This last election saw an unprecedented number of women elected to office, yet Latinas continue to be underrepresented. What follows is an interview with Lucy Flores, who was re-elected Assemblywoman for District 28 in North Las Vegas, NV, and is the state’s first Latina assemblywoman. She talks to Elianne Ramos about the state of Latinas in politics and the need for more Hispanic women to run for office.
ER: When it comes to elected office, women from any race are a minority but Latinas are overwhelmingly underrepresented. To what do you attribute this?
LF: There are a lot of different factors that create barriers for Latinas in politics. One of them is that there are not a lot of role models; there are not a lot of Latinas in elected office. So when a minority woman thinks about things she could do and relates that to what she has seen, politics and elected office aren’t really top of mind.
The second thing is that there is really a lack of support out there. There isn’t a political structure in place for Latinas to turn to. Third, there are some cultural issues: Latinas tend to be very self-reliant. We’re used to being that person who does everything for everyone, except for ourselves.
ER: Do you think that women gains in office during this past election will make it easier for women – and Latinas – to run for office?
LF: I do think that times are changing in politics; yet I don’t think that we will immediately see the effects of this election. I don’t’ think that having a bunch of elected women is going to make it easier for anyone; the challenges will still exist. I think it’s incumbent upon those women who were elected to reach back and make sure that they in turn are also helping other women, other Latinas get elected. [When I was first running for office], I faced a lot challenges but I was really lucky. There was a really good support system out there for me; but it wasn’t from Latinos, and it wasn’t from women.
ER: Do you think that’s the norm, that we don’t support each other?
LF: It may be because there isn’t necessarily a support structure; it may be somewhat cultural. Or it could also be based on gender: There’s the unfortunate stereotype of “catty women”. You know stereotypes exist because they’re true at least in the minority of cases, and I’ve definitely encountered women who are just uncomfortable in their perception of sharing the spotlight. But it’s really not [that way]; when we help each other grow, we actually grow the spotlight. A rising tide raises all ships.
ER: What are the key attributes someone considering a political career must have?
LF: Confidence is key. We have to believe not only in what we are doing, but also in ourselves. Oftentimes, we create our own barriers. We put up walls for ourselves even before others do it for us. If you’re educated, you have a perspective, and you are motivated by the right reasons of wanting to make a difference in your community – That is the definition of public service.
ER: What steps should a Latina start taking if she’s considering a public service life?
LF: There are organizations out there offering some training, and even some financial assistance. For example, Emily’s List offers on-the-ground training. Getting in their email list is a great first step. There’s also Latinas United for Political Empowerment (LUPE). Those are the two most established ones. I usually also encourage people to become aware of what is going on in their city; to become involved not just issue-wise but also campaign-wise. Find out about issues being discussed at the city council, at your school board, at your state legislature. Volunteer for other candidates, do all of the campaign stuff that you will have to do when it’s your turn.
ER: Why should more Latinas be running for office?
LF: The United States has always been a pretty diverse country; we have to make sure that all of those diverse voices are at the table. That is important because with all policies, whether it’s intentional or unintentional, inevitably things can get overlooked. And we need to be the ones making sure that those issues are at the forefront and that they’re being addressed from our perspective.
Elianne Ramos is Principal/CEO of Speak Hispanic Marketing and Vice-Chair, Marketing and PR for Latinos in Social Media (LATISM). Under LATISM, she is also Chief Editor of the LATISM blog, and hostess to weekly Twitter chats reaching over 18.8 million impressions. Follow her on Twitter @ergeekgoddess.