Representation and political engagement among Hispanic women in California, although increasing, has not kept pace with their growing share of the population. Latinas in California must take a more active role in the political process; the health and vibrancy of our democracy depends on it.
By early next year Hispanics are projected to become the state’s largest ethnic group for the first time since California joined the union in 1850. Given that the gender ratio is roughly equal, Hispanic women will soon comprise more than 20 percent of the state’s population.
Despite the surge in population, Latinas continue to be underrepresented on state voter rolls, accounting for less than 15 percent of California’s registered electorate. And although women slightly outnumber men among Hispanic voters, they represent an even smaller portion of likely voters, around just 10 percent.
In addition, the gap between population and political representation in the state legislature remains wide. A mere 4 percent of seats in California’s 120 member legislative body are held by Latinas.
While they may have strength in numbers, because political power stems from voting, Latinas are not fully capitalizing on their potential political strength. Non-voters, with no direct way to hold elected officials accountable to results, have little say on the policy decisions that impact their daily lives.
“It’s incredibly important for Latinas to be at the table,” said President and CEO of Voto Latino Maria Teresa Kumar, at a recent event organized by Hispanas Organized for Political Equality (HOPE), a nonpartisan organization dedicated to the political and economic advancement of Latinas. “The more that we [Latinas] pay attention to what legislative members are doing in our interest and hold them accountable, the more we can ensure that we not only stimulate our families but also our economy and our local community.”
Latinas can exert greater influence on public policy development through increased electoral participation. Elected officials can’t ignore those who make their voice heard through the ballot box.
A true representative democracy relies on political representation and engagement that adequately reflects the interests of all of California’s diverse communities. As a member of the Future of California Elections (FoCE), CA Fwd is working to encourage full participation by all eligible citizens.
“The Latina agenda is really the Latino agenda which is the California agenda,” noted Max Espinoza Senior Advisor to Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez (D-Los Angeles).