TEXAS (CBSNEWS.COM) – At a tender age, Sylvia Garcia picked cotton and hacked hay in the fields of south Texas to help her low-income family make ends meet. Veronica Escobar grew up in the border city of El Paso, waiting tables and taking fast food orders during her teenage years.
In a few months, both women could become the first Latinas to represent the Lone Star State in Congress. The two Democratic nominees are running in deep-blue, majority Latino urban districts and are poised to cruise to victory in their respective contests in the November midterms.
“This is the year of women of color,” Garcia told CBS News. “This is the year of the Latina.”
Although Texas has long been home to the second-largest Hispanic electorate in the nation, its voters have never elected a Latina to serve in either chamber of Congress. Clarissa Martínez-de-Castro, Deputy Vice President of UnidosUS, a leading Latino advocacy group, believes both Democrats and Republicans have done a lackluster job fielding and nurturing diverse candidates, including Latinas, to run for federal office in the state.
“It’s important that they recruit people who reflect the diversity of the country and that they are part of the leadership pipeline,” Martínez-de-Castro told CBS News. “And that is true of both parties.”
Garcia, a former county commissioner and state legislator, is vying to represent Texas’ 29th Congressional District in the Greater Houston area. In March, she secured the Democratic nomination to fill the seat left vacant by the retirement of Rep. Gene Green, D-Texas, who has represented the district since its creation in 1993.
On the other side of the country’s second-most populous state, Escobar, a former teacher and county judge, is seeking to capture the U.S. House seat left vacant by Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s longshot bid to unseat conservative firebrand and Republican Sen. Ted Cruz. Texas’ 16th Congressional District, which covers El Paso and the surrounding suburban communities, has been represented by Democrats since 1965.
The third-generation Mexican-American told CBS News that she was motivated to run for Congress by the election of President Donald Trump, stressing that, if elected, she would combat the administration’s rhetoric and policies on immigration, as well as the “false narratives” she said are imposed on border communities like El Paso.
“Our country has spent so much time demonizing immigrants, using them as scapegoats and we’ve had people in positions of power who’ve stoked people’s fears about immigrants in a way that has become racist,” Escobar said.
Although she said Latinos are not a monolithic voting group, the Texas Democrat emphasized that her party needs to do a better job of advocating for economic and immigration policy proposals, including providing a pathway to citizenship to so-called DREAMers and their families, that will galvanize Latinos in races across the country this November.