Five Afro-Latinas Paving the Way for Young Women in Politics

Anto Chavez – February 8th, 2021 – BeLatina

The Combahee River Collective once wrote, “if Black women were free, it would mean that everyone else would have to be free since our freedom would necessitate the destruction of all the systems of oppression.”

Black women in the United States have always been the ones paving the way for all of us to feel free to be who we are, to have the possibility to do what we love and to be able to represent our communities.

We all witnessed their work during these past elections. Black women delivered countless wins across the nation. They educated and mobilized their neighborhoods, organized themselves and their loved ones, and took action for a better tomorrow.

However, it hasn’t just been about the power of their vote. Black, female public servants, are also opening the doors to thousands of girls and young women in U.S. politics. They are teaching us how to fight and showing us how to win.

So, here are five Afro-Latinas in politics whose personal and career journeys inspire the world.

Carmen De La Rosa
Assemblywoman De La Rosa was born in the Dominican Republic and immigrated to New York as a young child, where she became a resident of Inwood in Northern Manhattan.

She began her career in politics in 2007 and has been helping her community ever since. De La Rosa was just re-elected as a member of the New York State Assembly, representing District 72, in November of 2020.

Throughout the years, De La Rosa has shown her commitment to improving the quality of life of residents and addressing their every-day issues “through legislative action, smart and progressive budgeting process, fierce advocacy efforts, and community organizing.”

Her fight for immigrant rights has been especially important to those who support her. Besides introducing the NYS DREAM ACT back in 2018, she has demanded criminal justice reform, raised her voice for affordable housing, advocated for women’s rights, and developed policies around mental health and suicide prevention for minority communities.

By applying an intersectional approach to her work, she has used her position’s power as a tool for social change for all.

Candace Valenzuela
Candace Valenzuela is a mother, an educator, and a lifelong Texan. She is also the daughter of a Mexican-American mother and a Black father.

In 2020, Valenzuela was running to represent Texas’s 24th Congressional District. She led an impressive grassroots movement and refused to take corporate PAC money. Her platform included accessible housing, criminal justice reform, reproductive rights, immigration reform, environmental justice, and an immediate response to the economic and public health impacts of COVID-19.

She started the race as an underdog but became close to becoming the first Afro-Latina in Congress. Even though Valenzuela did not win the election, she made incredible progress. Her story resonated among thousands, and her work inspired us to demand more from elected officials.

Valenzuela thanked her supporters, family, and friends and restated her commitment to helping her community on a video posted on Twitter. It is evident that all of her efforts were not in vain. She has encouraged many Texans to join her in the fight for justice.

Maria Quiñones-Sánchez
Quiñones-Sánchez was born in Puerto Rico and moved to the U.S. in the 1960s. She currently lives in Norris Square in North Philadelphia with her husband and their two children.

She is a Councilmember and activist with 30 years of community service. Quiñones-Sánchez has served as the first Latina of the Philadelphia City Council, representing District 7 in Pennsylvania, since 2008. As a progressive public servant, her focus has been on fighting racial, economic, gender, and public health inequalities.

Quiñones-Sánchez recently challenged Philadelphia businesses to create a “new normal” in covid times and invest in Brown and Black communities. “It’s time to stop talking about change and actually create it,” she wrote on an Instagram post. Even long before the coronavirus pandemic started to affect our communities, she was passing legislation that benefited small business owners.

Her courage and dedication have taken her this far. Now, her legacy will open the doors to many more women like her.

Grace Diaz
Diaz was born and raised in Santo Domingo, the Dominican Republic’s capital. She grew up in a low-income household, where she had to start working from an early age to help with her family’s financial responsibilities.

She is a member of the Rhode Island House of Representatives and was the first Dominican-American elected to state office in the United States history. As representative of District 11 in Providence, she has advocated for small business support, child care, and access to education.

Diaz assumed office in 2005 and won re-election in November of 2020. Her current term ends in January of 2023, so she will continue to represent and serve her community while inspiring all of us to fight for what we believe in.

She is another Afro-Latina leaving her mark in politics and becoming a role model for girls and young women to follow.

Julia Mejia
Mejia was born in the Dominican Republic and arrived in Dorchester, Boston, when she was five years old. Growing up, she often worked with her mother cleaning offices while attending high school. She was the first in her family to graduate from college.

As the daughter of an undocumented mother, her fight for immigrant rights and immigration reform began at a young age. Mejia is a long-life activist and reporter, passionate about civic engagement and government accountability.

Since her historic victory in 2020, she has also become an elected official. As the first Afro-Latina (and Latina) elected to the Boston City Council, she has made it a point to engage marginalized communities and make sure that we are part of the political conversation.

“If we’re not at the table, we’re on the menu, and every day we’re being eaten alive here in the city of Boston. So we have to be intentional about creating opportunities for those who have been left behind to participate,” Mejia told CBS Boston.

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