Latinas on the Rise
The future of the United States is tied to the growing, energized, and dynamic Latina population.
The number of Latinas in the United States is around 30 million. By 2060, the U.S. Census estimates almost 1 in 3 women in the U.S. will be Latina. Across the country, states have seen their Hispanic population grow substantially between 2010 and 2020. This growing Latina population is also younger than non-Latinas. Since 1989, more and more Latinas from across the U.S. have served in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.
Representing diverse political perspectives, Latinas in Congress show the growing power of their communities in U.S. politics. They represent their constituents and create change for their communities and the country at large.
The Most Diverse Congress In History
The 117th Congress is the most racially and ethnically diverse in the history of the United States. Serving in the 117th Congress are 46 Hispanic members, both men and women. While Hispanic people make up 19% of the U.S. population, they make up only 8.5% of Congress.
Viva Kennedy Pin (2012) by National Museum of American HistoryNational Women’s History Museum
What is Propelling the Growth of Latina Representation?
Many pundits and politicians talk about a “Latino vote” as a bloc. But is there really a “Latino vote?”
The idea of the “Latino vote” is traced back to the 1960 Presidential Election and a “Viva Kennedy” campaign that spotlighted Mexican Americans and their concerns.
The Changing “Latino Vote”
Hispanic Americans cannot be generalized. The “Latino vote” is not a monolith but a diverse population who have various—and sometimes competing—concerns that dictate their vote. Latinas in Congress represent their communities' different interests and span all political parties.
Small in Number, Powerful in Action
In 1917, the first Congresswoman was sworn in. In 1989, the first Latina was elected to Congress. Through the 2022 special elections, 24 Latinas have served in both branches of Congress—1 in the Senate and 23 in the House. Latinas only make up about 3% of the voting Congress members.
68.2% of all Latinas in the U.S. live in Florida, New York, California, Texas, Arizona, and Illinois. Latinas have represented 4 of these 6 states in Congress. 37 states and territories have never elected a Hispanic representative. With the Hispanic population growth across the country, this could change.
Latina Congresswomen hold a powerful voice and have created powerful action. They have sponsored or cosponsored numerous bills in Congress, and many are now law.
The First Latina in Congress
Elected in 1989, Ilena Ros-Lehtinen (R) became the first Latina and first Cuban-American elected to Congress. From 1989 to 2019, she represented FL-27 in South Florida—a diverse, majority Hispanic district that included much of Miami and the surrounding areas.
Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen answers questions from the media (2011-09-13) by House Foreign Affairs Committee RepublicansNational Women’s History Museum
Fleeing Havana as a child,
she emerged as a powerful critic of the Cuban communist regime in her Miami community. She also had support from her Cuban-American constituents for her commitment to human rights.
Ros-Lehtinen advocated for immigration reform, health care, and supporting victims of domestic violence. Having experienced the benefits of a good education, she became a staunch supporter of educational access.
She was the first Republican Congressperson to publicly support marriage equality and an original co-sponsor of the DREAM Act. During her tenure, she sponsored or cosponsored 4,330 bills in Congress. 288 became law.
1992 was known as “The Year of the Woman.”
A record-breaking 28 women were elected to Congress—4 in the Senate and 24 in the House. Among those women were Latinas, Nydia Velázquez and Lucille Roybal-Allard.
Nydia M. Velazquez Official Photo (2018) by U.S. House Office of PhotographyNational Women’s History Museum
Velázquez: A New York Advocate
Nydia Velázquez (D, NY-7) was the first Puerto Rican-born woman in Congress. She represents a large Hispanic population in a district that includes parts of Brooklyn, Lower Manhattan, and Queens. Her main priorities include helping working people, small businesses, affordable housing, and healthcare. She is also a champion for Puerto Rican self-determination. She has sponsored or cosponsored over 5,049 bills in Congress. 259 became law.
Lucille Roybal-Allard (2013-01-01) by United States GovernmentNational Women’s History Museum
Roybal-Allard: DREAM Maker
Lucille Roybal-Allard (D, CA-40) was the first Mexican American woman elected to Congress by constituents in areas in and around Los Angeles, which is majority Hispanic. Roybal-Allard’s key priorities include immigration; alternatives to incarceration; healthcare; civil rights for women, BIPOC, and LGBTQ+ communities; and healthcare reform. She has sponsored or cosponsored over 5,553 bills in Congress. 264 became law.
She is a co-author of the DREAM Act.
