Democratic members of Congress voted for their slate of party leaders in the new congressional session that starts in January, and in the process made history: for the first time ever, not a single white man will be in a leadership position. 

The new group in the U.S. House of Representatives includes a Southern California congressman who will become the highest-ranking Latino in the lower chamber. Pete Aguilar was elected Democratic Caucus Chair, a job that entails presiding over weekly meetings of all the Democrats in the House to discuss upcoming legislation, party policy, and other congressional issues – including “messaging” and “steering” the members. Aguilar moves up from the vice chair position to become the third-most powerful Democrat.

While other Latino members have in the past held that caucus position Aguilar was just elected to hold, this is the first time it becomes one of the top three posts in the U.S. House.

“I’m grateful to my colleagues for the faith they’ve placed in me and for the opportunity to continue our work putting people over politics. I look forward to bringing together all the voices in our party to safeguard the progress we’ve made,” Aguilar said shortly after the vote, adding that the new Democratic leadership even with Republicans taking control of the House will be poised to push back on anything it considers to be detrimental to Latinos and other working families.

“While the American people want both parties in Congress to work together, we are prepared to fight back against Republican extremism and their plans to cut Social Security and Medicare, to give tax breaks to wealthy corporations that ship jobs overseas, and to enact a national abortion ban.”

The 43-year-old Aguilar was first elected to Congress in 2014, representing California’s 31st congressional district in the Inland Empire region and includes the city of San Bernardino – where Aguilar grew up. The Inland Empire is one of the fastest-growing in the state and its nearly 2.5 million Latinos comprise a majority – 51.5 percent – of its residents.

“It’s not lost on me what my election means for my community, for the Latino community,” Aguilar said last week at a gathering of House Democrats. “Being a kid from San Bernardino, having an opportunity to guide this caucus is a great responsibility and I don’t take it lightly.”

Before voters sent him to Washington, Aguilar served as mayor of the city of Redlands in San Bernardino County.

“Aguilar is a consensus builder, bipartisan bridge, and a fierce advocate for working families. He knows intimately the important and diverse issues that Hispanic families face and has worked tirelessly to defend our democracy,” the Congressional Hispanic Caucus said in a statement.

Aguilar, a member of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, also served on the bipartisan United States House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol, commonly referred to as the January 6th Committee, the bipartisan congressional group which is expected to soon release its investigative report on that 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Aguilar, who was appointed to the committee by outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, is its youngest member and only Latino member.

In addition to his work on that seminal committee, Aguilar is known as an ardent supporter of immigration reform and of greater access of services and benefits to those under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, more commonly known as DREAMers. Aguilar has been a long-time proponent of allowing DREAMers access to federal jobs. Current law allows DACA recipients to have jobs in the private sector, and they can serve as fellows and interns in federal agencies, the White House, and congressional offices, but cannot accept full-time employment.

“Congress, and the federal government more broadly, could benefit from the contributions of DACA recipients, if only we removed the barriers preventing them from joining our federal workforce,” said Aguilar.

In another key election, a California Latino member of Congress, Tony Cárdenas, who represents the San Fernando Valley, is one of the frontrunners – along with fellow Californian Ami Bera — to head the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the campaign fundraising election committee arm of the House Democrats, a pick that will happen in February. The person in that powerful position has historically been handpicked by the Democrats’ top leader in the House – in January that will be New Yorker Hakeem Jeffries, who has remained mum on his choice while several other members are pushing for that to be an elected position in the same manner as the party’s House leaders are chosen.  

Raised in Puerto Rico, Patricia Guadalupe is a bilingual multimedia journalist based in Washington, D.C., covering the capital for both English and Spanish-language media outlets. She is also an adjunct...