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7.5: Chicanx and Latinx Political Representation

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    Formal Politics in Chicanx and Latinx Communities

    Political representation of Latinx communities creates opportunities to advocate for better policies and new reforms. In the U.S., trailblazing leaders have crossed barriers for Chicanx and Latinx communities, opening new doors for others to continue the work of equity and justice for all. However, Latinx people remain under-represented in nearly all aspects of government and politics. In 2018, Latinx people were only 1% of all local and federal elected officials, according to the NALEO Educational Fund.14 In 2022, that number is similar, with only four U.S. Senators and 40 U.S. Representatives. Women are underrepresented among Latinx elected officials, being only 1 Senator and 12 House Representatives. On the website from Rutgers University, you can explore more statistics about women of color in politics and elected positions

    Some of the leaders for Latinx communities in politics include the U.S. Congressperson Romualdo Pacheco who was first elected in 1879 as a Representative from California. Pacheco had previously served as the first Mexican American governor of California in 1875. Even in states that include a high number of Latinx people and voters, such as California, researchers have identified a pattern of underrepresentation, including in appointed and elected positions in state government, county supervisors, school board members, and city-level positions. Groups like the California Latino School Boards Association have emerged to address some of these specific issues of representation and political power. You can learn more about the California Latino School Boards Association on their website.

    Federal Representation of Latinx and Hispanic People

    At the federal level, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus represents the interests of Hispanic Congresspeople and it includes over 30 members including many Latinx representatives and their allies. Some Latinx Congresspeople are not members of the Caucus, in part due to partisan divides between Republicans and Democrats. In the Senate, U.S. Senator Octaviano Larrazlo from New Mexico was the first Latino and Mexican-American Senator in 1928. Despite gains for representation won in states with high proportions of Latino people, it took decades of additional advocacy before major federal and judicial positions were held by Latinos. For example, there has never been a Latinx President of the United States, Vice President, or Secretary of State. It was not until 1988 that Lauro Cazavos became the Secretary of Education and the first Latinx or Hispanic person to serve in the U.S. Cabinet. On the U.S. Supreme Court, when Justice Sonia Sotomayor was confirmed to her position in 2009, she became the first Latinx person and the third woman to be confirmed to the Supreme Court. In Figure 7.5.1, there is a photo of Justice Sotomayor fulfilling one of her duties on the Supreme Court by swearing in Kamala Harris as Vice President, who is another woman who broke barriers as the first Black person, first Asian person, first multiracial person, and first woman to serve as Vice President of the United States.

    Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor in a black robe, with Vice President Kamala Harris facing away from the camera
    Figure 7.5.1: Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor swears in Vice President Kamala Harris into office during the 59th Presidential Inauguration ceremony in Washington, Jan. 20, 2021” by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of StaffFlickr is licensed CC BY 2.0.

    Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, popularly known as AOC, has been a major figure for Latinx representation in politics. This is in part because she actively embraces her connection to the Latinx community, foregrounding her status as a young Latina woman living in New York City, who recently paid the bills by bartending. Her continued and unapologetic presentation of herself positions her as a capable and strong advocate for diverse people living in the United States, including immigrants, women, and people of color. In Figure 7.5.2, she appears in a photograph, speaking passionately in front of a crowd of people. 

    Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez advocates with activists to extend the eviction moratorium at the U.S. Capitol
    Figure 7.5.2: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez" by Miki Jordan, Flickr is licensed CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

    Her passion and tenacity represent a commitment to social change and a critical lens that is relatable for many Latinx people as well as her wide range of supporters. The video included in Video 7.5.1 describes what AOC has accomplished as a leading Latinx political figure in her own terms. The video is 4 minutes and 44 seconds long, and it demonstrates the way that Latinx politicians have made a considerable impact on their field and on our broader society.

    Video: What has AOC (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) accomplished?

    Video 7.5.1: “What has AOC (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) accomplished?" by Political Hub InternationalYouTube is licensed CC BY 3.0.

    Politics and Liberation

    Many members of Latinx communities are disengaged from formal political processes, including voting and representation. This is in part due to the exclusion of immigrants from voting, which prevents families from engaging in a shared practice of voting and being represented. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 has had a significant impact on Latino people and their political participation in the United States. Prior to the Act, many Latinos faced barriers and discriminatory practices that limited their access to the voting booth, such as poll taxes, literacy tests, and intimidation tactics. The Act aimed to combat these obstacles and ensure equal voting rights for all citizens, regardless of their race or ethnicity.

    The Voting Rights Act has helped empower Latino communities by prohibiting discriminatory practices and ensuring their political representation. It has led to increased voter registration and turnout among Latinos, enabling them to elect candidates of their choice and have a stronger voice in the political process. By eliminating discriminatory voting practices, the Act has paved the way for greater political engagement and representation for Latino individuals and communities.

