Camera flashes, a blue carpet and floor-length evening gowns were all around at the California Latino Legislative Caucus’s (CLLC) 50th anniversary Hispanic Heritage event that took place at the Orpheum Theatre in Los Angeles on October 6. Hollywood celebrities, current and past CLLC members and civic luminaries gathered together to celebrate the five decades of the CLLC, which is an organization made up of State Senate and Assembly members who identify key issues affecting Latinos and empower the Latino community throughout California.
“I believe that we, as a caucus, are a beacon of hope for the Latinos that reside here in California,” Sabrina Cervantes, CLLC Chair and CA Assemblymember (58th AD), told CALÓ NEWS. “We have had very transformational policies that have been signed into law and really, that have been a ripple effect for the rest of the nation. It’s exciting to be here today celebrating our 50th anniversary, where we get to stand on the shoulders of 84 former members and carry on that legacy of representation and justice.”
After years of seeking political representation, in the 1960s, the Latino community finally received recognition for their political organizing by entering the California State Legislature in 1962 through Phil Soto (1962-1966), a Democrat from La Puente, and John Moreno (1962-1964), a Democrat from Los Angeles.
Following the appointments of Alex Garcia, a Democrat from Los Angeles in 1968, Peter Chacon, a Democrat from San Diego, in 1970, and Joseph Montoya, Ray Gonzales and Richard Alatorre in 1972, the five Latinos decided to join power and create the Chicano Legislative Caucus in 1973. Five decades after its birth, the CLLC is the oldest and most influential Latino organization in the United States.
Lena Gonzalez, the CLLC Vice Chair and State Senator (33rd SD), said during the event that the CLLC aims to ensure that the voices of different Latino communities are heard at all levels of government, especially in the state legislature. “We also have a record-breaking 21 Latina legislators,” Gonzalez said. “We do not forget the hardships of our past and of our communities and what they have endured to get us to where we are today. We stand steadfast representing every corner of our golden state.”
Regardless of how much time has passed, the CLLC’s mission to advocate on behalf of the educational, social and political interests of the Latino community has never changed. Focusing on civic engagement and diversity, economic and educational equity, environment and immigration and New Americans, the organization has continuously fought for fair redistricting processes, addressed the pay gap for Latinas and women-owned businesses, improved water resources in California and ensured access to quality health care for all Californians. As they look toward the future, Cervantes and Gonzalez’s central focus is continuing the crucial work of the CLLC, but looking at it from a different perspective.
“We’ve come a long way from when our caucus was first founded with five founding members. Now, we’re just thinking about what are the issues that we fought for 50 years ago,” Cervantes said. “Some of those are still the same issues we’re fighting for with a different lens and a lot of intersectionality. We have members of our community, and not just our LGBTQIA+, but we have Puerto Ricans, Salvadorians and Panamanians. Bringing all these facets together, it’s a beautiful atmosphere in California, so it is inspiring to stand here as we unveil the fight that we’ve had over the last 50 years and the work that we still have left.”
As a caucus solely made up of Latinos, with 38 members (11 Senators, 24 Assembly Members) and three auxiliary members, it is perfectly and organically built to support and identify with the community it serves. It is also just the representation the Latino community needs in all spheres of society.
“We are seeing that we can do something, that [Latinos] can be on the map, and the legislators that are Latino, many of them are immigrants,” said Teresa Romero, president of the United Farm Workers. “It is important because Latino immigrant issues are completely different from [those of] other populations, and they understand it.”
According to Tony Plana, a Cuban-American actor known for his role as Ignacio Suarez on Ugly Betty, the CLLC represents one of the few sectors in society where Latinos have close to equal representation to the percentage of the population. “That doesn’t exist in Hollywood. We’re 19% of this country and we are only 5% in Hollywood, which is ridiculous. But here, we’ve gone on 50 years. 40% of the California population is Latino and 32% of elected officials are getting close to equal representation,” Plana said. “That’s what we should aim for all sectors of society.”
Celebrating its 50th year of uplifting and shining a much-needed and well-deserved light on the Latino community is a major milestone, especially for a minority-led organization. And despite how important it is that the CLLC is standing strong with a series of Latinos and two Latinas leading, the community is hopeful that, as another five decades pass, this milestone will become both beautiful and commonplace.
“I’d like to think that, in the future, as we move forward, it’s not a milestone,” said Erika Martin, a certified meteorologist. “Every day, it becomes redundant and boring, just like breathing. You forget about it because it’s so important for us to be a part of it. But if it has to be a milestone right now, so be it. We’ll take it. We’ll run with it, and we’ll make sure this becomes ordinary and commonplace.”