Opinion: Latinos deserve — and expect — equal representation in the Biden administration

Opinion by Janet Murguía and Héctor Sánchez Barba

The Washington Post

Feb 10, 2021

Vice President Harris holds a ceremonial swearing-in for Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas as his wife, Tanya, holds a Union Prayer Book at the White House on Feb. 2. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Janet Murguía is president and chief executive of UnidosUS. Héctor Sánchez Barba is executive director and chief executive of Mi Familia Vota.

President Biden has appointed four Latinos to Cabinet positions and several others to high positions in his administration. Xavier Becerra for Health and Human Services, newly confirmed Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, Miguel Cardona for the Education Department and Isabel Guzman as the head of the Small Business Administration are all exceptional — and historic — choices. But they’re only the start. Or at least, they should be.

The 2020 election saw record-breaking, historic participation and engagement by Latino voters. According to a recent UCLA study, some 16.6 million Hispanic voters made their voices heard — a 30.9 percent increase since 2016, the largest four-year increase in Latino voting ever and nearly double the national voter increase of 15.9 percent. For the first time, Hispanic voters were the largest minority voting bloc in the country, and they played central roles in deciding who won in battleground states. Biden won the votes of about seven in 10 Latinos nationwide. Those votes made a crucial difference in flipping the key states of Arizona and Pennsylvania, where 71 and 69 percent of Latinos, respectively, voted for Biden. AD

The next step is to leverage our newly energized voice to ensure equal representation in all levels of our government. The administration has more than 4,000 positions to fill at the White House and in Cabinet departments and agencies. UnidosUS and Mi Familia Vota have joined the Hispanic Federation and seven other Latino organizations in launching Proyecto 20%, which calls for at least 800 positions — 20 percent of those jobs — to be filled by qualified Latinos and Latinas.

Expecting fair representation in the halls of power should not be controversial. Yet even though Latinos make up about 18 percent of the U.S. population, and the power of the Hispanic vote has led to a more diverse Congress, Latinos still make up only 1 percent of all local and federal elected officials. We have seen the direct correlation between underrepresentation in those important spaces of power and exclusion of our community from policy priorities.

Yes, Latinos will lead HHS, DHS, Education and SBA — all vital agencies in the fight against covid-19, and all essential to the Latino community, which has suffered disproportionately from the pandemic. But agencies such as Justice, Commerce, Labor and Treasury also have Latino concerns front and center in their missions, and it is important to have Latino voices represented there as deputies, assistants, deputy assistants, policy advisers, undersecretaries and other personnel. They can play vital roles in these departments’ efforts to mitigate and roll back both the coronavirus pandemic and the economic catastrophe that has shattered so many Americans’ lives. AD

Beyond the pandemic, our communities have been directly and seriously affected by years of discrimination and neglect, reaching the point of outright hostility by the previous administration. Having people with the authority to implement policies that directly affect the day-to-day well-being of our families, small businesses and neighbors — and who also walk our walk and talk our talk — would be invaluable in bringing about equitable change. And it would be important for all Americans, since the crises we face cannot be fully resolved unless we include Latinos and other communities of color in the solutions.

Four Hispanic Cabinet secretaries is a great start. But at a time when our nation is facing both internal and external threats, the United States needs capable leaders who can identify with the needs of everyone in the country. The Biden-Harris administration needs to appoint Latinos to positions of responsibility throughout the executive branch — not only to ensure a more diverse government than previous administrations, but also to create a pipeline for the development of future leaders who go on to serve in key roles in government, academia, think tanks, the corporate and nonprofit sectors, and elsewhere.

Hispanics have been part of the fabric of this land since before there was a United States, and it is long past time that we are a significant part of our country’s government. There is no shortage of qualified Latinos who are ready to serve and contribute to the well-being of all Americans. The ball is now in the new administration’s court. As we continue to build Latino political power, our community will hold this administration and all politicians accountable.

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