As Rihanna asks, “Who is gonna to run this town?” On May 6, we will find out. All eyes are on the hotly contested Dallas City Council elections. If we, as a city, state and nation are to prosper, adapting to a changing demographic is the law of the land. The election of Latinas to represent majority Latino communities is the wave of the future, and we need to get on board.
When Catherine Cortez Masto became the first Latina elected to the United States Senate, it served notice that Latinas are on the move. In Texas, the success of State Representative Victoria Neave against an incumbent also suggests a surging trend. Locally, we have several recently elected Latinas and a handful of others are on the May 6 ballot.
We still have a long way to go. Latinas Represent, an organization whose goal is to increase the number of Latinas in the upper level of government, estimates that Latinas represent just 1 percent of elected officials nationwide despite a population of 25 million. The wider idea, though, is that we must continue to push for the election of Latinas at all levels.
In Dallas County, Latinos represent roughly 40 percent of the population, yet we only hold two seats on a 14-member city council. Two geographic areas, Districts 1 and 5, both with some of the highest numbers of Latinos are represented by Anglo Americans. In District 5, known as the Pleasant Grove area, challenger Dominique Paulette Torres seeks to oust incumbent Rickey Callahan. If she is successful, she will be the first Latina to ever represent this long- standing Latino community. The recent endorsement by the Dallas Morning News of Callahan over Torres indicates that we still have work to do to be seen as viable candidates, despite trends showing growing levels of electability.
Can someone of another ethnicity represent a majority minority community effectively? Sure. We have been witnesses to the fine job District 1 council member Scott Griggs is doing in Oak Cliff. Not even superb representation can overcome the undeniable connection of seeing yourself in the faces of power. As one of two elected Latina judges in Dallas County, I can attest there is no greater shift in perceptions of what is attainable as when a young Latina/o exclaims, “I have NEVER seen a Latin judge.” This moment is a moment of power, a moment of culmination of all the “isms” we as a community have endured for generations. For those precious seconds, we move from a subjugated race to a place of power. This is a moment of definition where the borderland that we occupy as persons of color and Americans comes together as a testament to the progress we have made and hope for future gains. That feeling is something an Anglo American representative will never provide to a community of color. Beyond the “feel good “ factor and political implications of changing power structures, more salient issues dominate such as the need for immigration reform and policy, bilingual education, access to healthcare that predominantly affect Latino communities. Having an elected representative who has lived through or has proximate generational ties to these issues is paramount.
The train is moving slowly, but soon it will barrel down with a fierceness. As this country increasingly turns more black and brown, the political relevance of the Latina cannot be underestimated. Latinas have notched significant wins at the national, state and local level in the last several election cycles that suggest an avalanche is coming. These wins come despite being outspent and against seasoned incumbents. Latino communities are starting to wake up and realize their political clout in being able to elect candidates that look like them. Latinas are at the forefront to capitalize.
Judge Sara Martinez is Justice of the Peace in Dallas County Precinct 5, Place 1, and a Dallas Public Voices Fellow .