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Laredoan Writing About Latina Politicians
Laredo, TX, Morning Times ^ | 01-12-03 | Cortez, Tricia

Posted on 01/12/2004 10:49:38 AM PST by Theodore R.

Laredoan writing about Latina politicians

By Tricia Cortez Times staff writer

St. Mary’s University professor Sonia Garcia, a Laredo native, is leading a groundbreaking project to write the first book that will document the lives and contributions of the first Mexican-American female political office holders in Texas.

After toying with the idea for five years, Garcia and four other Latina Ph.D’s in political science have teamed up to write “Politicas: Latina Trailblazers in the Texas Political Arena.” These five professors are the only Latinas with doctorate degrees in political science in Texas. Their book will be published by University of Texas Press in 2005.

“I sent a prospectus to UT Press on a Friday, and the following Wednesday, I got a call. They were ready to offer a contract. That’s very unusual. It usually takes four to six weeks to get a response,” Garcia said Thursday evening at a downtown Laredo café.

“It tells a lot about the demand to know about these women. So little has been written about Latinas in politics,” she said.

“There is a long history of Mexican-American women as political activists behind the scenes, but there still needs to be recognition given to these women who became office holders,” said Garcia, who had interviewed Mayor Elizabeth “Betty” Flores and District Judge Elma Salinas Ender earlier in the day.

A partial listing of other Latinas profiled in the book include: the late-Irma Rangel (state representative), Alma Lopez (chief justice of the Fourth Appellate Court), Judith Zaffirini and Leticia Van De Putte (state senators), Consuelo Montalvo (city council) and Lena Guerrero (former appointee to the Texas Railroad Commission).

“They are remarkable women. For one, they are courageous to have had the confidence to take that risk,” she said.

The book, which will be targeted at college and graduate students, will include a series of political biographies of these Latina women, based on information gleaned from personal interviews conducted by the five professors.

The profiles will describe their motivations for becoming politically active, as well as their personal successes, leadership styles, and attitudes toward specific policy issues, such as civil rights, women’s rights and education, among others.

“It’s exciting because no one is doing this research, but when you look at the few numbers, you have to wonder how much progress have we really made?” Garcia asked.

Latinas make-up less than 1 percent of all elected officials in the U.S., according to a 1999 study by the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute.

“I remain hopeful because when women run, Latinas are just as likely to get elected as men. It’s getting them to run,” she stated. “We now have the first generation of Latinas elected to public office, and that should serve as a catalyst for getting more Latinas to run for public office.” A rarity herself in her own academic field there are only 20 or so Latina professors in the entire country who hold Ph.D.s in political science Garcia noted that although Latina office holders have made inroads in the political arena, “we still have a long way to go.” Garcia explained why this situation must change.

“To be true to our principles of representative democracy, and let’s not be naïve, we are seeing an increase in the number of Latinos and Latinas in the U.S., the make-up of public officials should reflect our demographic make-up,” Garcia said.

“The fact that they are Mexican-American and women gives them a unique policy perspective because of the barriers they had to overcome,” she added.

How does Texas stack up?

According to the National Association of Latino Elected Officials, Texas had close to 2,000 Latino elected officials as of January 2003. Of these, 530 were female.

According to the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute, in 1999, Latinas made up 27.3 percent of all Latino elected officials in the nine states of Texas, California, Arizona, Florida, Colorado, New Mexico, New York, Illinois and New Jersey.

While Texas ranks the highest overall in the number of Latino elected officials, it does not lead the country with the number of Latina public officials. It ranks sixth of nine.

Garcia noted that most Latina office holders in Texas have come out of the Democratic Party.

“The Democratic Party has been more consistently responsive to the needs of Latinos, but there is a misconception of Texas about Democrats and Republicans. In Texas, Democrats have generally been ideologically conservative. They are not the classic liberals that you find in other states,” she said.

Perhaps one indicator of this phenomenon is that Texas has yet to elect the first Mexican-American female to Congress. California, by contrast, has already elected and sent five Latinas to Washington.

“Latinas do better in California. The perception of women over there is more liberal than here,” she said.

What motivates Latinas to get involved in politics?

Based on nearly a decade of research for her own doctoral thesis, Garcia said Latinas tend to bridge the gap of traditional reasons (influencing policy and getting candidates elected) with more community-oriented politics (getting people like themselves into office and giving back to the Latino community).

“Most of these women don’t necessarily come from a traditional background of being an attorney or business person,” she said.

“I hope this book dispels the notion and stereotype that Mexican-American women are passive. It will show that they are serious political actors,” Garcia said.

Garcia said she has always been interested in issues of equality and representation. She credited her graduate experience in California as a major influence.

“When I was in graduate school at the University of California at Santa Barbara in the late 1980s and early 1990s, there were a lot of Latinos running for office. There was an unprecedented number of campaigns and a lot of visibility. That has always been in the back of my mind,” she said.

The idea to write this book, however, was hatched when a panel of Latina Ph.Ds in political science was convened for Women’s History Month in San Antonio in 1997 or 1998, according to Garcia.

The book will be dedicated to the dynamic South Texas political trailblazer Irma Rangel, who passed away last year.

The four other co-authors are: Valerie Martinez-Ebers (Texas Christian University), Irasema Coronado (UT-El Paso), Sharon Navarro (UT-San Antonio) and Patricia Jaramillo (UT-San Antonio).

Garcia, 42, is a graduate of Nixon High School. She received a bachelor’s degree in political science from St. Mary’s University in 1984, a master’s in political science from University of Arizona in 1987 and her Ph.D. from UC-Santa Barbara in 1997.

She explains her own political consciousness was formed in three phases.

One was growing up in Laredo, “where I saw differences based on gender.” Another was going to undergraduate school in San Antonio “where I saw people being treated differently because they were Mexican-American, something you don’t think about in Laredo.” And, finally, in California, where she “learned what it meant to be a Mexican-American female, a Chicana,” Garcia said.

She is married to Charley Garcia, a college student advisor at Palo Alto College in San Antonio, and is the daughter of Ignacio and Minerva Garcia, both retirees of the Laredo independent School District.

(Staff writer Tricia Cortez can be reached at 728-2568 or tricia@lmtonline.)


TOPICS: Culture/Society; Government; Politics/Elections
KEYWORDS: aliens; almalopez; bettyflores; democrats; elmaender; guerrero; latina; latinoamericans; leticiavandeputte; politicians; soniagarcia; stmarys; ut; zaffirini
While Texas ranks the highest overall in the number of Latino elected officials, it does not lead the country with the number of Latina public officials. It ranks sixth of nine.

See, there is always room for improvement! I wonder if any of these Latina politicians will be Republican?

1 posted on 01/12/2004 10:49:41 AM PST by Theodore R.
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To: Theodore R.
I bet is putting on extra help to cover the demand for this book.
2 posted on 01/12/2004 10:58:28 AM PST by Blue Screen of Death (,/i)
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To: Theodore R.
Lying Lena Guerrero (appointed to the Texas Railroad Commission by Ma Richards) was a trail blazer?

Wonder if Gabi Canales (Texas Monthly Worst Legislator) is going to be in the book too?
3 posted on 01/12/2004 5:11:23 PM PST by SwinneySwitch (Freedom isn't Free! Support those who ensure it.)
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