As we celebrate Women's History Month, we must acknowledge the great strides that women have achieved in politics. But if we are ever going to build Latina political power, Latina leaders need the same political encouragement and support that men oftentimes take for granted. Beyond celebrating the progress Latinas have already made, we must push for the kind of structural change that will allow young women from our community to seriously envision themselves in positions of power, including, ultimately, the White House.
Latino Victory Project co-founder, Eva Longoria, has fought tirelessly to expand opportunities for Latinas and frequently mentions the need for more Latina politicians, as well as Latina CEOs and entrepreneurs. "As Latina women, we have to be present in the conversations. Latinas are the CEO's of the household. We make the educational, financial, and health care decisions for the family. It is very important to have many Latina leaders," Longoria said. "Only one percent of state and national elected officials are Latina, and we're hoping to change that." That is why Latino Victory Project's mission is in part to encourage and support Latinas in their run for elected office.
The statistics are jarring--and speak for themselves. Though there are approximately 25 million Latinas in this country, no Latina has ever served in the U.S. Senate, only one has served as Governor, and only nine currently serve in the 435-member House of Representatives. These numbers, of course, follow the overall trends for both Hispanics and women, respectively, as severely underrepresented groups in U.S. politics. Women are the primary breadwinner in approximately 40 percent of Hispanic households, yet they make only 55 cents to the dollar when compared to white, non-Hispanic males.
Furthermore, a comprehensive report released last year by Political Parity debunked the myth that the greatest barrier to women running for political office are not family demands, but rather fundraising requirements and party support.
Like EMILY's List and the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, Latino Victory Project knows that our democracy is in serious jeopardy when our legislative bodies do not look like the diverse constituencies of our country. As we strive to develop a pipeline of Latino leaders, we must pay particular attention to women. Fortunately, there are a number of emerging Latina leaders who make us very hopeful for the future and whom LVP will continue to support.
Recently, the Wall Street Journal reported Amanda Renteria is on the short list of potential candidates to become the national political director of Hillary Clinton's likely 2016 presidential campaign. Renteria worked for Senator Dianne Feinstein and served as the Senate's first-ever Latina chief of staff when she worked for Senator Debbie Stabenow. The Latino Victory Project proudly supported her 2014 run for Congress.
We are also encouraged by the work of outspoken Latinas such as Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez, who has served California in Congress since 1997, and New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who is the first minority to hold the city's second-most powerful political post.
As we look to the future, Latino Victory Project has just announced our endorsement of M. Lorena González for Seattle City Council at large. As a child of migrant farm workers who has spent her life advocating for immigrant rights, economic justice and the end to gender discrimination, she will be a great addition to not only the Seattle City Council, but to the critical group of Latina elected officials throughout the country.
We need to help Latinas recognize their value as politicians, as business owners, as CEOs, and as community leaders. In fact, our country depends on it. As Eva Longoria has said, "You can't ignore that Hispanics represent the fastest-growing demographic in this country. The future success of America is intricately tied to the future success of the Hispanic community. And it's the women of these communities--the mothers, sisters, daughters--who make the world go around."
Latino issues are women's issues and American issues. In the Latino community, women are leaders and when we elect more Latinas, we strengthen our nation.
Follow Cristóbal Joshua Alex on Twitter: www.twitter.com/CristobalJAlex