A new generation of Latinos continues to move up in American politics. Some are immigrants, others are homegrown; most are progressive, but conservatives have elevated serious talent as well. Last year's list of excellent Latinos in politics focused on Capitol Hill. This year's looks further, to Latinos in key roles across the spectrum of American politics.
In 2014, the Obama administration is the most significant catalyst of Latino advancement in professional American politics. While Latinos remain underrepresented in government, more Latinos are doing important work in Washington than ever before. Julián Castro's rise to Secretary of Housing and Urban Development creates a viable Latino contender in national politics for the Democratic Party.
On the other side of American politics, organizations like the LIBRE Initiative are beginning to consolidate top Latino conservative talent into serious political machinery. These top Latino operatives will be essential to future conservative causes, campaigns, and eventually, presidencies when Republicans someday return to the White House.
Regardless of where you fall on the American political spectrum, the facts to keep in mind are these:
- There are only 28 Latino members of the House of Representatives. Nine are Latina.
- There are only three Latino Senators, all Cuban-American men.
- In the 2012 elections, 11 million Latinos voted. Over 12 million eligible Latinos did not.
- 66,000 Latino citizens become eligible to vote every month.
Ultimately, Latino political priorities (read: immigration reform) will forever live or die in Washington on the threat of enough registered voters taking action on Election Day. Our political heritage in America will be defined less by how we vote than by how many of us are registered vote and where. This Hispanic Heritage Month, consider the impact you can have by not just registering to vote, but registering your friends and neighbors too.
Well, that's all I've got. Without further ado, here are 40 Latinos under 40 years old doing great work in politics, listed alphabetically by first name. Congratulations to everyone who made this year's list.
- Alma Suarez (DPI) : As an Open Data consultant at one of Washington's only minority- and woman-owned management consulting firms, Alma advises government agencies on the Presidential Open Government Initiatives. As a project manager, she and her team are responsible for expanding the culture of Open Government and building public trust in the program's core principles: to leverage technology to increase transparency, participation, and collaboration between government and the American people.
- Andrea Ambriz (Treasury): She came to the Treasury Department during the height of the global financial crisis working in the Office of the Chief of Staff. Soon the White House appointed Andrea to provide legislative counsel to the Treasury's $2.8 billion foreign assistance portfolio during the European financial crisis and Arab Spring. After President Obama's announcement of the myRA program in his State of the Union Address, Treasury tapped Andrea to lead the program's national outreach and engagement initiatives. The program will provide starter retirement savings accounts for individuals across the country in 2015. As one of a few Latino appointees at the Treasury Department, Andrea is particularly poised to aid the Latino community through her work there and on myRA, as Latinos are the least likely to have work-based retirement plan access and economic security.
- Caesar Vargas (DRM Dream Action Coalition): He has graduated law school, passed the New York bar exam, and was approved as having the character to practice law. But having arrived undocumented at 5 years old, Caesar can't practice law. Instead, Caesar works at the heart the DREAMer movement, the most-vigorous pro-immigrant push by the advocacy communities to date. Nationwide and on Capitol Hill, DREAMers have taken the gloves off in the policy battle for a better immigration policy. In this fight, Caesar is committed to making sure his fellow DREAMers are admitted as licensed lawyers.
- César Vargas (UPLIFTT): Film and television influence voting patterns, as well as change the way the general population sees Latinos. As Founder and President of United People for Latinos in Film, TV, and Theater, César works to help infuse mass media that affect employment, healthcare, education, housing, and voting, with Latino voices. It's a huge but essential undertaking to change the way American media culture perceives Latinos from foreign and exotic to distinctly American.
- Cristóbal Alex (Latino Victory Project): This summer Cristóbal was named as President of the newly-formed PAC to elevate Latino Democrats to public office. The PAC's inaugural class includes eight Latino Democrats - one governor, two lieutenant governors, and five congresspersons - all Latino. Cristóbal's background in philanthropy for the Open Society Foundation and Ford Foundation will come in handy as the project progresses. If successful, the PAC could help narrow the representation gap between the booming Latino population in the U.S. and the scarcity of Latino elected officials in Washington.
