Latinos Ascend Into Congress

By Marielena Castellanos

Forty three Latino members of Congress were officially sworn in this week with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus holding its swearing in ceremony this weekend as the 116th congressional session begins.

In light of those numbers, a report from NBC News in November said that to match the actual share of the Latinx population, about 77 members would need to be elected. In the Senate, there would need to be about 18 Latino senators. According to the Congressional Research Service, in the last Congressional session there were 46 Hispanic or Latinx members serving in the nation’s capital.

Latinos are the nation’s second largest minority with 57.5 million Latinx, about 17.8 percent of the U.S. population.

The Pew Research Center recently said Latinos made up an estimated 11 percent of all voters nationwide on Election Day, nearly matching their share of the U.S. eligible voter population.

In San Diego, four of the five members of Congress are Democrats, including incumbent Congressman Juan Vargas and newly elected Congressman Mike Levin. Incumbent Congressman Duncan Hunter, the only Republican locally, was also reelected. Hunter was also recently indicted over misusing more than $250,000 in campaign funds and attempting to hide the spending in federal records.

Congressman Vargas is already on the go and recently, along with Congresswoman Norma Torres, called for an investigation into Customs and Border Patrol agents’ use of tear gas on migrants at the border this past November.

Also headed to Congress is Democrat Mike Levin, who won in a district long held by retiring Congressman Republican Darrell Issa, which covers parts of Orange County and San Diego. Levin was raised in Orange County, and his maternal grandparents migrated as children from Mexico to Los Angeles, according to the newspaper Hawaii News Now. Levin has a number of priorities including treating immigrants with dignity. He told the newspaper he thinks there are some on the Republican side of the aisle who want to see “common-sense” immigration reform.

Another new member in Congress is 47-year-old Democrat Gil Cisneros, a first time candidate and former U.S. naval officer, who won in the 39th District in Orange County in a seat also long held by Republicans. Cisneros, who once won a $266 million lottery jackpot, said he plans to fight for more affordable health care for all. He also supports DACA and comprehensive immigration reform.

Republican Anthony Gonzalez, who is of Cuban descent, is also headed to Congress, and he is the first Latino elected to Congress from Ohio.

Texas Democrat Congressman Joaquin Castro was recently elected to serve as the chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. In an interview on CBS’s The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Castro said his brother Julián Castro, the former U.S. housing secretary and San Antonio mayor, would most likely run for president. Early in December, Julián Castro announced that he was forming a presidential exploratory committee and would make an announcement in mid-January.

Nanette Diaz Barragán, who was elected to Congress in 2016 and will serve as a new member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus leadership in the position as second vice chair.

In Texas, two Latina Democrats were elected to serve on the House of Representatives for the first time, Veronica Escobar and Silvia Garcia, who both will represent the state in Congress.

Twenty-nine year-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Puerto Rican New Yorker, is the youngest woman ever elected to serve on Capitol Hill. In a recent Congressional vote for funding for President Trump’s border wall, Ocasio-Cortez criticized the passage of the bill and via Twitter explained other ways the money could be used.

The newcomer’s Twitter post said, “And just like that, GOP discovers $5.7 billion for a wall,” Ocasio-Cortez posted.

“$5.7 billion. What if we instead added $5.7B in teacher pay? Or replacing water pipes? Or college tuition/prescription refill subsidies? Or green jobs? But notice how no one’s asking the GOP how they’re paying for it,” Ocasio-Cortez also wrote.