HipLatina is partnering with Voto Latino during Hispanic Heritage Month this fall election season to promote civic action by everyday people across the country. Unfortunately the U.S. is still fairly behind many other countries when it comes having a female presence in government and politics, and of the women we do have in office, Latinas make up a small percentage. But there are some, and they deserve to be seen. The five Latinas featured here are actively seeking political change by working in government, either as judges or state representatives. We applaud their efforts, and hope their example inspires a ripple effect of positive change this November.
Vanessa Ruiz: Senior Judge to The District of Columbia Court of Appeals
Judge Ruiz took office as a Senior Judge to the highest court in The District of Columbia Court of Appeals after serving as an associate judge appointed by President Bill Clinton from 1994-2011. A Puerto Rican native, she attained her BA in Philosophy at Wellesley College before receiving her law degree from Georgetown.
Judge Ruiz is the first and only Latina to serve on DC’s highest court as well as the longest serving woman on the court, and has served as a member of the National Association of women judges. Her most famous case was one she brought before the Supreme Court (the first woman to do so) Havens v. Coleman, a case that challenged the unfair housing practices and violations of the Fair Housing Act of 1968. Throughout her career Judge Ruiz has striven in many ways to create a community of strong female judges and lawmakers, demonstrated by her service developing Hispanic law students, and clerks.
Cecilia Maria Altonaga: Judge of The United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida
Judge Altonaga is the first Cuban-American woman to be appointed to a Federal Court in the United States. She received her law degree from Yale and was appointed to her office by President George W. Bush in 2003. She is popular in her state of Florida and is notable for cultivating law interns from the Florida International University College of Law.
One of her most significant rulings came against the United States’ Sugar corporation. In 2007, Judge Altonaga ruled that flushing its untreated wastewater into Lake Okeechobee (or Florida’s Inland Sea) violated the Clean Air and Water Act.
Lucille Roybal-Allard – Member of the House of Representatives from California’s 40th District
Congresswoman Roybal-Allard was the first Mexican-American woman elected to Congress in 1992. She’s known for her staunch support of immigration reform, labor unions, and the rights of women and children.
Some of her most notable acts include co-authoring The DREAM Act (a bill that would allow undocumented students to become citizens), and she spearheaded the introduction of The Health Equity and Accountability Act, a bill focused on removing the disparity in health among different populations in the United States (so for example, among races, genders, age groups, etc.) She also participated in the 2012 NOH8 Campaign.
Nydia Velázquez: Member of the House of Representatives from New York’s 7th District
Continuing the tradition of firsts (which is quite telling about the progression of representation the United States because the 90s certainly does not represent the distant past) Congressman Velázquez was the first Puerto-Rican woman to be elected to Congress in 1992. After getting her Master’s from NYU in scholarship in the 80s, she went on to be a strong representative for the Latino community in the United States by creating the Latino empowerment program “Atrevete” (Dare to Go for it!), which was one of the most successful programs in US history.
Congressman Velázquez fights for equal rights, is the top Democrat on the House Small Business Committee, and is an advocate for small business and entrepreneurship. She was named Hispanic Business Magazine’s first “Woman of the Year,” for her voice in supporting the priorities of small businesses.
Hilda Solis: Member of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors
With an illustrious political career, serving four terms in the House of Representatives representing the 31st and 32nd districts of California, and serving as the U.S. Secretary of Labor under President Barack Obama—Solis might have the most impressive political career on this list. While in Congress, her priorities included creating legislation that would protect the environment, and she authored the Green Jobs Act which sought to fund “green jobs” for veterans and displaced workers.
When she became the Secretary of Labor, she enacted ninety new rules and regulations to protect and give more power to union and union workers, and while she resigned before Obama’s second term after facing some criticism that she had been involved in tampering with statistics coming from the Bureau of Labor Statistics to supposedly make Obama Administration look better in the face of the election, she’d been praised by President Obama for all the work she had accomplished.
She assumed office in her non-partisan seat on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors in 2014, and is sure to continue her political efficacy working closer to her roots.
This is just a snapshot of what women, specifically what Latina women, can accomplish in this country. Let’s educate ourselves on how we can seek further representation of both women and Latinas in our government. Oh yeah, and don’t forget to vote!