The Huffington Post | 40 Under 40: Latinos in American Politics

Sep 22, 2015

By Josue Lopez Calderon, Benjamin A. Gilman Alumni Ambassador, for HUFF POST LATINO VOICES

Hispanic Heritage Month is a time to celebrate our ever-so important growing demographic in the United States for our worldwide achievements and contributions to American culture. Given the recent wave of anti-immigrant and anti-Latino sentiment that this election cycle has reignited, this year’s list focuses on Latinos who are rising fast and showing what we can do. Selection for this list was done by a committee of peers — some partisans; some not. Without further ado…here are 40 Latinos under 40 years old to watch in this upcoming election cycle. This new generation of political talent is listed here in alphabetical order by first name.

1. Alberto E. Martinez (Marco Rubio): At only 35 years of age, Alberto serves as the Chief of Staff for Senator Marco Rubio. Prior to his time as Chief of Staff and Deputy Chief of Staff, he was a Senior Advisor to Rubio’s Reclaim America PAC and the Romney for President campaign. Previously, Alberto served as the Communications Director for the Republican majority during Rubio’s term as speaker of the Florida House. Prior to his work with Rubio, Martinez served as Deputy Speechwriter for Governor Jeb Bush and Florida Communications Director for President George W. Bush’s reelection campaign in 2004.

2. Ali Pardo (RNC): As Deputy Press Secretary for the Republican National Committee, Pardo serves as the bilingual spokesperson for the all-important southeastern states. A Miami native, Pardo cut her chops on Senator Marco Rubio’s press team. These days she owns her turf, appearing online, in print, and on television delivering the Republican Party’s message with bilingual fury and precision.

3. Ana Gonzalez-Barrera (Pew Research Center): Ana is on her way to becoming one of the nation’s leading experts and contributors of public opinion research and statistical analysis of the Hispanic and immigrant populations in the U.S. She is the author of the influential “An Awakened Giant: the Hispanic Electorate is Likely to Double by 2030”. Before becoming a Research Associate at the Pew Research Center, she worked for over four years at CIDE in Mexico, and then served as Director of population distribution at the Mexican Population Council. She received a MPP from the Harris School of Public Policy Studies at the University of Chicago, where she was a Fulbright-Garcia Robles scholar.

4. Andeliz Castillo (LIBRE Initiative): She is the glue that holds the LIBRE Initiative’s national political machinery together. As Chief Operating Officer, Castillo has managed LIBRE’s operations for the past 3.5 years. During that time she has overseen it’s 500% growth across 10 states. Originally from New York City, Castillo graduated from Brown University before serving in a variety of capacities on Capitol Hill, including spearheading Hispanic outreach for GOP leadership in Congress and running Hispanic communications for the Republican National Committee.

5. Anitere Flores (State Senator): Senator Flores is the first Republican Hispanic woman to serve in both the Florida House and Senate since 1986. Prior to becoming a Republican Member of the Florida Senate’s 38th district, she served in the Florida House of Representatives 114 district from 2004 to 2010. After law school, Anitere was hired by the Florida House of Representatives to work on the Education Council, and later worked for Governor Jeb Bush as his Education Policy Chief.

6. Carlos Curbelo (Congressman): At only 35 years of age, Rep. Curbelo is one of the youngest Latino elected officials in congress. Before being elected as a U.S. Representative from Florida’s 26th congressional district, he was previously a member of the Miami-Dade County Public Schools board. He is a former state director for former U.S. Senator George LeMieux of Florida.

7. Carlos Sanchez (Joaquin Castro): There are still so preciously few Latino Chiefs of Staff on Capitol Hill that it did not go at all unnoticed when Congressman Castro brought Sanchez from San Antonio to serve as his. A longtime staffer to one of the Democratic Party’s top elected officials, Representative Nancy Pelosi, Sanchez has his work cut out for him in the year ahead as Latinos continue to take center stage in this election cycle.

8. Charles Munoz (Donald Trump): At only 26 years of age, Munoz may have one of the hardest jobs in politics, helping Donald Trump win the heavily Latino populated state of Nevada. However, given his previous experience as the Deputy State Director for Americans for Prosperity Nevada, a chapter he founded in 2010, he is poised to serve as Donald Trump’s Nevada State Director.

