Hispanic-American gains in the United States Congress over the last three decades have been remarkable, especially in the U.S. House of Representatives. Though their numbers on Capitol Hill are still disproportionately less than their percentage of the U.S. population, Hispanic Americans have steadily left their mark on Washington in both style and substance.150 Since 1977, Hispanic Members have chaired powerful committees and subcommittees and have authored important legislation. They have been party leaders and directed national party organizations. They have held cabinet positions.

Congressional Hispanic Caucus, 2011/tiles/non-collection/p/part4_30_chc_2011_hp.xml Image courtesy of the U.S. House of Representatives Photography Office A 2011 photograph of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus members on the steps of the U.S. Capitol shows their growing numbers. When the caucus was founded in late 1976 seven Hispanics served in Congress. By the start of the 112th Congress in January 2011, 29 served in the House and two in the Senate.

The development of congressional caucuses and interest groups that monitor and develop policies important to the Hispanic community has fostered its leaders’ increasing political sway. Indeed, as the Hispanic population in the U.S. continues to grow and as their advocates win powerful seats at the federal level, Hispanic Americans have become one of the most influential voting blocs in the country. It is likely that Hispanic Americans will become more numerous and more powerful in Congress, especially if demographic trends continue as they have since the 1970s.

But gaining political representation has never been, and likely never will be, simple or straightforward. The experiences of Hispanic Members illustrate that no one person, party, or caucus can determine the needs, desires, or aspirations of America’s Hispanic voters.151 The emergence of both the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (composed of Democrats) and the Congressional Hispanic Conference (composed of Republicans) is perhaps the clearest sign that political debate within the Hispanic community is alive and well. Still, regardless of party, Hispanic Members of Congress share an interest in many issues, including immigration, health care, and education, and whatever the future holds, they can draw inspiration from their rich history and hard-won victories.152


150Ennis et al., “The Hispanic Population: 2010”: 2.

151Kathryn Jean Lopez, “Power Struggle: Hispanic Republicans in Congress Have Banded Together to Challenge the Powerful Congressional Hispanic Caucus,” 31 August 2003, Hispanic: 21.

152Alan K. Ota, “Diversidad,” 27 November 2010, Congressional Quarterly Weekly: n.p. See also Alan K. Ota, “Amid Gains, Hill Hispanics Look to Get Along,” 29 November 2010, Congressional Quarterly Weekly, (accessed 23 August 2012).