- Crystal Martinez (Senate): A native of Little Village in Chicago, Crystal's passion for education reform and access to affordable housing is rooted in her personal experiences as a former educator. After completing her undergraduate and graduate studies at the University of Notre Dame, Crystal got a job in then-Senator Obama's office where she helped develop his education policy. After Obama assumed the presidency, he tapped Crystal to help implement his education policy priorities. Crystal now serves as a Legislative Assistant to Senator Dianne Feinstein. In the Senate, she works on education, nutrition and housing policy issues.
- Daniel Suvor (Kamala Harris): Originally from Southern California, Daniel spent nine years in Washington sharpening his political and policy lawyer skill sets. In June, he returned to California to work as Chief of Policy for one of the fastest-rising national stars in Democratic Party politics, California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris. His job is a laboratory for helping to design and implement her cutting-edge policy work, including Attorney General Harris' innovative "Smart on Crime" approach to preventing crime before it happens -- by tackling elementary school truancy and the root causes of recidivism. Daniel leverages his experience working for the White House, where he was part of a legal team that successfully defended the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act in the U.S. Supreme Court and helped launch President Obama's signature My Brother's Keeper initiative, which aims to keep boys and young men of color on track to achieve their full potential.
- David Mayorga (SPIRE Communications): Since President Obama put the spotlight on solar energy during the State of the Union address, David and the Energy Department's SunShot Initiative team have been working non-stop to let Americans know that solar energy is now more-affordable and -accessible than ever before. From his beginnings on Capitol Hill as an adviser to two New York delegation members, David has proven himself a top strategic communicator--leveraging his talent in message development, event planning, and bilingual media relations on national campaign issues. As lead communicator for SunShot, David has helped elevate the brand and played a key role in bringing together more than 800 top business leaders and innovators in solar energy to discuss the future of the industry. In recent months, he has supported the Administration's rollout of hundreds of solar deployment commitments. As a go-to advisor for his clients on important Washington debates, David's more than ten year career in Washington public affairs is just the tip of the iceberg. He's a bilingual pro at building deep meaningful relationships and has a work ethic that moves the ball forward. .
- Edgar Gonzalez (Labor): His first job in politics was in his native Chicago, Illinois as a field representative for then-Senator Barack Obama's office. After establishing his political campaign bonafides during the 2008 presidential campaign, Edgar was appointed to the White House and the Office of Personnel Management during the President's first term. After four years in the Administration, Edgar took a short hiatus to go work for a non-profit on progressive public policy messaging and then became a founding member of a grassroots advocacy-consulting firm that engaged on key progressive priorities. This year Edgar the Obama Administration asked Edgar to return as Special Assistant for Public Engagement to Secretary Thomas Perez for the Department of Labor where he develops develops and implements stakeholder engagement strategies on high-visibility initiatives such as Obamacare, raising the minimum wage, and comprehensive immigration reform.
- Elias Alcantara (White House): After starting out as an intern int he Obama White House, Elias has risen to become Associate Director of Intergovernmental Affairs where he liaises with local officials across the country. Originally from the Bronx, Elias lived in Chile for two years before serving as U.S. Fellow for the Organization of American States.
- Emily Benavides (GOP): At 29 years old, she is already one of the Republican Party's top Latina communications operatives. Emily rose from working as a congressional staffer to being handpicked by Mitt Romney as his National Hispanic Press Secretary during the 2012 presidential election. After the election, the Spanish Embassy to the United States chose Emily to meet with the Crown Prince of Spain in Madrid as an ambassador for the U.S. Hispanic community. Emily is currently working as Communications Director for Governor Rick Snyder's re-election campaign. In her extremely limited free time, Emily volunteers as one of the founders of RightNow Women PAC which raises funds for center-right women to run for federal office.
