LANSING, Mich. — While Hispanic and Latino-Americans make up about 6% of Michigan’s population, their community remains under-represented in Michigan’s Legislature.
“Just happening to be one of the youngest Latinos ever elected at the time was certainly an honor, but it's also a reminder that we need more people from our community to step up into serve, so that our perspectives are told in the Capitol as big decisions are made about our future,” said state Rep. Darrin Camilleri (D-Trenton), who at the time of his first election in 2017 was the youngest Latino ever elected to Michigan’s Legislature.
Camilleri is also just one of little more than a dozen Hispanic or Latino people to ever be elected to serve in Lansing.
The first not coming until 1998, when former state Rep. Belda Garza (D-Detroit) was voted into office.
“Since then, we've had about 15, or 16 of us serve in the Legislature, so that's really not too many. We are about 6% of the population across the state and I believe that we should be 6% of the state legislature as well, at minimum,” Camilleri added.
Out of 148 total seats that equates to roughly 8 lawmakers. Right now, only a handful of current state lawmakers are of Hispanic or Latino heritage.
Alongside Camilleri, state Reps. Alex Garza (D-Taylor), Mary Cavanagh (D-Redford Townhsip) and Sen. Erika Geiss (D-Taylor) make up Michigan’s Legislative Latino Caucus.
Cavanagh heads the group, Camilleri serves as vice-chair.
“Our goal and with the Latino caucus is to promote our community, to celebrate our heritage, and to make sure that when policy decisions are made, that our community's voices are heard, and that any policy that is implemented is heard from our community, so that whenever there's a decision that's made we know the impacts and the ramifications of what happens to Latinos across the state,” Camilleri explained.
“We will also push back on any anti-immigrant or anti-Latino legislation that we've seen in the past. And we'll do our best to highlight stories and policy changes that we do think need to make a huge impact on people who are represented in our community,” he added.
Camilleri hopes that caucus can grow larger, long after him and his colleague are termed out. He's encouraging interested people from vibrant Hispanic/Latino communties like here in West Michigan to consider running for elected office.
“A legislature is supposed to be the body of the people and if we're not representing every voice in the state legislature, our job is not getting done well,” Camilleri said.
“My hope for the next 10, 15, 20 years is that we have more folks who get elected to the state Legislature and beyond who come from our community, and also do their best to make sure that every Latino voice is heard in every sector of our world, whether it's politics, business, government, education and beyond. We need to have a voice at the table just like everybody else."