A record number of Latinos will head to Congress next year. Thirty-one Latinos were elected nationwide in November, with more in California than any other state. Analysts consider that a step toward more equal representation that's good not just for Latinos, but for everyone. Reporter: Amy Isackson
In 1976, concordes made their first commercial flights. Apple Computer Company was formed. And a Latino congressman from California, Edward Roybal, founded the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. There were just three members. "When he spoke to then-Speaker Tip O'Neill, the speaker jokingly asked him if they were all going to be meeting in a telephone booth," says Lucille Roybal-Allard, Roybal's daughter.
Royball-Allard was the first Mexican-American woman from California elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, and, two decades later, is still a member. She says when her father served, there was a lot of ignorance about Latinos in Washington, "Quite frankly, most members of Congress didn't even know what a Hispanic or a Latino was. They only thought of them in terms of foreigners."
How times have changed. Concorde jets are gone and Apple has grown. As for phone booths, the record 31 Latinos headed to Congress wouldn't fit. "My colleagues are much more attentive and interested in learning about Latinos and their particular needs because now they have, for the first time in many cases, constituents who are Latino," says Roybal-Allard.
One in 10 voters in the presidential election was Latino. Come January, California will send nine Latinos to the House of Representatives. That's the most ever in the history of the Golden State and of any state nationwide.
Michael Minta, who teaches political science at the University of Missouri , says that's important because there's strength in numbers. But we shouldn't expect a rash of bills sponsored by Latinos. "It is more about participating in the debate and helping shape the agenda and keeping things that are detrimental to the Latino community off the agenda," says Minta.
Roybal Allard says lifting up Latinos lifts up everyone, "Latino, or Asian, or African-American, European-American needs to have the opportunity to realize the American dream. It cannot happen if policies impact only one or two groups because, then, everybody else suffers and brings the country down."
Latinos' big hope next year is for immigration reform. Jobs, the economy, health care and education are also atop the agenda. Alex Padilla is the president of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials.
He says Latino legislators have a broader range of priorities than ever. "In the past, Hispanic representatives have sort of been relegated to issues of bilingual education or immigration. And those are important. Don't get me wrong. But, we have, the background of newly elected Hispanic representatives in increasingly diverse, increasingly sophisticated, and so will their service be in the United States Congress," says Padilla.
Tony Cardenas is one of the new Congressmembers. He's the first Latino ever elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from the San Fernando Valley, just north of Los Angeles. Cardenas' parents immigrated from Mexico. He studied at the University of California, Santa Barbara and served in the State Assembly and on the Los Angeles City Council.
Redistricting helped him win this year by grouping together the Valley's Latinos. "I'm very proud to say that through the fact that I look like about 70 percent of my district, for the first time we have young people saying, well, gosh, he looks like my uncle, or he looks like my dad, or my brother, and, well if he can do it, I can do it," says Cardenas.
Minta, the political science professor, agrees. He says the new crop of Latino's hasn't even take office yet. But they're already inspiring the Latino community. "They can look at those legislators and say hey, I can run for Congress and actually win. Or I could be a U.S. senator or I could be president. "
Nevertheless, while some Latinos may feel a new calling and the contingent in Congress has outgrown a telephone booth, the record number of Latino Congress members still lags behind their share of the population. "For some perspective, for Latinos to be at parity to their population, they would have 86 members. Right now, we've got 31 in both houses," says Lisa Garcia Bedolla, a professor of political science at UC Berkeley.
It takes 218 votes to pass a bill in the House. Bedolla says, at this point, Latino's biggest influence will be their power of persuasion.