For Part Two of BELatina’s Hispanic Heritage Month series “Know Your Latina Congresswomen,” we’re highlighting a few of the Latinas who are helming “majority-minority” communities, all of which happen to be located in Southern California.
Latinx elected officials usually end up representing districts that are heavily Latino, unless they play down their Hispanic heritage. Well, these mujeres are unapologetically Latina, proudly representing Congressional districts with a Hispanic majority of constituents — all of whom have been the first woman to have ever held their posts in their district.
Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard
Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, a Democrat currently representing the 40th Congressional District of California, was elected into office by the suburban neighborhoods of Los Angeles that are home to a heavily Latinx constituency. She had previously served as a representative for the 33rd and 34th Districts, before being redistricted to the 40th.
Roybal-Allard is a stalwart of legislation, having become the first Mexican-American woman to have ever been elected to Congress in 1992. She has been serving ever since — and based on historical election data, she’s not going anywhere. Most recently, she beat out a more progressive Green Party candidate, Rodolfo Cortes Barragan, to hold her Congressional seat.
Roybal-Allard was one of the congresswomen who spearheaded the latest iteration of the DREAM Act, which was passed by the House in June — and, if not sabotaged by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, is awaiting a vote in the Senate. In the meantime, she has been putting pressure on the Department on Homeland Security to find humane and effective immigration solutions. “We must get this balance right – and I believe we can if we work together, she wrote in a statement. “It is a false choice to believe that more migrants need to be unnecessarily detained, and that cruel and exclusionary immigration laws need to be enacted in order to increase security in our country.”
Rep. Linda Sánchez
Second-generation Mexican-American Linda Sánchez is the Congressional Representative for California’s 38th District, a majority Latino district that spans parts of Los Angeles and Orange County.
Between 2017 and 2019, Sánchez had served as the Vice President of the House Democratic Caucus, the fifth-highest ranking Democrat in party leadership, making her the first woman of color to have ever held such a position.
Despite having been the highest-ranking Latina in the Democratic establishment, Sánchez was one of the many representatives to call for new Democratic leadership, well before some of her colleagues began to consider whether Nancy Pelosi and her should make way for the next generation of leaders. “It’s not about me, it’s about the future of the caucus,” she told Politico in May of 2018. “My ultimate goal is to leave behind a stronger Democratic Caucus with an effective majority because I think that would leave the country better off. That’s my ambition for my congressional career.”
Unfortunately for her, Sánchez’s upward trajectory was halted last winter after her husband James Sullivan was indicted for grossly misusing federal funds to cover personal expenses — upwards of $800,000 in total — involving two trips that he had taken with Sánchez. She remains in Congress, but has stepped away from her leadership position.
On a positive note, for over a decade, Sánchez had been the only woman to play for the Democratic Congressional Baseball Team, until she helped to recruit Representative Nanette Barragán to run for office a couple years ago.
Rep. Grace Napolitano
Currently representing California’s 32nd Congressional District, encompassing Latino majority communities in Los Angeles County, Rep. Grace Napolitano’s Congressional career has spanned two decades.
Napolitano, who founded the Congressional Mental Health Caucus, has been a vocal advocate for mental health as well as gun safety, working on effective suicide prevention legislation. The Democrat set the record straight earlier this summer after rejecting President Trump’s theory that mental health has been the driving factor in shootings. “He (President Trump) is wrong. Mental illness has a place, but it is wrong to put that with gun violence when only 4% of violence is committed by people who have mental illness,” she told a local news station, suggesting that there were other more relevant things to consider when it comes to mass shootings. “Hatred, bigotry, intolerance… They want to make this white America. It can’t be. We’re already a mixed society.”
Rep. Sylvia Garcia
Rep. Sylvia Garcia made headlines in the 2018 midterm elections by becoming one of the first two Latinas in Texas to have ever been elected into Congress. She represents the 29th Congressional District, which includes eastern parts of Houston where over three-quarters of her constituents identify as Hispanic, and are largely working class. “This is a very critical time for our country, when our core values are being challenged every single day with a president that seems to govern by tweets and by targeting immigrants, Muslims, Latinos, women, everyone that looks different,” she said upon her victory. “People have had enough. I am going to represent them.”
This past spring, Garcia introduced legislation designed to protect mixed-immigrant status families living in public housing, which has been making headway in the House. Garcia will be discussing the border and hatred on September 28th at the Texas Tribune Festival in Austin, one of the biggest political gatherings in the country.