9. Cindy Nava (University of New Mexico): A Dreamer from New Mexico, Nava has volunteered with over a dozen political organizations, including the People for the American Way, Senator Tom Udall, Rep. Michele Lujan Grisham, Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, Young Democrats of New Mexico, and Democratic National Committee. She is currently awaiting final approval of her DACA application and when it comes, look out! Nava a Latina political star in the making.

10. Daniella Diaz (CNN): A proud Mexican-American from McAllen, Texas, this year Diaz made the jump from working on the web team at POLITICO to becoming a digital producer for CNN’s acclaimed politics digital team. And she’s only 23 years old. A consummate millennial, look for her political memes and such on Twitter.

11. Danny Herrera (The Raben Group): He is the only mariachi on this list and a top bilingual communicator in the Beltway. A veteran of countless political campaigns — most recently as a staffer on Capitol Hill — this summer Herrera joined the Raben Group, the only minority-majority firm in the Beltway. Raben Group’s clients include a wide spectrum of progressive and Latino causes.

12. Diana Castañeda (NTN24): As a political correspondent for international channel NDN24 (airs in over 23 countries), Castañeda has covered the White House, Congress, and the American political circuses that are the Democratic and Republican National Conventions. A proud Colombian, Castañeda is perhaps the only political correspondent in this election cycle who has covered immigration end-to-end, from riding ‘la bestia’ in Mexico to border crossing to detentions to deportations and border re-crossings and all manner of immigrant successes and failures on el norte. As immigration rises to the top of voter priorities early in this election cycle, so too will Castañeda as a top political correspondent in the Americas.

13. Ed O’Keefe (Washington Post): A proud Guatemalan-American, O’Keefe has covered Capitol Hill, the federal workforce, and spent a brief time covering the war in Iraq. He now covers Jeb Bush. O’Keefe is arguably the best Latino reporter writing in English. Period. Look for him on the prestigious Sunday shows.

14. Eduardo Soto (The Raben Group): Prior to joining Raben, Eduardo was a legislative assistant to Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA). He enlisted organizational and member support for original and reintroduced legislation, taking care to address stakeholders’ concerns in order to build formidable coalitions. Eduardo worked on legislation in diverse policy areas such as criminal justice reform, diversity in media, and student access to courts. A bilingual native of San Juan Puerto Rico, Soto has quickly become a top Spanish-language commentator on American political television and radio.

15. Enrique Acevedo (Univision): Enrique is a Mexican journalist who is currently an anchor for the late night edition of Noticiero Univision. He is also a special correspondent for Fusion, the ABC/Univision joint venture and has hosted Al Punto with Jorge Ramos on several occasions. Before joining Univision, Acevedo was a special correspondent and anchor for NBC-Telemundo. Enrique describes himself as a ‘Part-Time traveler’ and a ‘Full-Time’ husband in his social media platforms where he frequently shares pictures from his assignments around the country.

16. Francisco Pelayo (Univision): As the Senior Elections Coordinator for Univision, Pelayo is the glue that holds the Spanish-language television giant’s election coverage together. A Venezuelan-American, Pelayo works closely with campaigns and party establishment supporting the news coverage from Miami. Before joining Univision in 2013, Francisco was the Deputy Director for the Spanish version of Campaigns & Elections Magazine, a campaigns and political insiders journal founded by Stanley Foster Reed in 1980. Although his academic background is in Political Science, he’s passionate about communications and advocacy in both English and Spanish.

17. Gabriela Domenzain (Martin O’Malley): Domenzain has spent her career advocating for the Latino community. Starting with working for her mentor, Raul Yzaguirre, the founder of the nation’s largest Latino civil rights organization, the National Council of La Raza, to becoming a founding producer for Jorge Ramos and his launch of Univision National Network’s first Sunday morning political talk show Al Punto, to creating the first comprehensively bilingual presidential campaign strategy for President Obama’s successful reelection campaign in 2012. As a senior advisor and Director of Public Engagement for Governor O’Malley, she is currently one of the highest ranking Latinas in presidential politics today.

18. Hector Sigala (Bernie Sanders): As the Digital Media Director for Bernie Sanders’ Presidential Campaign, Hector has helped Bernie’s online presence claim the top democratic page on Facebook and has gained recognition from national media outlets as the best social media of any candidate. Before becoming the Sander’s campaign social media guru, Hector worked in Sanders’ Senate office since 2012 where he concurrently served as the Congressional Hispanic Staff Association’s Communications Director in 2013. Hector has been blazing a trail for his family and community since immigrating from Mexico at a young age and working his way through college before earning his Bachelors from George Washington University. He says that having experienced poverty and the immigrant struggle firsthand serves as his motivation for the work he does for Bernie Sanders.

