By Imogen Reed
Ask any Latino man and he will tell you just how strong Latina women are. He will probably be remembering how his mom managed to work two jobs, look after the kids and keep house; or thinking about his wife, who maybe has a better degree than he does or earns more money than he does, and yet still takes on the majority of the burden for keeping their home life on track. His marriage is different to his parents’ marriage, because he and his wife make all the important decisions together, whereas when he was a child his Papa’s word was said to be final. What he secretly knows is that Papa was really only ever the spokesman and that it was Mama who subtly influenced much of what he had to say, if indeed she hadn’t drafted it directly.
Things have changed. Mama and Papa have long retired, and when Mama’s not helping look after the grandchildren she’s planning how to get Papa to go on that South American cruise <> she’s always dreamed of. She sees how well her sons and daughters are doing, and she expects her grandchildren will do even better, or at least they will if she has her way; and when she watches the television news it’s evident to her that not only have Latino men begun to take their proper place in the mainstream of American society, but that Latina women are in step with them. They no longer need a man’s voice to speak the words, and to legitimize their ideas, because they are now more than capable of speaking for themselves, and translating their ideas into action. She sees Latina women involved in all aspects of business and civic life, and perhaps most importantly for her grandchildren’s future, she sees them becoming increasingly involved in politics on both sides of the aisle, and in trying to shape what American society should look like.
Perhaps most prominent amongst them in the past few years has been Hilda Solis, who joined President Obama’s cabinet as Secretary when he came to office in 2009. Not that she was unknown before that, having served two years as a California assemblywoman, before serving six as a State Senator, being the first Latina woman elected to that office. In 2000 she moved into national view when she took the trip to Washington as Congresswoman for California’s 31st congressional, and remained in the House until the call came from the President–Elect in 2008.
Recently Solis has been front and center in promoting Obama’s proposed Jobs Act which aims to improve employment prospects by reducing payroll tax for small businesses and 160 million workers, and give tax credits for employing veterans; maintain numbers in teaching, police and for fire fighters; invest in infrastructure projects, and reform and extend unemployment insurance. Unsurprisingly in an election year, the proposals are a matter of contention between Democrats and Republicans, but Solis has been notable in her advocacy for the Jobs Act and for the benefits she believes it will bring to business as well as job seekers and essential public sector workers.
Solis has drawn much flack over the years from her conservative opponents, but has skilfully ignored most of it. At only fifty four years of age it seems unlikely that a woman with so many achievements behind her is likely to stop soon, and she perhaps has even greater ambitions for her future political career.
In that if nothing else she has something in common with Republican Susana Martinez, Governor of New Mexico, who has faced equally hostile criticism from liberals, particularly over her stand on illegal immigration. Elected as Governor in 2010, she is not only the first female occupant of that office in her state, but the first Latina woman to win a gubernatorial election for either party in the whole of the United States.
As the granddaughter of ‘illegal’ immigrants, Martinez stance on the subject is perhaps unexpected, but she has been consistent in arguing that they have no rights to remain and no place in American life. Since becoming Governor she has signed an executive order requiring police and state officials to check the immigration status of criminal suspects, and made unsuccessful efforts to repeal legislation that allows undocumented immigrants to acquire the same driving license as citizens in the state.
In a state that is considered strongly Democrat, and which gave a 15 point advantage to Obama in the last Presidential election, some argue that Martinez won the race to be Governor not because of her own efforts, but largely because her Democratic opponent was tainted by his association with former Governor Bill Richardson, who was under investigation for improper business dealings. However, since her election her polling figures have remained impressive. As late as last December it was reported that as well as the near universal support of Republicans in the state, she also elicited a positive reaction with 32% of Democratic voters and had a 48/38 lead amongst independents. Although New Mexico only carries five Electoral College votes, with the Martinez’s ability to capture wide spread appeal it is perhaps not surprising that she is being spoken of as a potential Vice-Presidential candidate for 2012.
Making Mama Proud
Certainly these are two Latina politicians to watch out for in the future, but there are many others already snapping at their heels. Meanwhile Mama continues to keep one keen eye on the cruise brochures and the other on the progress of the next generation of Latina women.