This election has been a historic one for Latinos – more than 32 million U.S. Latino voter registrations were accounted for, the most in U.S. history, and Latino votes were responsible for some of the biggest state flips across the country. Latinos not only made a big impact at the polls and in local elections, but also in the race for elected officials.
At last week’s elections, several Latinos were voted in to fill seats in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Among the notable names are Afro-Latino Ritchi Torres (D), who succeeded Rep. José Serrano (D) of New York’s 15th Congressional District, who stepped down after his Parkinson diagnosis last year. Torres’ victory, along with Mondaire Jones’ in New York’s 17th congressional district, makes them the first openly gay Black congressmen.
“I hope I can represent the possibility that a poor kid, a kid of color, a LGBTQ kid from a place like the Bronx, can overcome the odds and become a member of the United States Congress,” Torres said in an interview.
In another first, in New Mexico, the state with the highest proportion of Latino voters, Teresa Leger Fernandez (D), won the election for the state’s 3rd Congressional District, becoming the first woman to fill the seat. Fernandez, who is a breast cancer survivor, said issues surrounding sustainability, immigration, economic opportunity and education are her priority.
“Congress needs to pass comprehensive immigration reform that creates a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, keeps families together and treats everyone with dignity,” Fernandez told the Albuqurque Journal. “Congress must also pass the DREAM Act, which must also extend to dreamers’ families.”
Meanwhile, in the Senate, fellow New Mexican Ben Ray Luján (D) became the fifth Latino senator, joining Democrats Bob Menendez of New Jersey and Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, and Republicans Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida.
“Thank you, New Mexico! Tonight, our campaign showed that people power can elect the son of an ironworker and a public school employee to the Senate,” Luján tweeted early Wednesday. “I’m grateful for every vote we earned — and no matter who you voted for, it will be my honor to work for you in the Senate.”
But, despite the victories, Hispanics continue to be largely underrepresented. The U.S. population is 18.5 percent Hispanic, and for there to be equal political representation there would have to be at least 78 seats filled by Hispanics in the House of Representatives. However, a study by NALEO Educational Fund pointed out that this year’s elections could be a start towards beginning to close that gap.
“Latinos are running for top offices in 36 states,” the study said. “The geographic diversity of Latino candidates demonstrates that Latinos are mobilizing for political progress in both the traditional Latino population centers, and in regions with emerging Latino communities such as the Plains States, the Midwest, the Deep South, and New England.”
And, thanks to last week’s victory, the Latino voice is finally resonating stronger in communities across the country.
“The people of New Mexico have chosen to protect what we love – our democracy, our planet, our families and communities, our health care and our future,” said Fernandez after winning the election. “With this victory, I promise you I will take the courageous action that this historic moment demands. Muchísimas gracias!”