In a bid to increase political representation for American Latinos, two Chicago-area politicians recently announced the creation of the Latino Leadership Council, a political action committee. Jesus “Chuy” García of Illinois’ fourth district, and his predecessor, Luis Gutiérrez, engineered the organization’s creation.
The council, which is explicitly progressive-leaning, will raise money to support Latino representatives, with a goal of securing more proportional representation for the community.
After this November’s elections, a record 42 of 535 federal lawmakers will be Latino, or about 8 percent of the total. This year, voters also elected Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to represent New York’s 14th Congressional District as the youngest woman ever elected to the U.S. Congress.
Despite these records, Latinos are still underrepresented: numbering about 58 million, members of the ethnic group make up around 18 percent of the American population.
Medill sophomore Kris Gerdts, who is of Colombian descent, emphasized the importance of Latino leaders.
“Representation matters,” she said, “so if you have people that don’t know the struggles that Hispanics and Latinos are facing, you won’t have the voice that [Latinos] need heard.”
García and Gutiérrez also spoke on raising awareness of the buying power that Latinos hold, as well the group’s general economic and social contributions. The U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce said this year that about 4.4 million Latino-owned businesses nationwide contributed over $700 billion to the American economy each year – a stunning number.
Though these contributions are positive, Gerdts argued that they shouldn’t be a condition of obtaining political representation.
“I don’t think that it’s necessary information to have your voice heard,” she said. “When people are referring to Hispanics in an area, if there’s anything good to be said, it’s like, “Oh they’re taking all the jobs we don’t want.” But we could be here, just living here, and that’s enough too.”
What might be more influential than objective population size and economic power is how the community will use it. The Latino Leadership Council itself is a reaction to the increased turnout among Latino voters during these past midterm elections. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, for example, said that Latino voter participation across the country rose by 174 percent between the 2018 and 2014 midterms. The upturn may have been motivated by concerns about President Trump, as congressional elections are typically seen as referendums on the president.
Nearly 29 million Latinos were eligible to vote during these midterm elections – almost 12.8 percent of all eligible voters. Exit polls indicate that Latinos made up about 11 percent of all voters this year, while over a quarter of Latino voters said this year was their first time voting in a midterm election. Though the group’s turnout is typically low, PACs like the Latino Leadership Council could factor into higher engagement in the future.
Neither representative nor their administrations were available for comment. Both are in the post-midterms process of moving offices, according to Gutiérrez’s D.C. office.