19. Jeb Bush Jr. (Jeb Bush): Better known within circles as Jeb 2.0, Jeb Jr. serves as an active campaign surrogate who focuses on building support among Hispanic and Millennial voters for Jeb Sr. When he’s not campaigning, he serves as Chief Operating Officer at Jeb Bush & Associates and President of Bush Realty, LLC.

20. Jeff Cruz (Bernie Sanders): While wealthy corporations have thousands of lobbyists trying to rig the rules further in their favor, Jeff spends his time fighting for progressive policies to help Latinos and other middle-class Americans. As a Sr. Advisor to Senator Bernie Sanders, he is leading the charge to expand Social Security, increase the minimum wage to $15 by 2020, provide additional job training opportunities for young Americans, and end policies of mass incarceration. He has worked for Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the Obama White House, the House Democratic Leadership, on electoral campaigns in more than a dozen states, and as the executive director of the Latinos for a Secure Retirement coalition. Jeff is a former CHCI fellow and has authored a CHSA report on how to solve the diversity crisis affecting Capitol Hill.

21. Jorge Aguilar (Nancy Pelosi): Jorge started his career in public service in his hometown Laredo, Texas. Then after graduating college in 2011 he went to the hill to work for then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid as his CHCI Fellow, focusing on immigration and Hispanic affairs. After temporarily leaving D.C. to work for President Obama in Las Vegas during the 2012 reelection campaign, Jorge began working for the first-ever woman Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi. Today he serves as her Deputy Press Secretary and Director of Hispanic Media – crafting rapid response messaging and helping amplify House Democrats’ priorities of building better infrastructure and bigger paychecks for Americans. Early this year, Jorge was chosen to accompany the Democratic Leader and several Members of Congress to Cuba during the first official House of Representatives delegation trip to the country since President Obama announced the normalization of relations with Havana. He enjoys making ‘carne asadas,’ mentoring Latinos and traveling when he has free time.

22. Jorge Silva (Hillary Clinton): As Director for Hispanic Media for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 Presidential Campaign, Jorge Silva serves as the voice of the Hillary Clinton Campaign for Latino media and on Latino-focused issues. He leads an infrastructure of bilingual and multicultural media strategies and communications. Silva has more than a decade of experience and most recently led national and regional Hispanic media for Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid as Senior Advisor for Hispanic Media and spokesperson. Silva developed and implemented media strategies for the Senate Majority Leader and for various other states as the senior strategist for the Senate Democratic Caucus. Originally from Mexico, Silva earned a law degree from the Western Institute of Technology and Advanced Studies (ITESO) in Guadalajara, Mexico and a Master’s Degree in International Policy Studies from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey.

23. Jose Aristimuño (Martin O’Malley): A Venezuelan-American, Aristimuño began his communications career working for The Dewey Square Group, a consulting public affairs firm in Washington D.C., where he worked on advocating the effects of climate change on our community, the importance of expanding access to the Internet, and increasing voter participation among Latinos. Aristimuño was also an immigration columnist for Telemundo’s Hola Ciudad, where he reported on the developments surrounding immigration reform, the Central American refugee crisis, immigrants’ access to healthcare, and the connections between immigration reform and the economy. He also founded a national organization, Latino Giant, where he worked on empowering Latinos to reach their own version of the American dream through storytelling, workshops, and interviews.

24. Dr. Juan Manuel Contreras (DNC): As Senior Data Scientist at the Democratic National Committee, Contreras is responsible for leading a team of analysts in the development and deployment of large-scale digital analytics projects. While Contreras can’t say much on the record about his highly-sensitive political work, his credentials speak for themselves. His science resume includes an undergraduate degree from Princeton, a master’s and doctorate from Harvard, and data science work for The Walt Disney Company. Originally from La Paz, Bolivia, Contreras is one of the top behind-the-scenes scientists making it work for the Democrats.

