When a group of several hundred Latinas met in Milwaukee earlier this year, they were stunned with a set of discouraging facts amid all the bantering of a possible Hispanic president in the near future.
No Latina has ever served in the U.S. Senate, and there are only nine Hispanic women in the U.S. House of Representatives.
There is only one Latina governor, and only 97 Hispanic women serve in state legislatures.
But Rosa Rosales, former national president of the League of United Latin American Citizens, wouldnt entertain a pity party at the organizations womens conference.
This is a call to action, said Rosales to thundering applause from 700 women from around the country.
Welcome, then, to the year of the Latina in America in which the countrys 25 million Hispanic women are staking their claim to wanting a bigger slice of the political spoils.
A new record for Latina Power
Theres now a bipartisan campaign to organize politically and raise the money necessary to elect more Hispanic women in this mid-term election year — and it may set a new record for Latina Power.
“We want to build a network of present and former officeholders and political appointees to create a national talent base to encourage Latinas to run for offices and go for appointed positions,” says Washington, D. C.-based Melody Gonzales of the Hispanic Leadership Agenda.
Thats the nonpartisan organization Political Parity, which is working to raise the number of Latinas in elective office, along with the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda, an umbrella for 37 national Latino groups.
And they are not alone.
Actress Eva Longoria is leading the Latino Victory Project and its political arm, the Latino Victory PAC, that is supporting a slate of seven Hispanic candidates, including three Latinas:
Nevada Assemblywoman Lucy Flores, who is running for lieutenant governor; Texas state Sen. Leticia Van De Putte, who also is running for lieutenant governor; and Amanda Renteria, who is running for Congress in California.
Its an indication, says Longoria, of how the future of Latino power rests with Latinas.
The messaging, she says, is in the hands of women because were just better at it.
Last year, for instance, the Nielsen’s report, The Latina Power Shift, unveiled data showing that Hispanic women are a key growth engine and projected to become 30 percent of the total female population by 2060.
For the first time, too, Latinas are surpassing non-Hispanic females in college enrollment. A record 73 percent of Latina high school graduates are enrolling in college, 11 percent ahead of Hispanic men.
In the Golden State, a group called HOPE (Hispanas Organized for Political Equality) co-founded by Maria Contreras-Sweet, director of the Small Business Administration, is trying to re-ignite the political leadership that had once been the role model for Latinas in the country.
In 2004, Latinas reached a record mark 12 Hispanic women served in the California State Assembly and Senate. A decade later, though, that number of Latina representatives has since dropped to seven.
Among those pressing the case for Latinas in California is Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman, a former college professor and Stockton City Council member.
It is never enough for us to open the door to power if we dont open it for 20 other people, says Talamantes Eggman.
She recalled getting into politics on the morning after President George W. Bushs re-election in 2004, and she now tells Latinas they themselves are the solution to the problems they complain about.
We can sit around like victims or we can run for office ourselves, she says to Latinas, much as she told fellow professors sitting around griping about the Bush re-election. Why arent we running?