Texas is poised to make history and send as many as two Latinas to Congress next year.
The two women are running in solidly Democratic districts and appear to be headed for easy victories in the general election.
El Paso County Judge Veronica Escobar handily beat out five other Democrats in her primary Tuesday night to replace Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who is running to unseat Republican Sen. Ted Cruz.
“We’re going to make history by electing the first Tejana to Congress in November, and I couldn’t have done it without all of you,” Escobar wrote on Facebook after her win.
In the 29th Congressional District of Texas, state Sen. Sylvia Garcia of Houston defeated six other Democrats in her primary to replace Democratic Rep. Gene Green, who is retiring at the end of the year.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., issued a statement praising Escobar and Garcia’s success in “clearing their paths to becoming the first Latinas ever elected to the U.S. Congress from Texas.”
Texas has the second-largest Hispanic population in the country, totaling 10.4 million. That means 39 percent of the population is Latino, according to 2014 Census data. But not until 2018 has a Latina had a real shot at winning a congressional race.
Rep. Linda Sanchez, the first Latina to serve in Democratic leadership in Congress, said the small number of Latinas in Washington speaks to the bigger issue that women make up a small percentage in the House.
“Why aren’t there just more women generally,” the California Democrat said in an interview with the Washington Examiner. “Well, women don’t typically have vast networks of friends and donors when they’re running for office who can contribute, and the problem is more pronounced with Latinas in general.”
Sanchez attributed the difficulty for Latinas to break through in Texas to a generational shift.
“In my parent’s generation women were mostly homemakers,” Sanchez said, “culturally conditioned not to stand out, not to be too vocal, showing very much deference and respect for elders and men. There’s a cultural hurdle there that’s been changing with each successive generation.”
It's past time Texas sent Latinas to Congress, Sanchez said, noting that “the Hispanic population in the U.S. is growing and House representation has not kept pace.”
Democrats need to encourage more Latinas to run, and help them with funding and resources when they do, Sanchez said. Though she acknowledged it's something the party is “doing much better than they have in the past."
“For young Latinas it’s a really exciting time to be in Texas,” said Jessica Reeves of Voto Latino.
“It’s hard for an older, white male in Congress to really understand the struggles a young Latina or young people of color are facing,” Reeves added. “It’s going to take people that look like us to really reflect our values.”