We’re Ready for Christina Hale to Flip Her District to Become Indiana’s First Latina in U.S. Congress

Christina Hale Feature BELatina Latinx
Courtesy of Christina Hale

Have you ever heard the phrase “If you want something done, give the task to the busiest woman in the room”? Democratic congressional nominee Christina Hale certainly has. And she knows all too well that sometimes the busiest women with the most skin in the game are the ones who can actually create necessary change and provide leadership where it’s needed most. Hale knows what so many of us are feeling deep down in our souls — that the world is broken, that our nation is in need of reform, that we need hope, and we need it now. “Some years we need to light a match, this year we need a blow torch,” she told BELatina News in reference to the upcoming 2020 election, where she is running for Congress in Indiana’s 5th district. 

In 2012, Hale became the second Latina elected to serve in the Indiana State legislature. Now, as a Cuban-American candidate running for Congress, she could be the first Latina to represent Indiana on Capitol Hill. And this is not a responsibility or an opportunity she is taking lightly. Hale was destined to lead, and both her personal struggles and professional path have shaped her desire to serve. A lifelong Hoosier, Hale understands the challenges that families in the 5th District face every day, and she’s ready to work for them to get good things done for families in her community and beyond.

“The 5th District deserves a representative who is focused on solving problems for Hoosier families,” she states on her campaign website. “Throughout my career, as a nonprofit leader and state legislator, I’ve been able to identify the problems facing my community, and work with anyone and everyone to get the job done. We need more of that in Washington, and that’s exactly what I’m going to do when I’m elected to serve.”

Hale seems to have a knack for gaining support not simply by talking the talk but by walking the walk and getting things done. Of all the primary candidates in her district, Hale raised the most money, raising $501,552.49 according to FEC data. And her ability to show genuine interest in not only what people are going through but also what they need is working. She recently won the primary, beating out four other Democratic opponents, in the race to fill the seat as incumbent Susan Brooks, who has held the seat since 2012, announced she was retiring from Congress to spend more time with her family. 

It’s all about helping others, and putting their needs as a top priority, Hale explains. “Whether it’s the lack of access to affordable health care during a global pandemic, or the economic crisis that has forced over half a million Hoosiers to file for unemployment, our problems are too grave to waste time on partisan politics,” she said after her primary win. “I have a proven record of working across the aisle to solve problems and deliver results. In Congress, I’ll work with anyone and everyone to make healthcare more affordable, create good-paying jobs right here in Indiana, and support our small businesses as they fight to recover.”

It’s certainly not a small task, but it’s a job she is up for and well equipped to handle. A career of getting things done for the people has prepared her just for this very moment. Hale knows what her constituents are going through and where they are coming from, because in many instances she has been there too. She’s a doer with the right intentions and the right goals to benefit all, not just the few at the top. And should she win the election in November it would be a significant victory not just for her personally, but with potential for a ripple effect that could sweep the nation. If she is elected, Hale’s congressional victory would flip a red seat blue and move the needle for change on a local level that could trickle up to Washington and beyond. 

On a professional and political level, her victory would be a chance to fix the problems experienced in her own backyard and positively impact families who need it most. On a personal level her election would be an opportunity to prove to others and herself that she is capable of so much more than anyone anticipated. 

We sat down to chat with Hale about the upcoming election, obstacles she has faced as a Latina candidate and her message to voters as we gear up for November.

How did you first get into politics, and when did you know that you wanted to run for office? 

I’ve always had a cause-driven career. I had been working for Kiwanis International for a number of years, and after traveling all around the world I came back to my state only to realize that we have the same problems here on a local level. Indiana has some of the highest rates of maternal fatality in the nation, and I realized I need to work here in my own community and fix things locally first. And this year in particular we need people in government who can bring about change. Some years we need to light a match — this year we need a blow torch.

Back in 2012, with no political experience, I left a job that I loved to start knocking on doors and talking to people about their needs and struggles. 

Everyone thought I was a fool; that I was a Democrat living in a forever red district, but I wanted to do some good. I talked to people on a human level where they lived. I won that election despite obstacles; in fact, I only won by 51 votes. And I took that victory and that role very seriously. I thought to myself I can’t waste this chance.

My first bill as state representative was inspired by talking to people where I lived. I found a Republican to work with to get things done on a bipartisan level with support across the aisle. You need to develop personal and professional trust and you can’t take things personally. And when you succeed you need to generously share the credit. Make your political actions about human issues, rather than partisan policies. 

Christina Hale Latinx BElatina
Courtesy of Christina Hale

You mention on your campaign website that your experiences and struggles as a single mom influenced your dedication to a life of service. Can you elaborate on how those experiences have influenced your policies and make you uniquely qualified to advocate for women and families?

I grew up in Indiana, and my life path didn’t exactly fit in with my family culture or my family’s plan. I was just 19 years old when I had my son, and at the time my brothers told me, “You’ll always be a loser now.” I thought to myself that I can’t be a loser for my kid or for my family. So, I went to work. I had the opportunity to enroll my son in a childcare program so that I could go to school and so that my son could learn in a positive environment. It gave me the opportunity to send my son to a real preschool to set him up for success in school and beyond. It set me up for the chance to be a good parent and a good worker. And it inspired me to pay it forward and help others’ families. I dug deep and instead of giving in and feeling ashamed of my situation, I took it as inspiration to work that much harder and show people that I could be something and help others.