    The Raza Unida party, founded in the late 1960s, emerged as a political movement that sought to address the issues and concerns of Mexican Americans and other Latino groups. The party advocated for self-determination, civil rights, and political empowerment for the Latino community. It aimed to challenge the existing two-party system and provide an alternative political platform for Latino voters. While the Raza Unida party made significant strides in mobilizing and organizing Latino communities, its influence and success were relatively short-lived. The party faced internal divisions and external challenges, including legal battles and limited resources. However, it played a crucial role in raising awareness about the issues faced by Latinos and fostering a sense of political empowerment among the community.

    Overall, the Voting Rights Act has been instrumental in expanding political rights and opportunities for Latino individuals and communities, while the Raza Unida party served as a catalyst for political mobilization and empowerment during a crucial period in Latino political history. However, in recent years, there have been changes that have weakened the effectiveness of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. One significant development was the Supreme Court case Shelby County v. Holder in 2013. In this case, the Court struck down a key provision of the Act, namely Section 4(b), which established a formula for identifying jurisdictions with a history of voting discrimination that were required to obtain federal preclearance before making changes to their voting laws.

    The Court's decision effectively invalidated the formula used to determine which jurisdictions were subject to preclearance, arguing that it was based on outdated data and no longer reflective of current conditions. As a result, the preclearance requirement was effectively nullified unless Congress could enact a new formula. This ruling has had implications for Latino voters, among others, as it removed a critical safeguard against discriminatory voting laws and practices. In the absence of preclearance, jurisdictions have been able to implement changes to voting laws without prior federal approval, potentially leading to the adoption of laws that disproportionately impact minority communities, including Latinos.

    Since the Shelby County decision, there have been concerns about the rise of voter suppression efforts, including the adoption of stricter voter identification laws, reductions in early voting periods, purging of voter rolls, and gerrymandering. These measures can disproportionately affect marginalized communities, including Latinos, by making it more difficult for them to exercise their right to vote and diminishing their political representation.

    Efforts to restore and strengthen the Voting Rights Act have been made in Congress, such as the proposed John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. This legislation seeks to update the coverage formula and restore the preclearance requirement, aiming to address the challenges created by the Shelby County decision. However, the act's passage has faced obstacles and partisan divisions, resulting in ongoing debates about voting rights and protections for historically marginalized communities, including Latino voters.

    Beyond that, many Latinx people also share the critical perspective that the U.S. government itself and U.S. society are built around principles of division, exclusion, and exploitation and must be critically examined and transformed. Under this view, participation in the system only serves to encourage people to believe in the possibility of reform, while ultimately failing to address the root causes of racism, xenophobia, and intersectional oppression. Among Native American and Latinx Indigenous peoples, this sentiment can be accompanied by a commitment to tribal sovereignty and the creation of modern systems rooted in traditional and sacred relationships with the land. 

    A Puerto Rican flag hanging on the balcony of a green building
    Figure 7.5.3:Puerto Rican Flag in Old San Juan” by Lorie Shaull, Wikimedia is licensed CC BY 2.0.

    The contradictions of political representation can also be seen in Puerto Rico, which is a U.S. territory. Although the people of Puerto Rico bear many of the responsibilities of U.S. citizenship, including paying taxes, being drafted, and following the laws created by the government, they are not politically represented at the federal level. You can see a Puerto Rican flag hanging in Old San Juan in Figure 7.5.3, showing the people’s pride in their island. More recently, this lack of representation has had devastating effects in the face of increased hurricanes in the region and the larger dynamics of climate change. While Puerto Ricans are clearly not represented equally in the U.S. governmental system, the people of the island remain persistently divided as to whether to pursue statehood or independence. The Puerto Rico Statehood Admission Act, also known as H.R. 4901 and later reintroduced as H.R. 1522, is a bill that was presented during the 116th and 117th sessions of the United States Congress. Its purpose is to enable Puerto Rico, an unincorporated territory of the United States, to become a state within the Union. The bill was initially introduced in the 116th Congress and reintroduced in the 117th Congress as H.R. 1522 on March 2, 2021. The continued debate over statehood efforts shows how diversity of perspective within Latinx communities and in solidarity with other racial and ethnic groups ultimately contributes to the use of multiple strategies in advocacy and politics. This creates opportunities for future generations to continue the struggle and find new solutions to long-standing systems of white supremacy, xenophobia, and settler colonialism.


    14 National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund, “National Directory of Latino Elected Officials.” (Los Angeles, CA: National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund, 2021).

    This page titled 7.5: Chicanx and Latinx Political Representation is shared under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Mario Alberto Viveros Espinoza-Kulick (ASCCC Open Educational Resources Initiative (OERI)) via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform.