In the presidential election, talk of the growing Latino voter strength dominated mainstream America.
Record numbers of Latinos cast ballots for president, and a record 31 Latinos were elected to Congress. Latinos also made historic gains in state legislatures, including in California.
At the local level, however, the growing Latino population remains politically invisible in Vallejo and other cities, political observers say.
Even though Hispanics or Latinos of any race account for more than 22 percent of the city's population, none serves on the seven-member City Council. Blacks, Filipinos and gays have made political inroads at City Hall, but only two Latinos have served on the council -- including one who was appointed -- in the past 45 years.
The current seven-member council includes two Filipinos, one African American and four whites.
The void is not only in Vallejo. In some cities, activists and civil rights groups have backed lawsuits and initiatives under the California Voting Rights Act to change how councils are elected.
But the idea of switching from at-large to district elections has not gained traction in Vallejo; and while voting districts would result in more neighborhoods being represented, it's unclear if and how Latino participation would be affected.
"It's not only here in the city, I think it's throughout the Bay Area," Vallejo Planning Commissioner Roberto Cortez said of Latino underrepresentation. "Even though we have a
fairly good presence on the business side, on the political side it's very scarce."
Absent from poitics
Over the past two decades, Vallejo's swelling Latino population has been reflected in Mexican grocery stores, restaurants, bridal shops and other businesses. However, as the number of Latinos has surged, political representation has not kept pace, whether due to the citizenship status of some immigrants, a lack of candidates or apathy toward local government.
"I'm surprised that there isn't more enthusiasm or people looking to at least be part of commissions," Cortez said. He and his wife, Marisela Barbosa, both are past presidents of the Solano County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. They are principles in a San Rafael-based engineering firm.
Cortez said Osby Davis, the city's first black mayor, encouraged him to seek the appointment this year to bring more diversity to the commission. Davis, who also was Solano County's first African American member supervisor, said he thinks it's important for all segments of the community to be represented.
"I've been encouraging him and others to get involved," Davis said. "Latinos are the obvious ones who are missing from the table."
Will Cortez be one who surfaces?
"What I was thinking is that by being part of the planning commission it would prime the pump for people to say, 'OK, he did it, I can be involved like him,' " Cortez said. He added, however, that while running for a political office is in his plans, it's not imminent. "I'm far too busy with my own business at this point," he said.
Cultural, language barriers
Some say the political underrepresentation of Hispanics is partly due to cultural factors. There's also a language barrier for some immigrants.
"We are coming from countries where the government is so corrupt that the trust is very, very low," said Jaime Guzman, a Colombian immigrant who serves on the board at Mare Island Technology Academy, a Vallejo charter school.
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