The 115th U.S. Congress is the most diverse in history. There are now 39 Hispanic members of the House and Senate, double the number from 2001. Yet Hispanic representation in Congress is still lacking. Hispanics account for 17.3% of the U.S. population but only 8.9% of the current Congress. The same under-representation can be seen in local and state governments. But as the number of eligible Hispanic voters increases—Hispanic eligible voters hit a record 27.3 million in 2016, higher than any other racial or ethnic group in the country—so will the number of Latinos looking to break into politics.
A new wave of young Hispanics eager to represent their communities in the political arena is emerging. That is why—as we continue to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month—Global Americans’ October Top of the Month focuses on five young Hispanic leaders working in government. Whether it’s running for office in their home state or working on the Hill, these five young Latinos are working to improve Hispanic representation in American Politics.
An activist fighting for Hispanic empowerment, Pili Tobar currently serves as Hispanic media director for Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer. Her role includes working with senators and Hispanic media outlets to ensure the Democratic party is effectively communicating with Latino communities in their states. Given her experience as an activist, Tobar notes that advocacy and political work go hand-in-hand.
Born in Florida and raised in Guatemala, Tobar has been a spokesperson for America’s Voice and head of advocacy at the Latino Victory Project, where she has campaigned on behalf of Hispanic candidates. Tobar has also headed the Hispanic media team for the Democratic National Committee through the 2014 midterm elections and ran the communications operation for Rep. Ruben Gallego in 2015.
Last April, 28 year old Ammar Campa Najjar announced his bid to run for Congress in California’s 50th Congressional District in 2018. The son of a Palestinian-American father and a Mexican-American mother, Najjar is the first Latino-Arab American to run for Congress. Campa Najjar has previously worked under the Obama administration as a public affairs officer at the Labor Department. He also served in the President’s office handling constituent correspondence and as a liaison with the community. Prior to his time at White House, Campa Najjar was Director of Communications for the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Days after the 2016 elections, he wrote a piece for the Washington Post on how Trump’s election has not shaken his belief in America.
Living in a district who in 2012, voted for Obama and four years later overwhelmingly voted for Donald Trump, Ammar Campa Najjar decided to run for the people of his district. In an interview with NBC Latino, he explained that the reason for the shift in his district’s votes was largely due to Trump’s focus on the issues they most cared about: jobs and the economy. Those are two of the main topics he is focusing on as he campaigns for the November 2018 elections.
El Salvador-born Wendy Carrillo, 36, has long shown her commitment to her East Los Angeles neighborhood. Formerly a grassroots organizer and a journalist, Carrillo is running for Congress in California’s 34th district. Using her experience in the media, Carrillo can not only clearly advocate for the issues she cares about, but can provide a track record of holding politicians accountable. But what makes Carrillo’s bid that much more important is that, if she wins, she would become the first formerly undocumented woman in Congress.
In a district where 64% of the population is Latino, 49% are foreign born and 33% aren’t eligible to vote, Carrillo is familiar with the issues her community faces: immigration, health care, jobs and education. As a formerly undocumented woman, Carrillo’s goal is to grant those who cannot vote and whose voices aren’t heard a seat at the table. In an interview with Latina, Carrillo said “you cannot keep talking about immigrants, women, Latinas, undocumented communities and refugees if you do not have those people at the table.” Carrillo hopes that her story, of a formerly undocumented women running for office, serves to inspire people to work hard and achieve the American dream.
Andrés Cano, 25, currently serves as a Political Aide and Community Liaison in the office of Arizona District 5 supervisor Richard Elías. Cano’s interest in politics was prompted at a very young age by his grandmother’s premature death caused by inhaling toxic beryllium at her minimum wage job. Cano told Univision, that his mother’s involvement and attendance at public hearings over this problem was what showed him there was a way to speak out and provide a voice for those without a platform.
Additionally, as a gay Latino man, Cano works to promote awareness over HIV/AIDS in Tucson. Cano is involved with organizations like The National Latino AIDS Awareness Day campaign (NLAAD) and was selected as a fellow of HIV360, a Human Rights Campaign program aimed to take HIV-inclusive organizations and initiatives to the next level.
Cano has recently launched his bid for the Arizona House of Representatives as a candidate for District three. When asked about his reasons for running for office Cano told Univision the following: “When I look at the photos in the halls of government buildings and I see the elected officials, I don’t see the community I know, or the place I grew up in. Until that changes, we will continue to ask ourselves why our communities aren’t a priority to the government.”
New York Native, Andeliz Castillo currently serves under the Trump administration as the Special Assistant to the President and Deputy Director of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs for the Vice President, a key emissary to a variety of groups representing people of different races, creeds and political viewpoints. From 2011 to 2012 Castillo served as Deputy Communications Director at the House Committee on Foreign Affairs for Chairman Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. She has previously worked for the House of Representative’s GOP leadership under then Chairman Mike Pence. Prior to that, Castillo was also the COO of The Libre Initiative, a nonprofit grassroots organization that works closely with Hispanics towards economic self-reliance and civic engagement. During the 2008 McCain cycle, she served as the director of outreach communications at the RNC.
Castillo credits her interest in politics to her Cuban-born grandfather. She graduated from Brown University with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Hispanic Studies.