CAMDEN, NJ—When Nilsa Cruz-Perez joined the New Jersey General Assembly back in February 1995, she was the first (and only) Latina to serve under Trenton’s gold dome. After taking a four-year break from elected office in 2010, Cruz-Perez headed back to Trenton this past week, this time as NJ Senator representing Camden and Gloucester Counties.
Twenty years later, Nilsa’s no longer the only Latina in town.There are now nine in total, three in the Senate (Theresa Ruiz, Nellie Pou + Nilsa) and another six in the Assembly. This is an astonishing example of diversity talking hold. And given the predominately white/male composition of he State House for the past few hundred years, the rise of Latinas in Trenton suddenly seems both inevitable and long overdue.
Number don’t lie. By a percentage point or two, Latinas remain underrepresented in Trenton.
According to Wikipedia, New Jersey’s Hispanic/Latino population is 17.7%, roughly half of whom (8.85%) are women. With Cruz-Perez’ re-entry, the NJ Legislature is now 7.5% Latina. Which basically means we’re still a Latina or two away from proportionate representation in the State House (which at the current trajectory seems likely to happen in next year’s election.)
“Diversity is part of our American Heritage and history that makes us the best nation in the world,” Assemblywoman Gabriela Mosquera (D-Gloucester) told PolitickerNJ, “As Americans we garner our strength from different cultures, experiences and skills.”
There are, however, plenty of people who think diversity doesn’t matter, that it’s some left-wing fantasy of racial and gender quotas above all. I urge you to keep two things in mind while digesting that last sentence: 1) diversity is not not a left-wing fantasy and so what if it were? and 2) most people claiming diversity doesn’t matter are over-represented in Government anyway.
There’s nothing wrong with being a white, heterosexual, Christian American (with a penis.) There IS however something deeply hypocritical about the most privileged class of human beings to ever roam the planet whining that there are too many (women, blacks, gays, Latinos) spoiling the party simply in the name of diversity. Especially since math proves our government doesn’t yet reflect the actual composition of the population of the state of New Jersey.
One of Trenton’s newest Latinas is Assemblywoman Maria Rodriguez-Gregg (R-Burlington.) She counters the notion that diversity remains the exclusive domain of the left. Rodriguez-Gregg could be the face of tomorrow’s GOP: not old, not white, not cranky.
The Burlington County GOP is one of the strongest county committees in the state. They’ve won nearly every county-wide office in the last decade despite the county twice voting for President Obama by pretty large margins. Both Burlington County Senators are republican women (Dianne Allen, Dawn Addiego.) So’s the Sheriff, Jean Stanfield.
And Maria Rodriguez-Gregg into the mix and it’s pretty clear that diversity wins elections, too.
“Young Latinas need to understand that the sky is the limit. Having role models they can truly relate to will show them the heights to which they can and should strive. I continue to be driven by those strong women who led the way for me, and I hope to do the same for the next generation,” Cruz-Perez told PolitickerNJ,
Senator Nellie Pou (D-Passaic) echoed that sentiment to PolitickerNJ, “I was the second Latina in the legislature. When I first arrived (in 1997) it was just Nilsa and me and a few (Latino) men. I remember it was so very few of us.”
Senator Pou called Cruz-Perez’ return to Trenton, “a moment to celebrate the progress made over the last decade or so. As a young Latina I never thought I’d be walking the halls of the State House making laws in the state of New Jersey. When I tell young Latinas that, they get it and they know ‘I can do this too.'”
When diversity flourishes, “more young Latinas will be inspired to continue on their path for success. Having a variety of well-respected Latino and Latina legislators in the New Jersey Legislature only validate to our young Latinas that their dreams are attainable,” added Assemblywoman Mosquera.
The good news is that in 2014, a young Latina schoolgirl in Vineland or Patterson or Cherry Hill can see faces like her own represented in her government in Trenton.
Because what good is government if it can’t try to set a good example while creating high expectations for every child living in our state?
Jay Lassiter is a longtime Trenton iconoclast. When he’s not pushing his radical agenda he’s probably at brunch. Or on Twitter.