25. Karen Guadalupe Velez-Barron (DACA Sin Miedo): At only 19 years old, Miss Velez-Barron is leading one of the most-important initiatives in all of immigration policy. From her hometown of Minneapolis, Minnesota, she is spearheading a campaign in immigrant communities against fear of signing up for President Obama’s executive order for relief for immigrant youth (DACA). Her efforts haven’t gone unnoticed by the political establishment. At the Democratic Party’s summer meeting in Minneapolis, Velez-Barron was invited to say the pledge of allegiance. As far as she’s come for as young as she is, it’s safe to expect big things from this outstanding millennial.

26. Kristian Ramos (Media Matters): He believes in the power of progressive policy and the positive effects it has for the Latino community. He has worked in national and local politics, in both the House and Senate working most recently for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. He cut his teeth on policy at NDN and The New Policy Institute. Prior to that he worked in the United States Senate for Majority Leader Harry Reid in the Democratic Communications Center. He is currently the communications and outreach director of Inclusion Matters at Media Matters For America. He wishes the District of Columbia had better Mexican food.

27. Leah Katz-Hernandez (White House): As Receptionist of the United States, or ROTUS, Katz-Hernandez is the ultimate White House insider. Her job is to welcome all of Barack Obama’s guests to the West Wing. Read Katz-Hernandez’s incredible story here.

28. Linda Stela Manus (USAID): Few possess as much knowledge and insight about the presidential political appointment process than Linda. After silently recruiting and screening numerous political appointment candidates while on the priority placement team for the Office of Presidential Personnel at the White House, Linda now serves in the White House Liaison Office at the United States Agency for International Aid. Before serving in the Obama administration, she was a congressional aid to Congressman Joe Baca (CA-43) in the U.S. House of Representatives where she advised the congressman on foreign affairs, civil and human rights. She first gained congressional experience as an intern for the late Congressman Donald Payne Sr. (NJ-10) in the Africa and Global Health Subcommittee on the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee. While completing her Diplomacy and International Relations degree at Seton Hall University, she interned at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, the Embassy of Greece, and the Permanent Mission of Cote d’Ivoire at the United Nations. Her mother’s family proudly hails from Chota, Peru.

29. Liz Martinez (Huffington Post): She still calls herself a nobody on Twitter. And still nothing could be further from the truth. Nobodies aren’t featured in web videos righteously shaming presidential candidates for using slurs that dehumanize immigrant families. This summer, Liz was…and she killed it.

30. Lorella Praeli (Hillary Clinton): An immigrant from Peru, Praeli cut her teeth organizing undocumented communities around the Dream Act, DACA, and other policy initiatives. This year she joined Hillary for America as the National Director of Latino Outreach for Hillary for America where she develops strategy to turn out the Latino vote and ensure Latinos have a voice in all aspects of the campaign. If Hillary’s going to win, Praeli’s got to shine.

31. Marina Torres (DHS): Very few attorneys have acquired the kind of gold-star studded resume that Marina has, and fewer still in as short of time. Marina was appointed by President Obama to the Department of Homeland Security in 2013 at the height of preparations for his executive actions on immigration, and she is part of the DHS policy team that crafted the most consequential of the immigration actions announced by the President. Prior to joining the Administration and shortly after her graduation from Stanford Law School, Marina honed her lawyerly skills as a white-collar defense litigator at two of the most-prestigious and selective law firms in the country. She has won numerous accolades for her courtroom trial skills as well as for her pro bono efforts, including this year’s “Rising Star” Award by the Hispanic Bar Association of DC, selection as a Political Partner in the Truman National Security Project, and inclusion in the 2013 Lawyers of Color’s “Inaugural Hot List,” a list compiled to recognize early-to-mid-career attorneys under 40 who are excelling in the legal profession.

32. Michele Martinez (NALEO): At only 36, Michelle serves as the President of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials as well as a Councilwoman for the City of Santa Ana California. Her story is just as amazing as her resume. Having fought her way through witnessing close family members fall victim to drug abuse and gang violence she worked numerous jobs to put herself through school. In 2006 she ran for city council and became one of the youngest elected leaders in the city’s history after personally knocking on over 7,000 doors. Under her leadership, the city of Santa Ana has witnessed a 32% drop in crime and has created numerous jobs.

