Latina leaders in Connecticut are encouraging women of color to run for local office in order to represent the needs of their communities.
In a Zoom conversation hosted by Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz on Thursday afternoon, eight elected city councilwomen, representatives and alderwomen shared their experiences and their suggestions for getting into politics.
Many of these women faced similar obstacles in running for office — lack of funding, difficulty networking, and being branded as overly emotional or being told to “wait their turn.”
“The first thing that I would say to women that decide to run in, don’t read the newspapers,” said New Have Alderwoman Carmen Rodriguez, “Don’t worry what is said about you, because if you know, you can do this, it can be done.”
They also discussed the importance of getting to know local politics, of doing grassroots organizing and of being mentored. Passion and persistence, they said, were key.
“You have to grow tough skin in order to be in politics, because you will always have someone try to put you down,” said Maly Rosado, president of the Hartford City Council.
In addition to convincing Latina women to run for office, these elected officials recognize the need to convince people of color to come out to the polls and vote, and to complete the census.
“We need to be counted and we need to voice our opinion. And we do that by going out there and voting,” said Maly Rosado, president of the Hartford City Council.
Alma Nartatez, president pro tempore of the New London City Council, told the Connecticut Examiner that it can be difficult to convince people that their vote matters.
“A lot of people feel like they are disenfranchised,” she said. “They don’t feel that they are being represented.”
Nartatez said that the Democrats in New London have been providing rides to the polls, as well as going door to door in teams of people that include Spanish-speakers. They also send out fliers in English and Spanish.
“Having a Latina elected official…somebody who understands the culture, speaks the language, has personal experience … I believe it resonates,” said Nartatez.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Latinos make up 16.9 percent of the population in Connecticut. Yet data shows that the Covid-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected these communities.
A recent report from DataHaven shows that 37 percent of Latino adults in Connecticut reported that, since February, at least one adult in their household has lost his or her job, compared to 18 percent of White people and 22 percent of Black people. Twenty-seven percent of Latinos have experienced food insecurity this year, as compared with 9 percent of White people and 22 percent of Black people.
Additionally, Latinos report lower levels of trust in their local police, local government and state government as compared to whites.
Nartatez said that she has worked on several initiatives in New London that are particularly important to Latino residents. One was a resolution that would prevent U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement from entering people’s homes and asking about their immigration status. Another was voting to get rid of a military vehicle that the New London police acquired in February.
Representative Hilda Santiago from Meriden said that one of her key priorities is making sure that communities of color have access to healthcare. She co-sponsored bills in the House capping the cost of insulin and extending telehealth services.
“We have the biggest health disparities in the whole nation, people of color. And especially Latinos,” said Santiago. “Healthcare is very important in our community.”
Several of the women said that another big priority for their communities was the passage of the police accountability bill, and particularly the creation of a civilian review board.
Aidee Nieves, president of the Bridgeport City Council, said that she is working on developing a race equity survey for the City of Bridgeport in order to look at the disparities that people of color face, particularly regarding healthcare, education and housing.
“Zoning laws and regulations really impact us as marginalized communities,” she said. She has also been working to make sure that local store owners have information about how to apply for PPP loans. She said a big problem in her community was the fact that the loans were not available to undocumented immigrants.
Currently, there are 30 Latina women elected to local office in the state of Connecticut, according to Bysiewicz. At the end of the Zoom call, Santiago relayed a message in Spanish encouraging listeners to speak with their local officials and to become involved in the decisions being made in their towns.
“We are here to have a voice,” said Santiago. “To have a voice at the table. To have a voice for our community.”