Know Your Latina Congresswomen, Part Five: The Hopefuls

Candace Valenzuela BELatina congressional
Candace Valenzuela, a member of the Carrollton-Farmers Branch Independent School District board of trustees, is shown with her son.

There were so many exciting wins for Latinas in politics in the last midterm election, and looking ahead to the 2020 elections, there are several more Latinas getting media buzz. This Hispanic Heritage Month, let’s make a point to know their names — because being civically engaged is one way to honor all that the Latinx community has done to make this country great, and all of the ways that these Latina candidates hope to continue to lead the nation forward.

Here are a few of the Latinas hoping to earn a seat in Congress in 2020. 

Jessica Cisneros

Jessica Cisneros
Photo Credit CISNEROS CAMPAIGN Corey Torpie / Jessica Cisneros is mounting a Democratic primary challenge against U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar in Texas’ 28th Congressional District.

Just 26 years old, Jessica Cisneros is second-generation Mexican-American immigration lawyer. Cisneros realized that to be an effective immigration lawyer, she would need lawmakers to change immigration law — and that her perspective and experience could help her be that lawmaker.  She is running to serve a southern sliver of Texas, including the city of Laredo, against long-time incumbent Democrat Henry Cuellar of Texas’s 28th Congressional District who she worked under as an intern in Washington. 

The son of Mexican-American migrant workers, Cuellar has accepted campaign funds from detention centers, private prisons, and the Koch brothers. He holds anti-abortion positions and has received an “A” from the NRA. Taken altogether, Cisneros basically had no choice but to run to unseat him. “I saw firsthand how he was silent on certain issues,” she told a local paper earlier this year. “And that’s when I [thought], ‘You know what, that’s going to be me one day running for Congress. I’m going to listen to the issues that South Texans want to be addressed. I’m going to listen to the people, and I’m going to be a fierce advocate for them.’”

As a young Latina with the backing of the Justice Democrats, the comparisons to AOC are inevitable, if not accurate. “People think because I am a young Latina who is trying to help the Democratic Party I am just like her,” she told the New York Times. “I have a lot of admiration for her, but that doesn’t mean we’re the same. I am trying to be the first Jessica Cisneros, and just do that well.”

Catalina Lauf

Catalina Lauf Hopefuls
Photo Credit Catalina Lauf

Also just 26 years old, conservative Catalina Lauf is poising herself to be the nemesis of AOC. “I think people like AOC and that group are focusing on an agenda that is so detrimental to our country,” she told the New York Post last month. “They are not being leaders. They are part of the problem.” Lauf is running to unseat Democrat Lauren Underwood, the youngest black Congresswoman ever elected into office, in Illinois’s 14th Congressional District, which covers an area due west of Chicago. 

In trying to position herself as a uniter, Lauf’s campaign has gone out of its way to warn against the specter of identity politics and socialism. “Today angry voices seek to divide us by skin color, economic class, and where we come from,” she said in a campaign video. “They use envy and bitterness, trying to convince us to surrender our personal freedoms for the false promises of socialism.” Illinois’s 14th District is a swing district that leans right, so it’s unclear if her hard-right message will appeal to potential constituents.

Candace Valenzuela

Candace Valenzuela BELatina
Candace Valenzuela, a member of the Carrollton-Farmers Branch Independent School District board of trustees, is shown with her son.

Earlier this month, 34-year-old Candace Valenzula announced her bid to unseat GOP Rep. Kenny Marchant, who represents Texas’s 24th Congressional District, including the suburbs of Dallas and Fort Worth. Valenzula hopes to bring to politics her personal experience as a marginalized citizen. “Growing up I dealt with homelessness, with food insecurity, with trouble paying for bills,” she told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “I’m running for Congress because the opportunities there were there for me to succeed don’t seem like they’re there any more, or they’re under threat.” Valenzuela is of Mexican-American and African-American descent.

She has a hard road ahead of her if she wants to flip the 24th district, but she’s already gotten the endorsement of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. “She is ready to take this fight to Washington, D.C. because this will be the most consequential election for decades to come and she has the grit and heart to fight for children and families in Texas’s 24th Congressional District,” said Rep. Linda Sánchez, of California’s 38th Congressional District. 

Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez

Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez
Photo Credit Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT

Long-time Texas organizer Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez is running to unseat Senator John Cornyn, a GOP incumbent who has been in office for nearly two decades. If elected to office, 37-year-old Tzintzún Ramirez will be the first Democratic Senator in the state since 1993. 

As an organizer, Tzintzún Ramirez has focused her efforts on mobilizing the Latinx youth in Texas to vote, training them to become civically engaged through her nonpartisan organization Jolt. “Some people look at Texas’ Latino population and say Texas will quickly turn blue, but I don’t believe demographics are destiny,” she told the Texas Observer in 2017. “It requires real organizing and investment in the community. You have to be committed long-term to Texas.” 

Check out BELatina’s profile on Tzintzún Ramirez to learn more about the important work she’s been doing for the Latinx community.