With the dust settling on the midterm elections, Latino voters in California and elsewhere across the country helped make history by sending quite a few “firsts” to the nation’s capital with the new congressional session starting in January.
Latino voters remained strongly Democratic with 64% of Latinos reporting that they voted for a Democratic House candidate, compared to 33% who reported they voted for Republican candidates, according to the 2022 Midterm Election Voter Poll.
With the midterm gains in Latino seats by Democrats and Republicans, for the first time Latinos are expected to make up more than 10% of the members of the U.S. House of Representatives, according to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund (NALEO).
There are 38 Latinos in Congress, 28 of them Democrats and 10 Republicans but when all the votes are counted that number is expected to increase to 45, with 34 Democrats and 11 Republicans, according to NALEO.
In the Southern California congressional district that includes the city of Long Beach, Mayor Robert García, a Democrat, becomes the first LGBTQ immigrant elected to Congress, representing a district with Latinos comprising 38% of the population. García was five years old when he and his family emigrated to the U.S. from Peru. He lost his mother to COVID and told supporters he was dedicating his win to her memory.
“That hard-working woman who worked in clinics, who cleaned houses, who was a true immigrant in every sense of the word, is why I’m here today. Why my brother is here today. Her fight and love for this country is what made us today,” Garcia said.
In Illinois, Delia Ramírez becomes the first Latina to represent the state in Congress. “We just made history tonight,” Ramirez told supporters on the night of her win. “We broke a glass ceiling. I am proud to be your next congresswoman.” Ramírez, a Democratic state representative, had already made history in 2018 when she became the first Guatemalan American elected to the Illinois General Assembly.
In Washington state, a daughter of a Mexican immigrant father flipped a key seat previously held by Republicans. Marie Gluesenkamp Pérez, co-owner along with her husband of an auto repair shop, beat back a candidate endorsed by former President Trump in a district that had been held by Jaime Herrera Beutler, a Republican who had voted to impeach Trump and later lost her primary.
Oregon voters also made history, electing the first Latina to represent the state in Congress. Republican Lori Chávez-DeRemer flipped the district for the GOP. Chávez-DeRemer is a small business owner and the former mayor of Happy Valley, a suburb of Portland. In the neighboring district, Democratic state Representative Andrea Salinas won in an area that has the highest percentage of Latino residents in the state – 21%.
In Florida, voters from both sides of the political aisle made history by electing the youngest person to Congress and the first Mexican American woman to represent the Sunshine State. Twenty-five-year-old Maxwell Alejandro Frost, who is Afro Cuban, is the first Gen Zer to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. Generation Z refers to those born between 1997 and 2012; Frost, a Democrat, ran in the Central Florida district represented by Congresswoman Val Demmings, who gave up the seat to run for the U.S. Senate. “Central Florida, my name is Maxwell Alejandro Frost and I’m going to be the first Generation Z member of the United States Congress!” he told supporters on election night.
On the Republican side, Anna Paulina Luna becomes the first Mexican American Latina from Florida in the U.S. Congress, representing a district on the state’s Gulf Coast that includes the city of St. Petersburg. Luna, a conservative who believes Trump won the 2020 election, flipped the seat previously held by Rep. Charlie Crist, who left it to run for governor. This was a second go-round for Luna, who had lost to Crist in 2020. “This seat is going to be rightfully handed back into the hands of all of you,” Luna told supporters. “I’m not going up there for my own self-interest. I’m not going there for D.C. I’m going up there for all of you.”
In New York, George Santos becomes the only LGBTQ Republican in Congress. Santos, whose parents were born in Brazil, identifies as Latino and flips that seat from Democratic to Republican.
In Texas, Gregorio Eduardo “Greg” Casar, a Democrat and son of Mexican immigrants, becomes the first Latino sent to Congress representing the Austin area, and portions of San Antonio. Casar is considered a progressive and alluded to that in his comments to supporters on election night.
“We won this race on a bold, progressive, unapologetic platform that we’re taking all the way to the U.S. Congress. Together, we can tackle the real problems that people are facing – we can unionize our workplaces, win good paying jobs, invest in affordable housing, restore abortion rights, tackle the climate crisis, and so much more,” Casar said.
Further down the state in South Texas, redistricting pitted two incumbent members of Congress, and Democratic representative Vicente González came up ahead of Republican congresswoman Mayra Flores, winning in a district that is overwhelmingly Latino – 85%.
“I promised one thing throughout this entire campaign: to be your champion in DC,” he tweeted on election night. “Thank you for this opportunity to be your voice!”
Over in Colorado, another Democratic state representative, Dr. Yadira Caraveo, made history as the first Latina elected to represent the Centennial State – her district north of Denver has the highest percentage of Latino residents in the state at nearly 40%. Caraveo is a pediatrician and daughter of Mexican immigrants. At a press conference days after her win, Caraveo credited Latino voters with putting her over the top in a tight race.
“What I can tell you I saw in this campaign was how unified they (Latinos) were behind having a voice, behind the ability to share a story, a language with somebody who really would understand them, who came up in their community and who could represent them in Congress.” Exit polls showed that more than 75% of Latino voters supported Caraveo.
What is particularly interesting about all these races is that while Latino voters were an important voice in a number of key congressional races, including helping to keep the U.S. Senate in Democratic hands with the reelection of Latina Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto in Nevada the Latino voter turnout nationwide was not as high as some had predicted.
While close to 11.7 million Latinos voted in the 2018 midterm elections – with an overwhelming majority voting for Democrats — NALEO projected a drop in Latino voters this year, to about 11.6 million.
Nonetheless, young voters turned out in greater numbers than had been expected, and young Latinos were naturally part of that uptick.
The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning at Tufts University analyzes young voters and found that close to 30% of voters 18-29 showed up at the polls on November 8, which is the second-highest turnout youth voter turnout in nearly 30 years, and a majority voted for Democrats – citing abortion and gun control as top issues.
“As a Gen Zer, we are the next generation of leaders and we have to be involved. I mean look at Frost (in Florida), the first Gen Zer to be elected to Congress. We care about the issues, and we’re getting involved. I wanted to make sure that we didn’t elect leaders who aren’t paying attention to us, and I wanted to vote for the party that is best for us and not one taking away our rights, said Olivia Martínez, 21, a recent Temple University graduate and Pennsylvania voter who cast her ballot for Democratic candidates. Young voters in Pennsylvania were key in flipping a Senate seat to the Democrats and helping that party keep its Senate majority.
“Now it’s time to see what they (elected officials) do to keep our interests in mind,” said Martínez adding that she hopes this midterm motivates more Latinos to show up at the polls.
“We did make a difference. Imagine if more of us had actually voted. I just don’t understand how anyone can stay home and not vote. It takes a special kind of privilege to not get involved and not pay attention to all of those who sacrificed for us so that we could vote. It really is that important, especially for us future generations of Latinas and Latinos.”