Catalina Cruz and Anna Tovar on the importance of Latinos in down-ballot races
Assemblywoman Cruz and Mayor Tovar highlight the importance of down-ballot races, which often prove more critical to small communities.
From two completely distinct parts of the nation, New York Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz and Mayor Anna Tovar of Arizona run with the same principles in mind.
Running altogether different races for different positions of power, the two Latina candidates exemplify the critical nature of down-ballot races, which, when it comes to small communities, have a much larger impact relative to the Presidential election.
Down ballot races determine the outcome of issues due to critical communities. Issues that, from the heights of the presidency, will often not consider the matters of smaller districts and municipalities.
This November, nearly 90 Latinx candidates are running at multiple levels of government throughout the nation, making history, breaking barriers, and representing the Latinx community. Of those, nearly half are Latinas
“There are more Latinas running for office than ever before, Johanna Silva Waki, interim VP of Emily’s List told AL DÍA. “Access to quality and affordable health care is on the ballot, access to safe reproductive health care is on the ballot, an effective plan to combat COVID-19 and an economic rebound is on the ballot,” she continued.
Latinas Cruz and Tovar each carry the same mindset, heightened throughout the course of the coronavirus: their people come first.
Both are running safe races leading into Election day, but they provided AL DÍA with a look into the integral impact their positions have on their respective communities.
“This is the first neighborhood and community that has ever felt like home after I left the country where I was born,” Cruz told AL DÍA.
She’s referring to New York’s State Assembly’s 39th district, her home since she moved from Colombia at the age of nine with her mother. Undocumented, Cruz grew up as a DREAMer.
It wasn’t always the easiest life to navigate.
“From being undocumented to being a low-wage professional,” Cruz recalled how her upbringing shaped her outlook in the State Assembly, as she sees herself in so many of her constituents.
“The majority of the people who I represent come from mixed-status households where one person may have permanent residency, one person may be a citizen, one person may be a DACA recipient, one person may have no status at all and be completely undocumented. So you look at policies and how they affect an entire family, and the entire community,” Cruz said.
So far, her career has led her to help pass the state’s DREAM act, improve rent reforms, co-sponsor hundreds of bills, and introduce several dozen herself — a few of which have been signed into law.
“That’s something that I think is fantastic to have been able to do during the first two years, as well as funding that now comes to the community because of our work and pushing to make sure that we have smaller grants for the community,” said Cruz.
It’s those hyper-local community groups, as Cruz calls them, that have helped maintain such a strong attachment to her community. They’ve influenced her own advocacy on issues she herself has experienced first-hand experience and what she’s pushed in the state assembly.
The community also remembers her predecessors’ negligence.
“The community has not always been very trusting of approaching elected officials and always sees us as the politicians that only show up at the time that you need to vote,” Cruz said.
And now, with a fight as personal as COVID-19, her community will remember how she fought alongside them, opening her own office as a food pantry, through the squalor.
Even though Cruz is running a race that is virtually uncontested – having all-but-secured her Assembly seat by running a strong primary race, Cruz still has her eyes on other down-ballot races both in her vicinity and across the country, knowing their full implications should they veer.
“I think what folks forget, is as “glitzy and glamorous’ as the presidential election is, the everyday issues that affect them, and the way in which we can ensure that the president that we choose can actually do his job is by ensuring that Congress and Senate are controlled by the Democratic party. Otherwise, we’re just sitting here doing nothing,” Cruz said.
The nation has been there before, when Barack Obama, as President, found it nearly impossible to have any real progress with a Republican-controlled House and Senate.
“And so we’re hoping that people understand that and even at the hyper-local-level, the everyday policies, again, that affect people, those are the ones that are changed by state, Senate, state reps, state assembly, and so we want people to vote blue on those as well,” Cruz said.
As for Cruz, her most immediate aspiration is getting her community back on its feet post-COVID and making sure her community isn’t as heavily affected should history repeat itself in the near future.
“I don’t know what that means for me, I’m very happy doing what I do, and we’ll see what life has ahead of us,” she said.
The child of migrant parents who constantly traveled from the State of Arizona to Washington state depending on the crop, Tovar grew up with a physical account of what it means to serve a community.
That upbringing propelled her to pursue teaching, where Tovar thought she would stay until the unthinkable happened, and she was diagnosed with cancer.
“It was an environmental toxin that changed my life, literally from one day to the next, where I had to stop teaching, and that was probably one of the hardest things I had to wrap my mind around. But then I was in the battle of my life,” Tovar told AL DÍA.
All while being a parent, a mom, a teacher, and a woman with aspirations.
Just before the diagnosis, Tovar had run for city council not knowing how to run a campaign and not knowing how to be a political figure, of sorts.
She just knew she was someone her community needed.
“We needed that representation,” Tovar recalled of her race amid such a life-changing diagnosis.
In the end, she beat a 12-year incumbent male by about a dozen votes. From there, Tovar’s political career was launched.
“That taught me that, our stories matter, our issues matter, and we need those people at the table, who are making those decisions, on behalf of our families, or else those issues are on the chopping block ultimately.”
Since her time on the school board, Tovar was appointed to the state legislature, then served in the Arizona State Senate, followed by being Mayor of Tolleson, AZ.
Why not me? Those are the words Tovar recalled her grandmother telling her when she was young.
“‘Don’t let anyone intimidate you. Yes, you’re going to be discriminated against for who you are, the color that you are. But always make sure that you don’t wait for the invite. You go, you show up, and you bring your own chair,’” she said.
Tovar has served the past four years as mayor, trying to push the Latinx community in Tolleson forward, a community made up of about 80% Latinos. Now, she’s running for the Arizona Corporation Commission.
In the light of the last eight months, Tovar, in her words, has been“fighting like hell for COVID resources for my community.”
The Latinx community, in the aftermath of the coronavirus, has emerged as the most affected demographic in the nation— economically, infection-wise, and in the number of deaths.
“Especially within our Latinx community, [we] want someone that’s gonna roll-up their sleeves and bring forward solutions so that our family’s lives are easier so that they have the resources that they need to succeed. And they want to make sure that they’re moving forward instead of having to work two and a half times harder with rules that don’t play into their favor,” she said.
It’s races like Tovar’s that ultimately make the difference.
It wasn’t the president, or, in many cases, it wasn’t the governor that provided resources to small communities. It was Assemblymembers, Mayors, congresspeople, and state senators who had to advocate and push for adequate PPE equipment, ventilators, and test kits from higher levels of power.
“I feel that down-ballot races are the races that make the most tremendous difference in Arizona families in the Latino communities, and our Black communities, and our Indigenous communities,” Tovar said.
These are the issues, that in the light of a pandemic, civil unrest, social and economic inequality, and why Arizona has found itself as a “purple” state that, this year, or perhaps even in the next election, will find itself turning blue.
“Representation matters. It matters for Black Lives Matter, it matters that a Mayor stands up and walks with protestors and listens to them,” said Tovar. “It brings forward solutions to how we make our communities better because ultimately it’s about knowing what is happening in one’s community, advocating for it, educating others, and together collectively coming forward with those solutions that are going to make our communities better.”
While Tovar’s race looks in her favor, she says that whatever race she runs, even if unopposed, she runs it as if she is the underdog.
And once the next few weeks have settled, she’s ready to get started.
“Making sure we don't leave our communities behind. Bringing clean energy jobs to the community that have great pay and benefits, putting people first and putting their issues on the table,” Tovar said, ending with, “Educating constituents that their voice does matter.”