- Dr. Erica Jacquez (HUD): In 2011, President Obama appointed Erica to serve as his administration's liaison between the Department of Housing, Congress, and local public nationwide. Her outstanding work identified her as an obvious selection for the president's inaugural Leadership Workshop. She also serves the administration as the co-chair the Latino Kitchen Cabinet for the White House. As if this wasn't enough to make her the busiest Latina in US housing policy, this Harvard Latina found time to train for triathlons and earn her Doctorate in Policy, Planning, and Development from the University of Southern California in her hometown of Los Angeles where she began her political career as a community organizer.
- Felicia Escobar (White House): She began her career as a State Policy Analyst for NCLR in Texas. After advising Senator Salazar's legislative team on immigration reform, the White House tapped Felicia as Special Assistant to the President for Immigration Policy. Her job is to coordinate efforts across the administration to strengthen the current immigration system as well as the White House's efforts to drive pro-immigrant policy reform.
- George Gonzalez (HUD): After cutting his teeth in local government, political campaigning, and most-recently as Deputy Press Secretary at Department of Housing and Urban Development, he is an ideal media operative for Julián Castro -- the Democratic Party's brightest Latino star. He speaks housing, economic development, urbanism, and sustainability in two languages. Originally from Mexico City, his unique skill set recently allowed him operate seamlessly as part of the U.S. Delegation to the United Nation's World Urban Forum in Medellin, Columbia.
- Giancarlo Tello (DREAMer): Originally from Peru, Giancarlo's tireless advocacy led to the passage of a law that allowed New Jersey's undocumented to pay in-state tuition at state universities. Having navigated countless hurdles created by our broken immigration system to graduate from community college and Rutgers University-Newark, Giancarlo knows first-hand the obstacles to opportunity undocumented students face. His tireless advocacy as part of the Tuition Equity for Dreamers Coalition earned Giancarlo high-praise and much respect from the immigrant advocacy community where he is known nationwide as the best undocumented organizer in the state of New Jersey.
- Gaby Pacheco (Bridge Project): When she was 8 years old, Gaby immigrated undocumented from Guayaquil, Ecuador. As early as 2004, she was already gaining national recognition for her courageous advocacy of the DREAM Act. She credits obtaining her education as a DREAMer as the opportunity to change her life. Gaby is one of the most-respected and -influential undocumented activists in the country. In 2012, Gaby was instrumental in convincing the White House to offer DACA as a form of temporary relief for undocumented youth. She is now Director of the Bridge Project and Project Coordinator for TheDream.us, a national scholarship fund for immigrant youth who have received DACA and want to give back to their communities.
- Izzy Ortega (NSCW): Formerly with The Heritage Foundation writing on a variety of issues including immigration, education and the economy while regularly contributing to both English and Spanish language news shows including the Sunday show's Al Punto and Meet the Press, Ortega now works for National School Choice Week - the biggest public awareness campaign in support for school choice. As the Communications Director, Ortega is using his years of experience working with broadcast and print media to help shine a spotlight on the need to have greater educational freedom from coast to coast.
- Javier Martinez (Senate): In 2012, Javier D. Martinez joined Democratic Whip, Steny Hoyer as the Deputy Director for Member Services and Outreach Advisor. Javier helps ensure that House Democrats maintain strong relationships with constituency groups throughout the country. He came to the Democratic Whip's Office after serving as Deputy Director for Legislative Affairs for the National Council of La Raza where he was responsible for building bridges between policymakers and the Hispanic community. A U.S. Army veteran and member of the U.S. Army Reserves, he previously served as a professional staff member for the House Committee on Veterans Affairs. He began his career on Capitol Hill as a Legislative Assistant to Rep. Silvestre Reyes.
- Jordan Valdés (Podesta): Jordan was an appointee in the Obama Administration for two years, working on issues pertaining to small business, trade, and exports. She supported the President's National Export Initiative and was her agency's representative before the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the Transpacific Partnership (TPP) free trade agreements, ensuring the small businesses could benefit from free trade with Asia and Europe. She recently left the Administration to join the international team at Podesta Group, a top K Street firm in Washington. Jordan received her political preparation while serving on the Court of the Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Bahrain, where she and a team of advisors launched the first foundation in the Arab Gilf to focus on poverty alleviation and sustainable development.
