Introducing the New Latinos in Congress

January 23, 2017

On January 3, 2017, the U.S. Congress officially swore in eight new Latinos, one senator and seven members of the House. Here is a brief introduction to each of them.

Senator Catherine Cortez Masto

Upon her swearing in, Senator Cortez-Masto, a Democrat from Nevada, became the first Latina to serve in the Senate. She has spoken about her strong interest in immigration reform and protecting the aging. Cortez-Masto also makes history in her state as the first female senator from Nevada. She will be joining the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, the Committee on Rules and Administration, the Committee on Indian Affairs and the Special Committee on Aging1. Cortez-Masto defeated former Republican Representative Joe Heck to occupy the seat of Rep. Harry Reid who retired after 34 years in the Senate. She was endorsed in her race by President Obama2.

Representative Adriano Espaillat

Representative Adriano Espaillat is a Democrat serving New York districts that include Harlem, Washington Heights and Inwood. He is the first member of the U.S. Congress that was formerly an undocumented immigrant. Espaillat also made history as he first Dominican-American to be elected to Congress3. His seat formerly belonged to Rep. Charlie Rangel who held the prestigious position of Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. At 86, Rangel decided to retire this year the after decades as a Congressman. Espaillat’s election was still controversial within his home district as he is the first non-African American since World War II to represent Harlem4.

Representative Darren Soto

Congressman Soto, a Democrat from Florida, made history as the first Puerto Rican elected to Congress from the state of Florida5. Soto’s district includes Orlando, Kissimmee and Winter Haven and 40% of its citizens are Puerto Rican. He was formerly a state senator in Florida where he was best known for his work on education, healthcare and the environment6. During his election campaign, Representative Soto stated that he hoped to propose a constitutional amendment allowing Puerto Ricans to vote for president7.

Representative Vicente Gonzalez

Representative Gonzalez is a Democrat from Texas who beat Republican Tim Westley 57.3 percent to 37.7 percent. His greatest focus is on education and making sure higher education is affordable for all. He has already discussed how he has a plan to make the first two years of college debt-free8.  He spoke to his constituency saying “As your representative, I will work with our parents and teachers to improve education and expand opportunities for our students, and work with state, local, and federal officials and stakeholders to address local transportation needs, make healthcare more patient-friendly and affordable, and to secure more federal resources for our communities.”9

Representative Nanette Barragán

Representative Barragán is a Democrat representing California’s 44th Congressional District. Barragán beat her Democratic opponent with 51.2% of the vote despite her challenger having the support of Governor Jerry Brown, Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom and former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. As the daughter of undocumented immigrants, she hopes to show President- elect Trump the value of immigrants10.

Representative Lou Correa

Representative Correa is another Democrat from California in the 46th district, which represents Santa Ana and Anaheim. He hopes to take on President-elect Trump to prevent the promised mass deportations. Correa was formerly a California state senator who focused on a wide range of issues. After being sworn into office he stated, "I'm very humbly honored to be a member of this great country's Congress given my economic background. It just shows the American dream is still there."11

Representative Ruben Kihuen

Representative Kihuen is a Democrat and the first Latino elected in the state of Nevada. He was born in Guadalajara, Mexico and then moved to the United States at age 8. Kihuen was once an aid to former representative Harry Reid. He defeated first term Republican Representative Cresent Hardy to get the seat. Kihuen was quoted saying “it’s my job to continue to fight to make life better for working families and people like my parents, so that everyone has a fair shot at the American dream.”12

Representative Salud Carbajal

Representative Salud Carbajal is another Democrat from California. Carbajal’s race for a House seat was one of the most expensive races in the nation. The new Congressman was born in Mexico and came to the United States at age five.  Before he worked in the county government, he served in the Marine Corp Reserve. Some of his priority issues include student debt, climate change and income inequality. This past week, he cast his vote against the gutting of the Office of Congressional Ethics13

About Author(s)

Katherine Andrews
Katherine Andrews is a senior at the University of Pittsburgh majoring in Political Science with certificates in Global and Latin American Studies. She spent her summer interning with the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs at the State Department and has done research with CLAS in Costa Rica and Mexico. Her focus is on gender and sexuality issues in Latin America, specifically international gender-based violence policy.