In the heart of Boyle Heights, in the newly established Cafe Rebelde restaurant, Jessica Maldonado sat down with Dimelo to speak on Latinas Lead California, a political action committee that aims to get more Latinas in office. Latinas Lead CA has a history of female empowerment. The organization shared their thoughts on the current political climate, the importance of women of color in government, and their goals for future generations.
Despite making up half the population in the United States, women only make up 23.6% of seats on Congress, with only 23.2% in the House of Representatives and 25% in the Senate. Globally, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, the United States ranks 76th out of a survey of 124 countries in terms of women’s representation in government. Latinas Lead California hopes to bridge that gap, especially for Latina women who make up even a smaller portion of government representation. According to Maldonado, the Trump administration put into perspective the need for more women in positions of power.
“The political landscape has changed so much in the last four years. There is obviously so much hostility towards Latinx people and migrant communities. Right now is such a crucial time especially for Latinas to step up, especially run for office. We need to make space in the political climate for ourselves,” said Maldonado.
According to Maldonado, for women, a particular obstacle is that they need to be seven times [as qualified] to run in comparison to men, and people rarely put that much effort into women running. A study by POLITICO in 2017 revealed that women are much less likely to consider running for office due to institutional factors such as their education, and some differences also on party lines. In the Democratic party, 24% of women ever considered running for office compared to 35% of men, whereas 41% of Republican men ever considered running in comparison to 21% of women. One can only imagine how these stats might differ when we take into account race and ethnicity, say a young Latina or Black woman.
“I think for the last couple of decades, Latino men have been encouraged to run for office and they’ve broken a lot of barriers, but women haven’t been encouraged. They’ve been told to wait their turn, especially women of color and Latinas, and so our organization tries to empower those women… and let them know, you don’t have to wait. Now is the time for you to run,” said Maldonado.
As a non-partisan group, Latinas Lead CA pride themselves on their fundraising and publicity capabilities to support their candidates. The founder of Latinas Lead California is councilwoman Monica Rodriguez who saw the need to empower Latinas in politics and push for the issues that affect them the most.
“All issues are Latino issues,” explained Maldonado. “As Latinas, we care about healthcare, we care about our families, we care about voter registration, and with the census coming up, we want our families to be counted. A lot of the time, it’s the women who go out and get the information and educate our families,” said Maldonado.
In order to be considered to receive help from Latinas Lead California, interested individuals need to submit an application, interview with Latinas Lead CA, and ensure their values align with the group as a whole. Interested candidates must answer questions like:
- What are you doing for Latinas?
- What is your commitment to the Latino community and the generations that will follow?
Among those who have received support is Nury Martinez who was elected as the first Latina on the Los Angeles City Council this January 2020. The daughter of Mexican immigrants, Martinez is the second woman ever elected into the LA city council, and is pushing for a $15 minimum wage and her version of a “Green New Deal.” During her campaign, Latinas Lead California provided their support and saw a spark in Martinez in her commitment to the community.
“Nury’s a powerhouse. When we endorsed her, we went out and knocked on doors for her, we made calls for her, we did a lot of get out the vote work for her, because we understand that women not only need money, they need people power, and that’s what we offer,” shared Maldonado.
On being elected to City Council, Martinez is further pushing to help tenants deal with rising costs of housing and hopes to be an inspiration to future Latina leaders.
"I'd like my daughter — not only my daughter but other little girls just like her — to know that women in this city can grow up to be anything they want to be," Martinez said.
Moving forward, Latinas Lead CA hopes to continue inspiring young Latinas to pursue careers in politics and represent their communities. Jessica Maldonado is the head of the Young Professionals Network which aims to connect Latinas ages 21-35 to a community of driven and empowered women like them and as part of YPN, they will be hosting an event on March 6th called “Politics and Pozole” where Nury Martinez will be speaking as well as past endorsements.
“We hope that when people look at Latinas Lead, especially other Latinas, that they feel like: We have arrived, there’s a seat at the table for me, and this is how I can get involved,” said Maldonado.