The 116th Congress is the most representative of Latinos in history, but that record could be broken on Election Day.
In 2006, there were only two Latinos in the Senate and 28 in the House. In the current 116th Congress, there are 42 Latino members of Congress. While it is the most racially and ethnically diverse Congress ever, Latinos still only represent a sliver of the nation’s 100 senators and 435 representatives.
This year, Latinos are running for congressional seats across the country. As Latinos are now the second-largest voting bloc, with 32 million eligible voters, they’re expected to turn out in record-breaking numbers to help elect more Latinos this election cycle.
“If we increase Latino representation in government, we increase the possibility of having issues that matter to Latinos at the forefront in the decision-making tables,” Nathalie Rayes said.
“There are more Latino candidates up and down the ballots,” Nathalie Rayes, president and CEO of the Latino Victory Fund told The Americano. “When more Latinos are on the ballot, they focus their campaigns on the Latino community and engage them directly and with cultural competence. Oftentimes, Latino candidates are the entry point of engagement for folks in our community.”
These are some of the Latino candidates that would be historic firsts should they win their elections on Nov. 3.
In New York, Latinos make up about 19% of the population, but there are only 20 Latino state legislators (9% of all New York state lawmakers). Democratic New York City Councilman Ritchie Torres is the youngest member of the New York City Council and the first openly LGBTQ official elected to represent The Bronx. The Afro-Latino is running to represent New York’s 15th Congressional District and would be the first openly gay Afro-Latino elected to Congress if he wins.
“Whether it’s housing or food insecurity, poverty, or inequality, the struggles of the South Bronx are not academic to me. These are struggles I’ve lived in my own life,” Torres told The Americano. “My story is the story of The Bronx. It’s a story of struggle. But it’s also a story of overcoming. And that’s the story of America.”
The Puerto Rican was moved to run for higher office after witnessing the health and economic toll of the COVID-19 pandemic on his community, and how the virus has disproportionately affected people of color in The Bronx.
Torres is outspoken about mental health. One of his key platforms is establishing health and housing as human rights. He also aims to focus on equitable education and employment opportunities if he makes it to Congress.
Similarly, in California, Latinos are the largest ethnic group in the state accounting for 40% of the population, but only 24% of the state’s Legislature. Diversity is coming thanks to candidate Ammar Campa-Najjar, who is aiming to become the first Latino Arab American in Congress.
Campa-Najjar is the Democratic candidate for California’s 50th Congressional District, which is a heavily conservative area. The American Mexican Palestinian previously ran for the seat in 2018 and lost to Republican Duncan Hunter who is now serving time in prison for corruption and misusing campaign funds.
Losing the previous election didn’t deter Campa-Najjar, who was a campaign volunteer for President Barack Obama and worked in the 44th President’s administration. Campa-Najjar was outraged and motivated that the district hasn’t been represented in the House since Hunter resigned in January.
According to his campaign website, his priorities are public safety and national security. He’s been endorsed by at least nine congress members.
Meanwhile, in the Midwest, Latinos are advocating for themselves by running for office as well. Rudy Soto is trying to make history in a Republican district of Idaho. Soto is a veteran of the US Army National Guard, the son of a Mexican immigrant, and a member of the Shoshone Bannock Tribes of the Fort Hall Reservation.
The political hopeful could become the first Latino and first Native American veteran Congressman elected to represent Idaho should he win the election.
The Democrat’s platform is based on immigration reform, veteran affairs, criminal justice, and disabled peoples’ rights. One of his main concerns for his district is access to affordable health care.
He launched his campaign on the anniversary of his father’s death, which he blames on a lack of access to affordable health care. Soto’s father was laid off from a factory job and lost his healthcare when he was diagnosed with cancer. Soto’s lived experiences will bring empathy and determination to Congress as he fights for various marginalized groups that are often left behind.
Should these Latinos win, not only will they break many firsts but they’ll create representation in Congress that is crucial for providing support for Latino communities across the country.