When Latinas Succeed, America Succeeds

04/13/2015 01:13 pm ET | Updated Jun 13, 2015

At the age of 42, my mom went back to school to obtain her college degree. I still remember sitting around the dinner table with my mom and six siblings doing our homework at the same time. After raising seven children and instilling in us the value of education, my mom returned to school to become a bilingual education teacher.

It takes a lot of courage to do something like that -- to return back to school later in life. It's that courage of our mothers and grandmothers that makes the Latino community strong and moves it forward.

By 2050, 30 percent of the country will be Hispanic. With over 50 million Latinos in this country, we are poised to become a political powerhouse. These days, it seems like everyone is talking about the rise of the Latino community. It's the hottest new topic. But no one is focused on the Latina women who are one of the biggest driving forces behind that rise.

With that in mind, my Democratic colleagues and I in the U.S. House of Representatives have been fighting to advance an economic agenda for Latinas. Latinas deserve equal pay, higher wages, and paid family leave. These are three issues I am also most passionate about in Congress.

Latinas are the lowest paid workers in the country. In general, women earn 78 cents for every dollar paid to their male counterparts. For Latinas, the wage gap is even more severe: we're paid 56 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men.

Pay equity has a real impact on the entire family. When my mom became a bilingual education teacher, her salary affected all nine of us.

Equal pay goes hand in hand with higher wages. It's imperative that we pay our country's workforce sustainable, living wages. Increasing the federal minimum wage is an issue House Democrats strongly support.

Earning higher wages allows people to move up the economic ladder. If we as Latinas are paid more, our community will see more upward mobility. Without disposable income, upward mobility is that much harder. If we don't have disposable income, we can't enroll our children in little league, SAT prep courses, or any of the other extracurricular activities they need to be competitive in life.

I want my son Joaquin to have all the opportunities available to his peers. He's only five years old but, like other parents, I'm constantly thinking what I can do to help him be successful.

For Latina moms, we need to ensure our families have access to better paying jobs, paid family and medical leave, paid sick days, and affordable child care. We deserve to have children without sacrificing our job -- and we should not risk hardship if we take a day off to care for a sick child or sick parent.

I consider myself fortunate because I have flexibility in my workplace. If my son has a meltdown in the morning and I am running a few minutes late for work, I know I don't run the risk of having my pay docked or losing my job.

However, that is not the reality for millions of women across this country. They are only one doctor appointment, one late paycheck, or one car breakdown away from economic hardship.

Latinas are students, lawyers, cooks, janitors, teachers, Supreme Court Justices, and Members of Congress. We are mothers, daughters, sisters, cousins, nieces, aunts and grandmothers. Latinas are primary breadwinners and caregivers, no matter whether they are single or married, young or old. It's the women who nurture and sustain our community. The future of our country depends not just on the success of the Latino community, but on the success of Latina women.

A version of this piece first appeared in Latina Style Magazine.

Congresswoman Linda T. Sánchez is Chairwoman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC). Founded in December 1976, the CHC is organized as a Congressional Member organization, governed under the Rules of the U.S. House of Representatives. The CHC is dedicated to voicing and advancing, through the legislative process, issues affecting Hispanics in the United States, Puerto Rico and U.S. Territories.