other than running for office. Listen to your inner voice.”
Ivette Hernandez, a 2014 primary candidate for a Massachusetts state representative seat representing Springfield, described her life journey to political involvement. This included a teenage pregnancy in her native Puerto Rico and surviving domestic violence. She eventually earned her master’s degree in social work and began to see patterns in the problems facing her community that could only be addressed at the policy level. She talked about the responsibility to act and noted that, “It is up to those of us who are informed to turn around and inform others.”
Ambassador Swanee Hunt, founder and chair of Hunt Alternatives and chair of Political Parity, underlined the need for a more “responsive and reflective democracy,” and explained, "If our country is going to advance, we need 100% of our talent pool.” Kerry Healey, former lieutenant governor of Massachusetts and co-chair of Political Parity, encouraged the potential candidates to find allies: “Find those women who are willing to support you and make sure your talents are properly used.”
Ann Bookman, director of the Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy, said the purpose of LatinasRepresent was to offer “insight about the challenges that face Latinas interested in seeking elected or appointed office,” and to “consider what we can do collectively to change the political landscape of the Commonwealth.” McCormack Graduate School Dean Ira A. Jackson noted the stark underrepresentation of Latinas in public office and stressed the McCormack Graduate School’s “commitment to a more effective democracy where all parties are represented.”
Political Parity is a nonprofit, non-partisan program of Hunt Alternatives accelerating the energies of leaders, researchers, and funders to change the face of U.S. politics. The National Hispanic Leadership Agenda is a coalition of the nation's 37 preeminent national Latino organizations. The event aimed to unite stakeholders and communities in Massachusetts, lift up effective strategies and models of success for public service leaders, embolden Latinas to pursue public leadership roles, and drive an on-going conversation and action steps about the need for a political system that fully reflects all Americans.
See the Univision TV coverage of the event (in Spanish)