Number of Latina Candidates for U.S. Congress, 2004-2020 (2020-08-05) by Center for American Women and Politics, Rutgers University Eagleton Institute of PoliticsNational Women’s History Museum
2018, Another “Year of the Woman”
In 2018, 255 women ran for office. 14 won their elections or reelections to the Senate, and 102 won in the House.
Among those who won were five Latinas: Veronica Escobar (D, TX-16), Sylvia Garcia (D, TX-29), Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D FL-26), Xochitl Torres Small (D, NM-2), and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D, NY-14).
Escobar, Garcia, Torres Small, and Ocasio-Cortez were also the first elected Latinas in their districts. Escobar and Garcia were the first Latinas to represent Texas in the House of Representatives.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (2018-11-30) by Franmarie Metzler; U.S. House Office of PhotographyNational Women’s History Museum
AOC: A Vocal Advocate
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (“AOC”) is the youngest woman to serve in the U.S. Congress. Taking office at age 29, she represents constituents in the eastern Bronx and north-central Queens. Her main priorities include climate change, criminal justice reform, economic inequality, education, gun reform, healthcare, housing, and immigration reform.
Many see her as the face and voice of a movement and as one of the most recognizable and influential members of Congress. She has sponsored or cosponsored over 923 bills in the House. 25 are now law.
Jenniffer González-Colón: Resident Commissioner
Since 1900, Puerto Rico has been represented by a Resident Commissioner. They now serve in the House of Representatives. González-Colón (R) has served as Resident Commissioner since 2017. She is the first woman in this role.
She has sponsored or cosponsored over 910 bills in the House. 42 are now law.
Millions of Constituents, No Vote
González-Colón represents 5 times as many citizens as the average House member. Yet, she cannot vote on bills that affect her over 3 million constituents.
Due to Puerto Rico’s status as a U.S. Territory, it has no voting representatives in Congress. The Resident Commissioner may only vote in the committees he or she serves on, not for bills, officials, or Speaker of the House.
Congressional Hispanic Caucus (2021) by Congressional Hispanic CaucusNational Women’s History Museum
More Latinas Running for Congress
In 2020, at least 75 Latinas ran for Congress. 41 ran as Democrats and 34 ran as Republicans. 72 ran for House seats and 3 ran for the Senate.
Changing Priorities for Hispanic Voters
While more Hispanic Americans tend to vote for Democrats, over the past few election cycles there are increasingly more Latinas who vote for Republican candidates. In 2020, Republicans picked up more Hispanic votes than in 2016. This was particularly true in Florida, where 52% of Cuban-Americans voted for Republicans.
Texas has increased the number of Latina representatives in Congress, reflecting more recent demographic trends and the growing power of Texas’s Hispanic community. Texas has the second highest Latina population (5.7 million) in the country.
Three Key Priorities Emerge
Since 2000, health care accessibility, the economy, and immigration have become top priorities for Latina Congresswomen and their constituents.
Latinas are more likely to be uninsured and not have access to high-quality health care than woman in any other demographic group. According to the Census Bureau, in 2019 82.7% of Latinas were insured compared to 93.7% of white, non-Hispanics. Latina Congresswomen make health care affordability and accessibility central to their campaigns and priorities once elected.
Of the 24 Latina members who have or are serving in Congress
18 cite health care among their top issues. Some of those who champion health care accessibility include: Grace Napolitano (D, CA-32), Jaime Herrera Beutler (R, WA-3), Norma Torres (D, CA-35) (pictured at right), Veronica Escobar (D, TX-16), Sylvia Garcia (D, TX-29).
Major laws sponsored or cosponsored by Latina Congresswomen include the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (2010).
According to NBC, there are more than 12.6 million Hispanic women in the labor force—the second largest group after non-Hispanic white women. Hispanic Americans are also starting businesses at a faster rate than the national average across almost all industries. According to PEW, Latinas’ labor force participation has steadily increased for decades, a trend that is likely to continue.
The economy is of extreme importance to both business owners and workers. A poll by UnidosUS and Latino Decisions found that more Hispanics are concerned about their jobs and the economy than other issues.
Maria Salazar (L) and Veronica Escobar (R)
Of the 24 Latina members who have or are serving in Congress, 14 cite the economy, economic opportunity, job creation, and/or small businesses among their top issues. Some of those who champion the economy include: Nanette Diaz Barragan (D, CA-44), Veronica Escobar (D, TX-16), Sylvia Garcia (D, TX-29), and Maria Elvira Salazar (R, FL-27).
Major laws sponsored or cosponsored by Latina Congresswomen include the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act or the CARES Act (2020).