- Jorge Lima (LIBRE Initiative): At a time when Latino civic engagement is on the rise, Lima plays an integral role in setting the advocacy agenda as Policy Director for the LIBRE Initaitive, one of the country's largest conservative Hispanic outreach organization. A staunch defender of the American Dream, Lima is dedicated to promoting a free market message that is resonating with Hispanics across the country, raising awareness and providing an alternative view on the future prosperity of our community. After graduating from the Georgetown University Law Center, Jorge was an attorney with the law firm of Holland and Knight and went on to serve as an advisor to former Governor Luis Fortuño of Puerto Rico. A proud American son of Cuban immigrants, Jorge ascribes to the idea that free people working in pursuit of their dreams are a benefit to all of society, and he has dedicated his career to advancing that mission.
- Jose Mallea (LIBRE Initiative): After starting out as a Miami youth coordinator on Bob Dole's 1996 presidential campaign, Jose established his initial political chops in Florida on successful campaigns by Jeb Bush for Governor and George W. Bush for President. The latter appointed him as Special Assistant first to the Small Business Administration and later to the White House Chief-of-Staff. After serving in the State Department's Near Eastern Affairs Desk, Jose returned to Florida to work as Campaign Manager on Marco Rubio's winning campaign for U.S. Senate. As a political operative, Jose has the reputation of being strategic and astute. In Florida politics, Jose is a giant of conservative campaigning.
- Josue Lopez Calderon (State Department): At 27 years old, Josue has already served at the White House, Treasury, and the State Department where he works to increase the number of diverse U.S. students studying and interning abroad. He is well in Latino foreign policy and baseball, the sport he credits for teaching him to be coachable, be competitive, and fail better.
- Juan Gonzalez (White House): As Senior Advisor to Vice President Joe Biden on Western Hemisphere affairs, Juan's influence and responsibilities have have boomed during President Obama's second term in office. Since the 2012 election, Vice President Biden has been tasked as the main diplomatic bridge with Latin America, where Juan's voice is instrumental in shaping relationships. With over ten years of experience in the State Department, as well as service in the Peace Corps in Guatemala and on the National Security Council, Juan is among the most-influential diplomatic operatives in US-Latin American relations.
- Katherine Vargas (White House): What Katherine leads is no less than an infrastructure investment in bilingual and multicultural media relations from the Office of the President. As the voice of the White House for Latino media, it's Katherine's job to coordinate with all federal agencies to inform Latinos about President Obama's agenda. Since joining the White House team last year, Katherine has launched bilingual social media platforms and a weekly Spanish language address "Mensaje de la Casa Blanca" featuring prominent Latino White House officials. Originally from Colombia, Katherine's work reflects a proudly bicultural background that includes nearly a decade in immigrant advocacy. As the Obama Administration continues to wrestle with immigration policy solutions, Katherine's role is more-essential to the president than ever before.
- Kimberly Lopez (State Department): At 20 years old, Kimberly began as an intern at the U.S. Department of State. Since then she has advanced to her current position as a country officer. During her service, she has had the opportunity to travel to Canada, Brazil, and the Middle East. Prior to joining the Department of State, she worked for political action committees, fundraising for Barack Obama's presidential campaign, and Democratic candidates in Illinois. She also worked for former Congresswoman Debbie Halvorson's political campaign conducting Latino outreach. Kimberly hopes to serve as a role model for Latinos aspiring to join the United States Government.
- Lucy Flores (Candidate): Lucy is the only political candidate included on this list. This is because it's impossible to ignore her incredible story. When she was nine years old, Lucy's mother abandoned the family leaving Lucy to care for her twelve siblings. She dropped out of school, joined a gang, had an abortion, and did time for stealing a car. With bootstraps and mentorship Lucy turned her life around, graduated from high school, college, and law school, ran for state assembly and won. Now Lucy's running for Lieutenant Governor of Nevada, her home state. Her campaign is a statewide policy statement but nationally it's so much more. For many young Latinos, Lucy is the American Dream. Her streets-to-statehouse journey is an inspiring testament to what can happen when at-risk youth turn their lives around through public service.
