“Calladita te ves más bonita“, is a phrase I’m sure most, if not all, Latinas have heard at least once in their life. I love my family, but those words they stated truly haunted me for most of my life. They are words that they state with no ill intent most of the time. Yet, it feels as though they’re meant to silence even the strongest of Latinas. The phrase has too often been allowed to possess excessive power over the trajectory of my life, it was until I made it a mission to refute it that I was able to truly smash those thoughts.

From a young age, I was taught not to use my voice, to simply go with the flow, but as transcendentalist as this sounds, it will not lead to the changes this nation needs to rid it of the inequities it is tainted by.

I have been interested in the political affairs of the United States since I was seven years old. The 2008 election was a turning point in my life. This is when I truly began to comprehend and process what it meant to be the daughter of an undocumented immigrant. I recall watching a debate where Mitt Romney declared his sentiments against undocumented immigrants while Barack Obama fought back with the opposite stating his plan to create a path to citizenship, this sold me. I thought that if Obama won, I would not have to worry about my family being taken away one day. Although now we know how that turned out, I still cherish this election cycle as it made me increasingly aware of inequities in my community and from there led to the birth of my longing to create change.

Despite my excitement, one thing was missing, the ability to see somebody who looked like myself in a position where they were granted the power to demand change. Moreover, as time went on, I believed such places of power were not for me. In second grade, the physical education teacher, an older white man, went on a rant in front of a large group of second-grade children and shared various negative sentiments about immigrants. The comments were pushed into the minds of these young children who he knew were, more likely than not, immigrants themselves. This solely elevated the anxiety I had experienced since I had found out some family could be, at any moment, removed from this country, due to their immigration status. 

Now, I wish I could tell that little girl inside me that I will speak up for both of us so people full of hatred are the ones silenced.

As I became older, more Latinx leaders began showing up. Of course, some were disappointing – Nury Martinez – some whom I look up to – Rep. Alexandra Ocasio Cortez – but hey, it was representation, right?

Despite having such political revelations at such a tender age, I still find that Latinas representation in politics is still quite sparse. A report published by the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Institute on the 2022 midterm elections revealed that Latino/a candidates continue to be underrepresented relative to their share of the population in the United States. Despite being 19% of the population, Latino/as compose less 8% of the total candidates. In terms of Latina representation, less than half of Latino/a candidates running for office are Latinas. 

Luckily, despite those numbers, we saw some Latina winners on election night. From incumbents such as Catherine Cortez Maesto from Nevada and Nanette Barragan from California, to newcomers like Delia Ramirez from Illinois and Marie Gluesenkamp Pérez from a Republican-majority nook in Washington.

In January, Alex Padilla was sworn in as the first Latino elected to the United States Senate from California. Yes, this is quite an accomplishment for all Latinos in California, but what about Latinas? When will a Latina take California’s seat in the U.S. Senate? 

Looking forward to the 2024 elections, Rep. Katie Porter, Barbra Lee, and Adam Schiff have announced their campaigns to replace Sen. Diane Feinstein. But where is the Latina representation?

The empowerment of Latinas and encouragement to run for positions of power reaps benefits for all populations, not just the Latino/a/x community. Last August, a report from the USC Equity Research Institute in partnership with HOPE (Hispanas Organized for Political Equality) revealed that Latinas have the tendency to lead in a manner that benefits not only the Latino/a/x community but also other communities as well. The election of more Latinas in spaces of power results in wins and policies that benefit all. 

Latino/a/x leadership is vital to the future of the nation as it encourages young children to continue to strive for more, to show them that they have the power to change the world. Additionally, such leadership allows the increased diversity of stories to be out there, and to be taken into account when decisions are being made.

If we are not present to tell our story first-hand, who will be? I do not want Michelle Steel or Marco Rubio to tell their colleagues my story, I want to tell it myself. I want to fight for my community, I want to fight for my community alongside others who share similar backgrounds. I am tired of being silenced, I have a voice, and it is my time to use it.

Instead of telling Latinas “calladita te ves más bonita”, let’s adopt something like “poderosa te ves más bonita”

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Denise Ramos-Vega was born and raised in a small predominantly Latinx community nestled on the border of Fullerton and Placentia, California. She is the first in her family to graduate from high school...