By Abram Diaz and Alma Barreras
2020 is set to be the year the Latino voter, the so-called “sleeping giant,” fully realizes the political promise we have been showing for decades.
For the first time, Latinos are expected to be the nation’s largest racial or ethnic minority group in the electorate, with a record 32 million projected to be eligible to vote and a projected 15% increase in turnout from 2016.
But what happens to the Latino political power and momentum afterward? How do we make sure grassroots campaigning and community empowering does not dissipate until we are needed again in four years?
As co-chairs of the California Latino Capitol Association Foundation, our organization works year-round to support an active and powerful community of Latino staffers working in the Capitol of the nation’s biggest state. It is our mission to grow and strengthen the Latino voice in government, and we strive to serve as a bridge for the community and the Capitol, while turning passions into professions.
The ascendance of the current president to the White House led to the strongest wave of Latino political engagement in generations, but we need to ensure that tide does not subside once the ballots are counted.
Nowhere has the Latino voice been more empowered than in the California Legislature. The Latino Caucus boasts 29 legislators, including a record-high 16 Latina legislators. Yet, we are still deeply underrepresented in the state with the largest Latino population in the country. We make up 39% of the population in California, being the largest ethnic group, but we make up less than 25% of the seats in the state Capitol.
A key area where political representation falters, but where we can promote growth without having to wait for the next election cycle, is with government and political staffers.
In Sacramento, we clearly have more work to do. In a state that is almost 40% Latino, fewer than 20% of chiefs of staff and 15% of legislative directors in the Legislature are Latino. These numbers mirror statistics in other legislative institutions. In Congress, people of color hold only 13.6% of senior staff positions.
The work to grow Latino representation at all political levels and capacities has been developing for a long time; the California Latino Capitol Association Foundation has been working hard to promote talent since its founding in 1975, and institutions like Hispanas Organized for Political Equality or the Capital Assembly and Senate Fellows programs introduce new generations of young leaders to politics. All of this takes extended time and effort as Latinos learn to network and maneuver in spaces that generations before us never dreamed of reaching.
This election year, we have seen an increased sense of activism that we hope the community will harness and turn into a transformative political moment for Latinos at all government levels.
For activists looking to turn their passion into policy, numerous political organizations and campaigns would be well served by your dedication. For those looking to work inside the halls of government, staff associations like California Latino Capitol Association Foundation can help prepare you for the job’s pace and pressure. Latinos should be in the room where it happens, and those who already climbed the ladder can assist by extending a helping hand.
After Nov. 3 it will be more important than ever for community leaders and institutions to join the California Latino Capitol Association Foundation in actively engaging, recruiting and mentoring the next generation of diverse leadership. With Latino activism and voter turnout anticipated to be at historic highs, the responsibility falls on all of us who have been lucky enough to get a foot in the door to ensure it stays open for all those following in our footsteps.
Abram Diaz is a legislative director in the California Assembly and co-chair of the California Latino Capitol Association Foundation. Alma Barreras is a legislative representative in the California Department of Education and co-chair of the California Latino Capitol Association Foundation. They wrote this for CalMatters, a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s Capitol works and why it matters.