Many Hispanics, including Latina Congresswomen, are the daughters and granddaughters of immigrants or immigrants themselves. Having directly experienced or heard the stories of their family’s experience of the U.S. immigration system, many Latina Congresswomen are passionate about immigration reform or border security.
Of the 24 Latina members who have or are serving in Congress
11 cite immigration in their top issues. Many of these Latina members identify as Mexican Americans. Some of those who champion immigration reform include: Catherine Cortez Masto (D, NV) (pictured on right), Grace Napolitano (D, CA-31), and Terese Leger Fernandez (D, NM-3).
Major legislation sponsored or cosponsored include versions of The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, also known as The DREAM Act.
Latinas Run, Latinas Win
Many groups are working to elect more Latinas to Congress. Latino Victory, a PAC that supports progressive Latino candidates, has a “First Latinas” program “aimed to increase Latina representation at all government levels by supporting Latina candidates who would be the first elected in their seats.”
House Republicans launched the Hispanic Leadership Trust, a PAC designed to protect incumbents and grow the Republican’s Congressional Hispanic Conference, in May 2022.
CHSA Logo by Congressional Hispanic Staff AssociationNational Women’s History Museum
Latinas beyond the Senate and House
Though more Latinas are joining the Senate and House, Latinas in Congress are not just the elected officials. They are staffers, custodial and cafeteria staff, public safety officers, and many others.
The Congressional Hispanic Staff Association represents the growing number of Hispanics serving as Congressional staffers. In 2021, Latinas were the majority of the CHSA’s Board of Directors.
Congressional Hispanic Caucus Members (2022-03-08) by Congressional Hispanic CaucusNational Women’s History Museum
The Power of Latinas in Congress
No matter the issue for which they are advocating, Latinas in Congress are on the rise. They represent their communities with their powerful voices while centering their cultural identity. More Latinas are voting than ever before, showing that when women run, women win.
AAUW Latina Initiative, "Status of Latinas in the United States," American Association of University Women, https://www.aauw.org/app/uploads/2021/07/StatusOfLatinas_2.0.pdf
Barbara Rodriguez, “‘The bench is loaded’: A record number of Latinas are running for governor,” The 19th, February 11, 2022, https://19thnews.org/2022/02/latina-governor-candidates-record-number-2022/
Benjamin Francis-Fallon, “Perspective: Where the ‘Latino Vote’ was born, The Washington Post, December 19, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2019/12/19/where-latino-vote-was-born/
CAWP Staff, “Latina Candidates in 2020, Center for American Women and Politics, Rutgers University, August 5, 2020, https://cawp.rutgers.edu/blog/latina-candidates-2020
Isvette Verde, “Opinion: Some Latinos Voted for Trump. Get Over It,” The New York Times, November 5, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/05/opinion/sunday/trump-latino-vote.html?searchResultPosition=1
Jenniffer González-Colón, Library of Congress, https://www.congress.gov/member/jenniffer-gonzalez-colon/G000582
Jenniffer González-Colón, U.S. House of Representatives, https://gonzalez-colon.house.gov/copyright
Jonathan Vespa, Lauren Medina, and David M. Armstrong, "Demographic Turning Points for the United States: Population Projections for 2020 to 2060," U.S. Census Bureau, February 2020, https://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/publications/2020/demo/p25-1144.pdf
Jose A. Del Real and Arelis R. Hernandez, “Democrats lose ground with Latino voters in Florida and Texas, underscoring outreach missteps,” The Washington Post, November 4, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/latino-vote/2020/11/04/8f510046-1edc
Julia Weis, “2020 Election Brings More Latino Representation to Congress,” Salud America, November 24, 2020, https://salud-america.org/2020-election-brings-more-latino-representation-to-congress/
Katherine Schaeffer, “Racial, ethnic diversity increases yet again with the 117th Congress,” Pew Research Center, January 28, 2021, https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2021/01/28/racial-ethnic-diversity-increases-yet-again-with-the-117th-congress/
Suzanne Gamboa, “Latinas are well represented in the labor force. In Congress, not so much,” NBC News, February 4, 2022, https://www.nbcnews.com/news/latino/latinas-are-well-represented-labor-force-congress-not-much-rcna14814
Sabrina Rodriguez, “‘A slap in the face’: House Dems’ Super PAC sparks Latino backlash,” Politico, April 17, 2022, https://www.politico.com/news/2022/04/17/house-dems-super-pac-latino-00025694
Exhibit researched, written, and curated by Emma Z. Rothberg, Ph.D, Associate Educator, Digital Learning & Innovation.
Initial research conducted by Serena Zets, Fall 2021 Museum Education Intern.