Community Voices: Why We Need Latina RepresentationKnowing that everything you hold dear can disappear in an instant has given me a sense of purpose and commitment. My family endured oppression, was denied liberty, and suffered abuses at the hands of the Cuban government. These horrific events fundamentally shaped my worldview as a young woman. Coming to this country as a teenager—without speaking English—presented an entirely new set of obstacles. After that experience, I never consider any problem too big to tackle.
My first year in middle school was a serious challenge, and throughout high school my academic successes were few and far between. Mastering the English language seemed to be an impossible task. But even with limited command of the English language, my classmates nominated and elected me to the Student Council my sophomore year. This was the result of my continued questioning and challenging of the teacher in my government class. I had a real curiosity for the history of this country and the way democracy worked. I continue to seek an understanding of the way things are, and how they can be changed.
I became a citizen as soon as I was eligible, immediately registered to vote, and have not missed an opportunity to vote since. To become an educated voter, I searched for guidance and found the League of Women Voters. At the first LWV meeting I attended, I became a member. Shortly thereafter, I joined the board of directors, and I currently serve as president of the Miami-Dade County chapter. As a member of the League, I’ve been able to make a difference in increasing voter numbers, conducting candidate forums, moderating debates, and providing information to voters on ballot issues. I also have the opportunity to advocate for issues that are very important to me.
My volunteer work has provided me with the opportunity to meet amazing people who are dedicated to the betterment of their communities. In my conversations with women, I regularly ask how they’re involved in their community. Too often, the response is “I don’t know what there is for me to do.” It’s an unfortunate fact that many women, and especially Latinas, don’t participate in community service (either in professional, civic, or political organizations) because they don’t consider themselves qualified to do so. The same holds true as to why many women don’t run for office, though there are generally no special qualifications needed to run. Men never ask themselves if they are “qualified” to run for office—they just do it.
I’m committed to getting more women, specifically Latinas, elected to public office. To make it happen, it is important to urge Latinas to get involved in service, civic, and political organizations, and to support Latinas in learning about the appointment process to government boards and committees. And this must start early on. Young girls need to get engaged in organized activities in school so that they are inclined to continue their community involvement and are more likely to make the plunge into politics.
The concerted effort of initiatives like LatinasRepresent will go a long way in changing women’s view of themselves. Providing a forum where the talents of young women are recognized and celebrated will encourage those who have the aptitude, and attitude, for a career in politics.
In Miami-Dade, where Latinas outnumber every other demographic in the voter registration rolls, we are working hard to boost Latina voter turnout. At the same time, we’ve looked at the gender composition of the elected bodies of each municipality in our community, and will target the five cities with no women on their councils.
The same approach must be used to address the fact that although women are 50.9% of Florida’s population, they only represent 25.6% of the seats in the Florida Legislature— that’s 41 out of 160 legislative seats, and of those, only three are Latinas. Truly reflective representation in the Florida Legislature would mean 81 women, not 41. And, with Latinas making up 11.5% of Florida’s population, we should occupy 17 seats, not three.
Advancing Latina representation requires that we all work together to bring parity to our elected offices. There are Latinas ready to run for office in Florida and across the United States. The time has come! We all have a responsibility to encourage the advocates among us to take that next step forward into public life.
Maribel Balbin is a LatinasRepresent Miami Host Committee Member and President of the League of Women Voters of Miami Dade County. For the past 20 years, her work at the League of Women Voters has earned her recognition for effectively engaging citizens in the democratic process. She’s focused on improving the economic status of women and girls, with the goal of increasing their participation in the civic and political life. Maribel is devoted to supporting women candidates, especially Hispanic women, with the goal of electing as many as possible to begin to enhance our governing bodies and adequately address the needs of families. Maribel is also involved in several organizations including: Florida’s Next Leaders, Miami-Dade College School of Continuing Education and Professional Development Board, the Nominating Committee of the Citizens Independent Tax Trust, the Greater Miami Hotel Association Sustainability Council and the American Association of University Women. She formerly chaired Miami Dade County Commission for Women.
Connect with Maribel and join the #LatinasRepresent conversation on Twitter.
This post originally appeared on the LatinasRepresent blog. LatinasRepresent is a nonprofit, nonpartisan initiative of Political Parity and the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda that does not endorse any specific political ideology or candidate for public office. This series of guest posts is intended to lift up the stories of Latina leaders, officeholders, and candidates on the path to public office.