Two Latina Legislators to Know This Women’s History Month: Meet Councilwomen Nury Martinez and Nancy Navarro
By Rocío Ortega
This post is not an endorsement of any political candidates or parties.
This Women’s History month, I want to highlight a fierce legislator I admire and have worked with. She is the first in her family to graduate from college, a daughter of immigrants, and is committed to ending violence against women — she has even gone undercover to arrest a sex trafficking ring!
Her name is Nury Martinez and in January 2020, she became the first Latina City Council President in the Los Angeles City Council’s 170 year history. But before that, she was already breaking glass ceilings.
When Councilwoman Martinez was elected in 2013, she was the only woman and Latina on the Los Angeles City Council. During her time on the council, I had the privilege of applying to her inaugural Ready for Women Fellowship working as a Staff Aide in her Los Angeles City Hall office. That experience further fueled my desire to run for office one day.
Having representation in government, and in local government in particular, is important. Most recently, the 117th Congress brought a growing racial and ethnic diversity in U.S. Congress. In the city of Los Angeles, 48% of Angelenos identify as Hispanic or Latino and four of the 12 current city councilmembers are Latinos.
Despite this growth in representation, the discrimination women and Latinas face persists. In October 2020, a participant in an open town hall verbally harassed Councilwoman Martinez, calling her sexist names. She addressed the situation in February 2021, when she was harassed again, by sharing that these weren’t the first or second times she has experienced such harassment and she will still continue to fight for our communities despite it.
And just a few days ago, on the opposite coast, Latina Councilwoman Nancy Navarro, a Venezuelan immigrant and the only woman on the Montgomery County Council in Maryland, faced racism and bigotry after two people made fun of her accent during a virtual public hearing. As Alvardo Villa, leader of a Montgomery County, Maryland, nonprofit, said, “If this happens to Nancy Navarro, who is our highest representative within Montgomery County, imagine what happens to other immigrants.”
Like Councilwoman Martinez, Councilwoman Navarro clapped back by urging Latinas like me to wear our accents with pride. Solidarity among the Latina community is important, and Councilwoman Martinez demonstrated that by saying on her Instagram that “[her] experience has been similar to Councilwoman Navarro … We deserve respect for our differences, not sexist mockery.”
Being a Latina is just one of many identities one can have. Latinas can speak one or multiple languages, can identify as an immigrant or not, can have an “accent” or not … the list goes on and on. What happened to Councilwomen Martinez and Navarro — from the West Coast to the East Coast — are just two examples that happened in the public eye. Microaggressions and discrimination happen to Latinas during town halls and all the way down to workplaces and even at home.
During Women’s History Month, it’s especially important to applaud the actions and public service commitments of Latina legislators. Councilwomen Martinez and Navarro are great examples for folks to start educating themselves on the diversity this country has to offer. Both women grew up in humble immigrant households and learned English as a second language. Although they face discrimination, they still continue to fight for underrepresented communities. I admire their strength, but most of all, their ability to respond with solidarity and strength. I hope that other Latinas looking to run for office can look at these women and say, “I look like a politician.”
Rocío Ortega is a proud Chicana from East Los Angeles, California. She holds a BA from Wellesley College and is currently finishing her MA from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. She’s a gender equity activist, loves listening to Bad Bunny and playing basketball. Rocío is a 2011 Running Start alumna and 2012 Woman to Watch Awards honoree.