Whether they’re serving on the bench, in Congress or at the White House, these six powerful Latinas have each made political history in their own way.
Hilda Solis, Secretary of Labor
In 2009 Hilda Solis became the first Latina to serve as a U.S. president’s cabinet member.
But Solis was breaking ground long before she became part of the Obama White House. She got her start in California state government in the early 1990s, becoming the first Latina elected to the California State Senate. She went on to serve four terms in Congress, where she championed the rights of immigrants, workers, minorities and women.
Solis grew up east of Los Angeles, the daughter of pro-union immigrant parents. Her mother, from Nicaragua, worked in a toy factory, and her father, from Mexico, worked in a battery recycling plant. Both were outspoken against poor working conditions and inspired Solis to take an interest in labor.
Solis, who often tweets about the importance of the Latino community to U.S. economic recovery, has degrees in political science and public administration.
Susana Martinez, Governor of New Mexico
When in January 2011 Martinez was sworn into her office, she achieved two historic firsts: she became the first U.S. Latina governor and the first female governor of New Mexico. But Martinez’s name also made headlines over the last few months as she was frequently mentioned as a possible running mate for Mitt Romney. Though Paul Ryan was ultimately chosen, Martinez did securea coveted speaking role at the upcoming Republican National Convention.
Before her governorship, Martinez served as the district attorney in Southern New Mexico for 14 years. She was born and raised in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley and has lived in Las Cruces, N.M. since the 1980s.
Martinez is married and has a stepson; she has degrees from the University of Texas at El Paso and the University of Oklahoma’s law school. She is the great-granddaughter of Toribio Ortega, a famous Mexican revolutionary general.
Sonia Sotomayor, U.S. Supreme Court Justice
Sotomayor put her name in the history booksin 2009 when she became the first Latina to preside over the country’s highest court. But before that, Sotomayor was a young girl reading Nancy Drew novels — the detective’s work inspired her to pursue a career in law.
The daughter of Puerto Rican parents, Sotomayor grew up in a New York public housing project. Her father, who worked in a factory and spoke no English, died when she was 9. But despite those early challenges, Sotomayor went on to become the valedictorian of her high school and attended Princeton University and Yale’s law school. She worked as an assistant district attorney in Manhattan before President Clinton appointed her to the U.S. Court of Appeals in 1998. She was also the first Latina to serve on that court and worked there for 11 years.
Sotomayor raised controversy during her confirmation hearings as she was once quoted saying “a wise Latina woman” would “reach a better conclusion,” which led some to question if she thought ethnicity and gender affected a judge’s decisions. As a justice, she helped uphold most of the Affordable Care Act and struck down most of Arizona’s controversial immigration law.
Linda and Loretta Sánchez, U.S. House of Representatives from California
What’s more impressive than one tough Latina in Southern California politics? Two, of course.
Linda and Loretta Sánchez made history nine years ago when they became the first pair of sisters to serve simultaneously in Congress. Loretta Sánchez got her start in Congress in 1997 and has made military and national security issues her focus. Linda Sánchez, the younger of the two sisters, has been serving in Congress since 2003, focusing on working families, judiciary and trade issues. The sisters were two of seven children who grew up in Orange County and were raised by immigrant parents from Mexico.
Linda Sánchez attended University of California, Berkeley and has a law degree from University of California, Los Angeles. She worked as a bilingual aide and ESL instructor before heading to Congress. Sánchez is married and raising four boys with her husband.
Loretta Sánchez attended Chapman University and got her master’s in business at American University. Before she was elected to federal government, she was a financial manager for the Orange County Transportation Authority. Sánchez is married to a retired army colonel and published a joint memoir in 2008 with her sister called “Dream in Color: How the Sánchez Sisters are Making History in Congress.”
Katherine Archuleta, Obama’s National Political Director
The name of the first Latina to lead a major presidential campaign might sound familiar to you. That’s because Archuleta served as chief of staff to Secretary of Labor Solis and has been a mayor player in Colorado’s Latino community, serving as an aide to Denver’s first and only Latino mayor, Federico Peña.
Archuleta was tapped last year to head Obama’s campaign in part because of her knowledge of the West and her connection to Latino voters in Colorado, which is considered a swing state this year.
Archuleta also served under Peña when he was the Secretary of Transportation and later Energy for President Clinton and she founded an organization aimed at getting more Colorado Latinas involved with politics.
Archuleta recently spoke out about why she is supporting Obama in the election. She says without the president’s Affordable Care Act, it would be nearly impossible for her 23-year-old daughter to get health insurance because she is a survivor of ovarian cancer (a pre-existing condition that, in the past, allowed insurance companies to deny coverage.)