- Luis Miranda (MDC Strategies): A longtime Democratic Party operative, Luis has worked worked for the DNC, DCCC, and the presidential campaigns of Al Gore, John Kerry, and Barack Obama. President Obama brought Luis with him to the White House by naming him the first Director of Hispanic Media in American history. After leaving the White House, Luis leveraged his years of experience and networking to turn entrepreneur by launching MDC Strategies, a thriving public affairs startup in Washington.
- Mariana Atencio (Fusion): She's the only member of the media to make this list because since beginning at Fusion, Mariana has become the best millennial correspondent on the global political stage. She has broadcasted from elections in her native Venezuela, Democratic and Republican National Conventions, and most-recently from streetside in Hong Kong during the Umbrella Movement. Her broadcasting is flawless, but what really distinguishes Mariana's work from the scene of key moments in world political news is that she never fails to find impactful stories that haven't already been told.
- Maritza Perez (NAACP): From humble beginnings in dusty Nevada, Maritza began her political career by volunteering for Senator Obama's historic 2008 campaign. Her dedicated fieldwork earned her an internship in Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's office, then to Berkeley Law School. This autumn she was selected for a legal clerkship at the NAACP's prestigious Legal Defense Fund where she focuses on criminal justice and education equity issues affecting minority communities. As an advocate for social justice, Maritza is passionate, knowledgeable, and unapologetic. Look for Maritza to continue making an impact in law and politics.
- Marvin Figueroa (Senate): Earlier this year La Prensa newspaper in Honduras interviewed Marvin about his bootstraps American beginnings and future political aspirations. From Washington, where messages are too-often too packaged to be credible and sincerity is always suspect, Marvin didn't flinch: he wants to be president of his native Honduras. Originally from Santa Rosa de Aguán, Marvin immigrated to the Bronx when he was 5 years old. He went to Harvard and has worked in the White House and the Senate where he serves as President of the Congressional Hispanic Staff Association. Marvin's resume is stacked and his experience at the top of US politics makes Marvin a tremendous contender with a limitless future in professional politics.
- Mayra Alvarez (HHS): Her first professional role in Washington, D.C. job was a Health Policy Fellowship in then-Senator Barack Obama's office. After working in both houses of Congress, Mayra joined the Department of Health and Human Services where she has worked tirelessly to advocate Obamacare in Latino communities. Mayra currently leads a team responsible for supporting states in the establishment of Health Insurance Marketplaces which are gearing up for a second enrollment period in November. A dedicated health policy professional, Mayra's drive and focus have earned her the deep respect among her Washington peers. Insiders consider her the Latina healthcare expert in the Obama administration.
- Michelle Sardone (CLINIC): She is probably the only person in the country doing this job. As the Catholic Legal Immigration Network's Legalization Director, what Michele's job boils down to is preparing the countries largest network of charitable immigration legal organizations in the country for the eventuality of comprehensive immigration reform. She spends her days planning for the day when eleven million people are knocking on the doors of every charity in every state. Her work is fascinating and essential.
- Oscar Ramirez (Podesta): A consummate Activist-Lobbyist, Oscar is one of the Democratic Party's top Latino operatives. A veteran of Capitol Hill, Oscar is among a handful of Latinos in American history to rise to the level of Chief of Staff. He is a veteran of eleven election days including two presidential elections. One of things that makes Oscar unique is in how he leverages his experience and network to create a pipeline for Latinos who aspire to create change through politics. From the interns he places and coaches toward upward mobility, to the political candidates and causes fortunate enough to warrant his fundraising touch, for Oscar, Washington is a city full of mentees.
- Raul Alvillar (DNC): A veteran campaigner for LGBT, private sector causes, and Democratic Party candidates, this year Raul was named Political Director at Democratic National Committee. This made Raul the top Latino political operative in this year's midterm election campaign season. Prior to working for the DNC, Raul worked a the Department of Housing and Urban Development, served as the LGBT liaison at the White House, and the Vice President's Office. After six years of excellent work throughout the Obama Administration, Raul's political instincts are tested and sharp.
