By Mike Madrid
When Mayra Flores shocked the political establishment by winning a special election in a Texas congressional district earlier this year, Washington pundits focused on the novel fact that a Republican won in one of the most overwhelmingly Hispanic districts in the country. More curious was that Flores is a Mexican born immigrant, married to a border patrol agent and is an avowed supporter of former President Trump.
But of all the unconventional things that the Congresswoman represents it should have come as no surprise that she’s a woman. Flores reflects two trends that promise to make our pluralistic democracy even more nuanced – the rightward shift in Hispanic voting patterns and the election of more Latinas to office.
Latinos generally, and the communities largest and fastest growing subset of Mexican-Americans specifically, have long looked to women as catalysts for political action as well as candidates for political representation. The very origin of Mexican political culture began with the female iconography of the Virgén de Guadalupe…..patron saint of Latin America.
Despite the need of many to oversimplify the complex transformation of ethnic voting and representation in America today, the rightward shift of Hispanic voters occurring in the country is not a function of machismo culture or strongman stereotypes. These ethnic tropes exist to dismiss the behavior of non-conforming minorities to certain majority white expectations, especially when those expectations are to oppose the would-be-wall-building Donald Trump and an increasingly anti-immigrant Republican Party.
Additionally, there is unfolding evidence that the Latinization of America will actually result in considerably greater female representation in our government. What non-Hispanic white women have been struggling to achieve over a century since suffrage, Hispanic women seem to be rapidly accomplishing in a fraction of that time – gender parity amongst their peers in office.
As of June 2022, there are 122 women in the U.S. House of Representatives (not counting four female non-voting delegates), making women 27.9% of the total. Of the 43 Hispanic members serving in the House 29 are men and 14 are women – a slight but measurably better 33% of Hispanic members are women.
Perhaps more importantly as a barometer of the near future, More Latinas ran for Congress than ever before in 2020, with at least 75 candidates. This is more than four times the number in 2010, when 17 Latinas ran.
Increased gender parity for Latinas gets even more pronounced at the state and local level. The National Council of Hispanic State Legislators reports that of the 425 Hispanic state legislators nationwide 166 are female compared to 259 that are male – meaning fully 39% of the countries Hispanic state legislators are female – source: https://nhcsl.org/legislator_
The states with the two largest Hispanic populations are even better examples. In blue California, home to the countries largest Hispanic population, 19 women and 13 men are counted among its Hispanic ranks – fully 60% of California Hispanic lawmakers are women. Incidentally, the only two Hispanic Republicans in the California legislature are women.
In red Texas, the countries second largest Hispanic state, 23 men and 18 women serve in the state legislature, meaning 44% of Hispanic lawmakers are women.
While not all state and local bodies have such an outsized or even balanced representation between women and men, these numbers and a clearly less patriarchal sense of political leadership, could rapidly increase the gender balance of many of our public bodies in the near future.
Hispanic voting behavior and civic engagement show just how much the male macho stereotype misses the mark. NALEO, the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, the membership organization representing the countries rapidly expanding rolls of Hispanic elected officials, has conducted research concluding that the engagement of the female head of Hispanic households had a cascading effect to men and voting age adults in the family. Hispanic men in the study offered that their act of casting a ballot – along with candidate and party preferences- were driven in large part by the leadership of women in the home.
The growing trend of female elected representation includes a wide diversity of ideology, nationality, generational status and geography. Like the community itself, Latina elected officials are not monolithic. Where the progressive Boston University alumna Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortes of Puerto Rican descent, represents an urban district and has ushered in a new generation of politics on the American left, Rep. Mayra Flores a Mexican immigrant from the rural Rio Grande Valley personifies the GOP’s current lurch towards America First nationalism.
While only time will tell which, if either, woman’s ideological or partisan preferences are most reflective of the emerging Hispanic American plurality, it’s undeniable that each woman can legitimately claim that their distinctive brand of politics are genuinely reflective of the values their respective communities represent. Their Latina identity, or Latinidad, is unquestioned even though they represent among the two polar opposites of the Congressional political spectrum.
Advocates of greater female representation have argued that women tend to be less combative, more solution-oriented and better collaborators than male politicians. We can hope.
If current trends continue, American democracy’s survival of this hyper-partisan era may mean we will be relying more and more on Hispanic women to break down the silos and guide the country back to solving problems. Conversely, greater female representation may lead us down a continuing path of stalemate, acrimony and derisiveness proving our current problems may be bigger than our societies increasing focus and systemic challenges of gender and ethnicity. The future, however it unfolds, is Latina.
Mike Madrid is a co-host of The Latino Vote podcast, a Republican consultant and co-founder of The Lincoln Project.