The Journey to Embolden Future Latinas for Public Office

By Jossie Flor Sapunar on 04/23/2014 @ 11:10 AM

Underrepresentation of Latinas in Office Urges Launch of Latinas Represent

25,000,000 Latinas live in the United States. Of the 8,236 seats in state and national political office, only 109 are held by Latinas. There are only nine Latinas in Congress, and three in statewide executive office. There has never been a Latina senator.

Women’s political representation in this country has long lagged behind that of men. Even with women’s representation in Congress at an all-time high, the U.S. House of Representatives has only 79 women of 435 members; the Senate, 20 women of 100 members. This is far from equal, given that women make up 50% of the nation’s population and more than half of regular voters. While progress is being made, with more and more women running for and winning higher office, LULAC is keenly aware that more must break through. As members of the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda, we urge you to support the Latinas Represent campaign at www.LatinasRepresent.org.

By: Leticia Van de Putte, Texas State Senator
For more than 85 years, LULAC has dedicated itself to building a better America for Latinos across the country, to helping us fulfill la promesa – the promise of the American dream.

We turn to LULAC because LULAC fights for us. They led the historic movement to desegregate schools so that we could be educated as equals. They fought for our right to be represented in the census, to be counted, to say with one voice, “estamos presente.”

We have come a long way. But we know la promesa is still not within the grasp of so many in our community. Those who live in the shadows and fear being torn from their families, or who cannot access quality public schools and find college beyond their financial means. The millions in my home state of Texas and across the country who know that one illness could bankrupt their family. And our sisters, the Latinas across the country, who still only earn 54 cents for every dollar a man makes.

In so many of our homes, it is women who are at the decision-making table. And they know firsthand that making 54 cents on the dollar doesn’t mean that groceries, or gas, or tuition is 46 cents cheaper. But that perspective is missing from elected office – the decision-making tables that affect not just one family, but all our families.

As a sixth generation Tejana, mother, and grandmother, I understand the struggles our community has faced, and continues to face. That’s why I have worked every single day to be a voice for Texas families in the State Senate, and why I am running for Lieutenant Governor. But I am one of only 97 Latina state legislators currently serving in office nationwide. There are only nine Latinas in Congress, and three in statewide executive office. And there has never been a Latina elected to the United States Senate.

Latinas have shaped the nation for generations. We have served in the military and led civil rights movements. We do not suffer from a shortage of patriotism or leadership. But we are still missing from the halls of power.

If we want laws that work for all of us, then everyone needs a voice and a seat at the table. If we are to make la promesa a reality, we must fulfill nuestra promesa – our potential, to lead.

We can start by supporting fantastic Latina candidates who are already running for office – women like Lucy Flores in Nevada; Nellie Gorbea in Rhode Island; and Amanda Renteria, Norma Torres, and Eloise Gomez Reyes in California.

But the real work begins at home. We must look to our schools and churches, and to our mothers, sisters, and friends, to find leaders who just haven’t been asked to run yet. These are the Latinas who are already shaping our lives and inspiring us, who may have never realized their experience qualifies them to run.

I was one of those Latinas. Twenty-three years ago I sat at our kitchen table and vented to my husband that the candidates running for my neighborhood’s House seat weren’t talking about the issues important to our community, and he replied, “Well then, why don’t you run?” The light bulb came on over my head – the qualified candidate had been me all along, but I didn’t realize it until asked. But now we don’t have to hope that our family or friends will ask the right questions. Today we also have organizations like Latinas Represent that actively seek female candidates and give them the tools they need to run for office and win.

I know that we can achieve progress if we elect leaders who share our values and understand where we come from – leaders who believe in their power to do good, and who are inspired by love for our country and its citizens. This is our call to action. This is how we finally make la promesa a reality.

Leticia Van de Putte is a Texas State Senator, and candidate for Lieutenant Governor. You can learn more about her at www.leticiavandeputte.com, on Twitter at @leticiavdp or at facebook.com/leticiavandeputte. To learn more about running for office, visit www.latinasrepresent.org.

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