From left: Democratic Reps.-elect Robert Garcia, Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, Greg Casar, Gabe Vasquez, Andrea Salinas, Maxwell Alejandro Frost, Yadira Caraveo, Delia Ramirez, Rob Menendez. Photo by Ari Figueroa
The campaign arm of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus welcomed the highest number of Democratic Latino lawmakers elected to Congress, during a Friday event at the Democratic National Committee headquarters.
CHC BOLD PAC chair, Democratic U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego of Arizona, said continuing to reach out to Latino communities and young voters will be key to taking back the House in 2024, as this week control went to House Republicans following the midterm elections.
Gallego said Latinos came out and voted for Democrats in three key Senate races — in Arizona, Nevada and Pennsylvania — and he expects the number of Latinos who come out to vote in 2024 will be even higher than in the midterms.
“I think there’s also a lot more sophistication on how to reach young Latinos that we didn’t have in the past,” he said. “And you’re going to see that again in 2024.”
Young Latino and Black voters were key to holding off a ‘“red wave” for this year’s midterm elections. Democrats retained control of the Senate, but lost the House by a few seats.
Those new Democratic U.S. House Latino members are Reps.-elect Andrea Salinas of Oregon, Maxwell Alejandro Frost of Florida, Yadira Caraveo of Colorado, Gabe Vasquez of New Mexico, Greg Casar of Texas, Delia Ramirez of Illinois, Robert Garcia of California, Marie Gluesenkamp Perez of Washington state and Rob Menendez of New Jersey.
An eclectic Hispanic group
Ramirez, representing Illinois’ 3rd Congressional District, is the first Latina congresswoman from the Midwest. Garcia, representing California’s 42nd Congressional District, is the first Peruvian American and openly gay immigrant in Congress.
Perez, who flipped a seat held by a Republican for more than 12 years, will be the first auto mechanic elected to Congress. She ran on a platform as a moderate Democrat, leaning into her working-class roots, and her support for reproductive rights and the Second Amendment.
Perez said that besides BOLD PAC, no national organization supported her bid for Congress, thinking the district was a Republican stronghold.
“I think that’s directly related to the fact that Latinos have to find opportunity where people tell us there is none,” she said. “We don’t wait for permission, we just kick the door down, and we do the thing.”
Salinas, who is Mexican American and also the first Latina to represent Oregon at the federal level, said when her parents first came to the U.S., they picked cotton and tomatoes in the Rio Grande Valley.
“It’s only I feel like in America where my father can come to this country as someone who worked in the fields, and on January 3, watch his daughter get sworn in as a member of Congress,” she said.
All members get sworn in on Jan. 3, the start of a new Congress.
Salinas’ district, Oregon’s 6th Congressional District, has the largest Latino population in the state.
Caraveo, a pediatrician representing Colorado’s 8th Congressional District, is the first Latina to represent the state at the federal level.
A Gen Z first
Frost, who is Afro Cuban, will be the first Generation Z candidate elected to Congress. He ran in Florida’s 10th Congressional District, after U.S. Rep. Val Demings, who held the seat, chose to run for the Senate against Republican incumbent Marco Rubio.
(Generation Z is anyone born from 1997 to 2012.)
Frost, 25, said the last few weeks of his campaign were difficult, as his grandmother, who came to the U.S. from Cuba to escape the Fidel Castro regime, passed away. He said he spent those last three weeks by her bedside, re-listening to her stories of when she first came to the U.S. and how she worked multiple factory jobs in Hialeah, a city in Miami-Dade County.
“She didn’t have someone looking out for her,” he said.
Frost said that his 97-year-old grandmother still had stains on her arms, from the chemicals she was exposed to at the factories. He said he wonders what his grandmothers’ life would have been like if she had a union representing her and protecting her, and if she had been given access to earning a livable wage.
“I think as immigrants and immigrant families we hold these stories as a badge of honor and pride, and we should, but at the same time we also have to look at the exploitation and the fact that our ancestors and that our families shouldn’t have had to go through that in the first place,” he said.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla also made history as the first Latino elected from California. He had been tapped by Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom to finish the term of now Vice President Kamala Harris.
Menendez, who will represent New Jersey’s 8th Congressional District, is the son of Democratic U.S. Senator Bob Menendez, who chairs the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.
Several Republican Latinos also were elected to Congress: U.S. Reps.-elect George Santos of New York, Anna Paulina Luna of Florida, Juan Ciscomani of Arizona and Lori Chavez-DeRemer of Oregon.
And many of those soon-to-be lawmakers have already made history.
Santos will be the first openly LGBTQ non-incumbent Republican elected to Congress. Luna will be Florida’s first Mexican American woman elected to Congress, and Ciscomani will be Arizona’s first Republican Latino elected to represent the state.
Chavez-DeRemer, who flipped a Democrat-held seat, is also the first Latina to serve Oregon in Congress.
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