- Reynaldo Casas (Viacom): From movie sets to the White House you can find Reynaldo Vichareli Casas constantly connecting the dots between the entertainment industry and the U.S. economy. In 2008, Reynaldo was tabbed to oversee the Public Affairs Department for MTV Tr3s. And in 2010, Reynaldo came back to DC to serve as Manager of Government Relations for Viacom which includes MTV Networks, BET Networks and Paramount Pictures. Reynaldo is one of the company's leading advocates in Washington, communicating the company's pro-social work to The White House and other politicos inside the Beltway.
- Sam Jammal (House): One of only a handful of Latinos in American history to serve as Chief of Staff on Capitol Hill, Sam does the job extremely well for Congressman Tony Cárdenas. His experience includes a presidential appointment to the Department of Commerce, as well as legislative work in the Senate and as a staff attorney for MALDEF. A graduate of the University of Southern California and George Washington Law School, this year Sam was named Chair to the latter's Latino Law Alumni Association where he focuses on establishing an endowed scholarship for Latino law students.
- Sole Cedro (LIBRE Initiative): After winning three Emmy Awards, being recognized by AP for excellence in hard news coverage, and reporting Florida, Washington D.C., New York, South-America, the Caribbean and Middle East, Soledad joined LIBRE as Press Secretary for the East Coast. As LIBRE continues to build momentum on the American airwaves, Sole's role will be key to their success in the Eastern Seaboard's political media markets.
- Stephanie Valencia (Commerce): Through countless political and policy campaigns, Hispanic outreach is in Stephanie's DNA. Having worked in the White House, Senate, House, and now, as Deputy Chief of Staff at the U.S. Commerce Department, Stephanie has risen from humble beginnings in Las Cruces, New Mexico to become one of the most senior Latina officials appointed by the White House. This makes her a confidant of the most-powerful women in the Obama Administration, including Secretary Penny Pritzker, Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett, and Domestic Policy Council Chair Cecilia Munoz. Like her husband Oscar (see above), Stephanie takes mentorship seriously to the point that she is madrina to most of the Latinas in the Obama Administration.
- Tatyana Delgado (CLINIC): As one of the staff attorneys at the prestigious Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Tatyana is supporting legal service providers and community organizers in efforts to help eligible DREAMers apply for DACA. She also engages in advocacy on behalf of immigrant youth. With the Catholic Church's deep roots in immigrant America, CLINIC's impact is immediate and direct. With over 250 immigration legal services programs in 300 field offices, CLINIC is the country's largest network of charitable immigration programs. Before joining CLINIC, Tatyana represented unaccompanied children, asylees, and others pursuing different forms of immigration relief at Catholic Charities of Galveston-Houston.
- Wadi Gaitan (GOP): As the House Republican Conference's on-the-record Press Secretary for Hispanic Media, it's Wadi's job to help modernize the party's outreach by engaging with Latinos where we get our news. He manages relationships with the English- and Spanish-language Hispanic press corps on TV, radio, and print; as well as liaising with Hispanic advocacy groups and constituents. When elections heat up, he is deployed to competitive campaigns where Spanish-langauge media plays a key role. Wadi's versatility makes him one of the Republican Party's top Hispanic political operatives.
Surely this list is not all-inclusive. Who is missing? Let me know in the comments or tweet them at @vato. Meanwhile, check out these other useful Latinos lists as well:
- 40 Top Latinos in American Media (mine)
- 25 Most Influential Hispanics in America (TIME)
- 50 Top Latino Voices to Follow on Twitter (mine)
- 100 Companies Providing the Most Opportunities for Latinos (Latino Magazine)
- 15 Best Cities for Young Latinos (mun2)
- The Most-Influential Latino Staffers on Capitol Hill (mine)
- Meet Some of NYC's New Generation of Latino Legislators (NBC News)
- Los Hispanos del Presidente (Univision)