The first moment when I thought this is working and I can do this was shortly after school when I spent time in Wales as a Rotary Foundation scholar studying global relations and the economics of the European Union. I was able to live abroad with my son by my side, and it was the early proof to my family, my community, and myself that I could succeed and handle anything. I just want to be a helper.

People always questioned, “How are you going to do that?” and doubted me. But it shaped my life and it pushed me to get things done and figure it out. When people doubted my ability to succeed I would think that there’s no way I’m not going to do it. I had to prove them wrong. 

 

As a Cuban-American candidate running for Congress, you would be the first Latina to represent Indiana in the U.S. Congress. Can you tell us a bit about your family background, and what example do you hope to set for other Latinas in politics?

My great-grandfather was a mathematics professor in Havana, and sadly he and my great-grandmother both died, and my grandmother Edith came to America with her sisters and her brother. They were raised by extended family. And that’s something I draw a lot of inspiration from, too. My grandmother was welcomed here. She built a life here. She went to college here. She had kids here… and it’s because she was given a chance to make a better life for herself in this country. And I’m so proud of what she did, and I wish she was here to see what I’m doing now. 

Growing up in Northwest Indiana, I didn’t know anyone else of Hispanic or Latino background. And then in the 1980s Castro opened the prisons and released thousands of Cubans to the United States, and a number of them came to where I was living in Indiana. And my mom was a part of an organization of community people who got together and thought, we need to help these people. They didn’t speak English and America was a completely different culture and a different economy. So, this group got together to help teach Cuban immigrants life skills, how to pursue unemployment, giving them English language skills, and that made my family’s immigration story very real to me. While I wasn’t old enough to really see my grandmother’s struggle when I was little, seeing other immigrants coming here and witnessing the challenges they were experiencing really impacted me. I also knew the potential for success of the American dream from my grandmother, and that inspired me to re-examine my own feelings and opportunities. That’s when I really started to become incredibly proud of my heritage, and especially proud of my mom.

There’s been a lot of discussion about what makes America great over the past four years, and it’s become the mantra on a baseball hat, but it’s so much bigger than that. We all have our stories. The fabric of America would be so much stronger right now if we all acknowledged that we came from somewhere else and we had the opportunity to build lives here and build communities here. We were able to bring some of our culture here, and that’s what the foundation of this country was built upon — that’s where we draw our strengths from and where we should attribute our greatness to. 

Have you experienced unique obstacles as a Latina woman running for office? 

Always. Sometimes we berate ourselves for not speaking up enough and yet people in the workplace counsel us to stay quiet and stay in the corner. And the time for staying in the corner, for me and I hope for women of color and all women, is in the past. There are measurable things where you can see we still haven’t come into our own. There are very few women who serve on corporate boards, despite there being a lot of women who serve on nonprofit boards. Of the top 20 salaries in the biggest companies in central Indiana, only three are women. You can see the evidence everywhere. But having served as an elected official has given me more credibility and I take that as a responsibility to be the person who will always speak up. I will always remind others that listening to other voices and perspectives will make a project or a company richer, better, and stronger. And that diversity will make the company and organization more successful if you are able to bring everyone in. 

In terms of government, despite the fact that women make up a little more than half of the U.S. population, women only represent about 20 percent of elected leadership. 

(Note: as of January 2019 women represent only 24 percent of members of Congress: 24 percent of the House and 23 percent of the Senate; and women hold 28 percent of seats in state legislatures and represent only 18 percent of governors.

While serving the Indiana general assembly for a time I found myself as the only person of Latina descent out of 100 state representatives and 50 state senators. And that gave me a sense of responsibility to be an example for others — an example of action and integrity. But you also have to raise your hand up. So it came down to me to host the Latino Legislative Fellows program, where I invited every Latino high school student I could find, from all over the state, to come to their state house, to see how it all works and hopefully inspire them to feel a part of it and to connect with each other. Ultimately, government will be more effective and it will be more healthy if elected leadership looks more like our community. And right now it doesn’t.

According to recent research, Latino voters make up the largest minority group in the electorate and have the potential to decide the upcoming election and win back the White House in November. What message do you have for Latino and Latina voters both in your district and across the nation as we gear up for the upcoming 2020 election?

Show up. Organize. Participate. Do not stand on the sidelines. Everyone has to step up and realize that this is our responsibility and our opportunity, and change won’t happen if we just make comments on social media — it happens at the ballot box. 

A couple of weeks ago I was at a Black Lives Matter rally for positive change, and it was put on by a group called Black Women in Charge, a group of young women ages 16-21 who were frustrated and wanted to do something, so they organized and they invited people to their state house. I was so inspired by them because they didn’t just organize, they said, “We’re going to register you to vote today,” to attendees. They walked around and registered attendees on the spot, and they urged voters to show up. When it comes time to vote, we all need to be heard. We can’t just complain; we have to cast our ballot.

And another piece of advice I have for young women, especially for Latinas: Don’t wait to be a perfect candidate. There’s no such thing as perfection. If you have a good heart and you have a good mind, if you’re in it for the right reasons, then why not you? Because we need your experience and we need your influence in positional leadership, not just on the sidelines. We need you to be the decision makers, because without more empowered people in elected leadership, the right kind of change to support those coming behind you will not happen.