33. Pablo Manriquez (DNC): Since becoming the Democratic National Committee’s bilingual spokesperson this summer, Manriquez has become a frequent guest on Univision’s political programming. Online and in print, his on-the-record comments have appeared in English and Spanish in publications as diverse as the Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, POLITICO, Fox News Latino, and Latin Post. In July, when asked about Donald Trump’s assertion that he will win the Latino vote, Manriquez dropped the first ever No Mames in the history of Forbes. Look for this highly-quotable Chilean immigrant to continue to provide colorful, progressive election commentary that bilinguals can especially appreciate.

34. Raul Alvillar (DNC): As the Democratic Party’s top political officer, Alvillar’s job is to ensure that the party’s candidates up and down the ticket have what they need to win. A veteran campaigner for LGBT, private sector causes, and Democratic Party candidates, Alvillar was a senior member of then-Senator Obama’s political team during the 2008 election. Since then, he has worked at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, served as the White House’s LGBT liaison, and in the Vice President’s Office. The combination of his campaign and Beltway experience make Alvillar one of the most-connected operatives in the Democratic Party establishment.

35. Rick Palacio (Colorado Democratic Party): Rick is the first Latino in Colorado history to hold the office of chair for a major political party. Before serving in his current role as Chairman of the Colorado Democratic Party, Palacio worked in a variety of roles in Colorado and national politics, such as the Assistant to Colorado House Majority Leader Alice Madden from 2004 to 2006. He has held multiple roles with U.S. Rep. John Salazar of Colorado’s third Congressional District and in 2008 he worked for the House Majority Leader, Congressman Steny H. Hoyer. Palacio was one of the primary Congressional staffers responsible for the repeal of Don’t ask, don’t tell. Keep an eye on this rising star.

36. Ruben Gallego (Congressman): Rep. Gallego is the son of immigrant parents from Colombia and Mexico and also one of the youngest Latinos ever elected to Congress. The Iraq War veteran was dubbed by Fusion in 2014 as “The young politician Republicans should fear” during his campaign. Today, Gallego serves as the U.S. Representative for Arizona’s 7th Congressional District. Before being elected to Congress in 2014, he served as a member of the Arizona House of Representatives and as assistant minority leader in the Arizona House of Representatives. The charismatic Congressman came into office on a burst of promise after turning out his Latino constituents by implementing an aggressive door-to-door campaign, which he believes is the best way of getting people who have never voted to the polls. Watchout for this Latino millennial.

37. Sarah Isgur Flores (Carly Fiorina): Sarah is one of the most influential Latinas you might not have heard of. The Harvard Law School grad and former Deputy Communications Director at the RNC has been an instrumental behind-the-scenes figure for Carly Fiorina. Now the Deputy Campaign Manager, Isgur Flores previously was the Communications Director for Fiorina’s Unlocking Potential Project and has also worked for Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign. In addition she was a Political Director on Texans for Ted Cruz and worked in the legal department on Romney’s 2007-08 campaign.

38. Selymar Colon (Univision): She is currently the Director of Digital Integration for Univision News. In this capacity, she has led major projects such as “Los Hispanos del Presidente”which featured 15 Hispanics working with the Obama Administration in the White House. Prior to her current role, she joined the Jorge Ramos’ Al Punto team, Univision’s Sunday politics show. Before Al Punto, she began her career as an Associate Producer for Noticiero Univision. As Colon’s career so far has been end-to-end Univision.

39. Wadi Gaitan (Florida Republican Party): He is the first Communications Director for the Florida GOP who is Hispanic…and easily one of the top bilingual media operatives in America. This election cycle, Gaitan’s vast experience in political communications — which includes stints on presidential and congressional campaigns, and at the top of the Republican Party establishment — will be put to the test in the most-significant Latino media market on Earth. Establishment insiders know Gaitan is the right guy, at the right time, to hold down the fort for the GOP during this election cycle.

40. Walter Garcia (DNC): At just 23 years old, Garcia has already worked at the White House, State Department, House of Representatives, and now, as a press aide on the Democratic National Committee. The son of Mexican immigrants, not only is Garcia the first in his family to graduate from high school, he is a rockstar student with Ivy League chops – having graduated Magna Cum Laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Brown University. From humble beginnings in Pacoima, California, Garcia has built the trajectory of one the top millennials in American politics.

So there you have it. Who else should be on the annual list? Who are some of the other outstanding Latinos who merit mentions this Heritage Month? Let me know by tweeting at @TheRealJosue.



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