Latinos in Congress: More diverse than ever before

Most of the first Latinos elected to Congress were of Mexican descent. Though Mexican Americans still make up a large portion of the Latinos serving in Congress,…
Latinos in Congress: More diverse than ever before

Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus announced on November 28, 2012, their principles for immigration reform. There are currently 31 Latinos serving in Congress. (Flickr/RepLuisGutierrez)

Most of the first Latinos elected to Congress were of Mexican descent. Though Mexican Americans still make up a large portion of the Latinos serving in Congress, more Latinos from various ancestries — especially Cuban and Puerto Rican — are being elected.

There are currently 31 Latinos serving in Congress, of which 19 are Mexican Americans, seven are Cuban Americans, four are Puerto Ricans and one if of Spanish descent.

SEE ALSO: Latinos have long history of serving in Congress

The Office of the Historian finds that a total of 102 Latinos have served in Congress since 1822, when Joseph Marion Hernandez became the first Latino elected to Congress and the first delegate from the territory of Florida. That number includes Latinos who’ve served in Congress as representatives, senators, delegates and resident commissioners.

Latinos in Congress

Just over half of Latinos who’ve served in Congress are of Mexican descent. (VOXXI/Griselda Nevarez)

Of those 102 members a little more than half are of Mexican descent.

The first Cuban American to be elected to Congress was Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican of Florida. Since her election in 1989, nine more Cuban Americans have been elected to Congress.

Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY) also made history when he became the first member of Congress of Puerto Rican descent. Rangel was born to a Puerto Rican father and African American mother, making him half Puerto Rican. But Rangel doesn’t identify himself as a Hispanic man, citing his father beating his mother and abandoning them when he was a child as the main reasons why he decided to distance himself from his Hispanic heritage.

Therefore, many historians consider Herman Badillo as the first Puerto Rican to serve in Congress. He was elected as a House member to represent New York in 1970.

Since Bandillo’s election, at least five more Puerto Ricans have been elected to serve in Congress. That number doesn’t include the resident commissioners from Puerto Rico.

SEE ALSO: Latinas remain underrepresented in Congress

Hilda Solis, former member of Congress and U.S. labor secretary, is the only Nicaraguan to serve in Congress.  Her father and mother were immigrants from Mexico and Nicaragua, respectively. She served as a House member representing California from 2001-2009.

To date, no Dominican American has been elected to Congress. Adriano Espaillat, a Dominican-born state senator from New York, is seeking to become the first Dominican American member of Congress. He is running for New York’s 13th Congressional District currently occupied by Rangel.

A win for Espaillat would be a significant victory for Dominican Americans, who are the fifth-largest population of Hispanic origin living in the U.S. In 2011, an estimated 1.5 million Hispanics of Dominican organic lived in the U.S., and Dominicans accounted for 2.9 percent of the U.S. Hispanic population, according to a report by the Pew Research Center.

States that’ve sent the most Latinos to Congress

The Office of the Historian also finds that Latinos from 12 states and four U.S. territories have served in Congress as representatives, senators, delegates and resident commissioners.

Most Latino members of Congress have come from states with large Latino populations.

California leads the pack with 20 Latino members of Congress. Coming in second place is New Mexico with 19 Latinos. Puerto Rico has also sent 19 Latinos to serve in Congress as resident commissioners.

Texas comes in third place with 17 Latino members of Congress, followed by Florida with eight Latinos and New York with four Latinos.

Here is a map by the Office of the Historian showing the total number of Latinos who’ve served in Congress and from what states or U.S. territories:

Latinos in Congress

Latinos from 12 states and four U.S. territories have served in Congress. (Photo credit: Office of the Historian)

SEE ALSO: Longest-serving Latino members of Congress