As the first Latino to represent California in the United States Senate, I stand on the shoulders of the Latino leaders who came before me.
That includes pioneering leaders like Edward Roybal, who in 1962 became the first Latino to represent California in Congress in 80 years — bringing the hopes of Los Angeles’ Latino families with him to the halls of Congress.
And as a mechanical engineer by training, I take inspiration from people like Ellen Ochoa — the first Latina to go to space and a brilliant engineer who helped break down barriers in STEM.
During Hispanic Heritage Month, we honor them and so many other Latino leaders who persevered to make a lasting impact on our nation’s history.
But we also think about the mission we’re called to carry on: to continue the fight of trailblazing leaders and uplift Latinos across the country.
During my time in the Senate, I’m proud to say that through Democrats’ biggest legislative victories, we’ve delivered major progress for Latino communities.
When I first entered the Senate in early 2021, Democrats passed a transformational COVID-19 pandemic relief law — delivering vaccines and economic support to the hardest hit communities. Because in the middle of a historic pandemic, I knew just how badly many Latino communities — like my hometown of Pacoima, California — were affected.
But it also meant coming together to prioritize communities of color in our efforts to lower costs for working families across the country and tackle the worst impacts of the climate crisis.
In the biggest, boldest investment in our nation’s history to combat the climate crisis and advance environmental justice, the Inflation Reduction Act includes direct financial support to implement clean air and climate pollution projects in the very communities that have borne the brunt of the worst effects of climate change. Because the quality of the air your family breathes shouldn’t be determined by your zip code.
It’s also helping to ease the burden of rising costs on families by capping out-of-pocket prescription drug costs for millions of California’s seniors and lowering insurance premiums for families throughout the state.
And as we learned in August, by pushing President Biden to forgive a substantial amount of student loan debt, qualifying students and graduates across the country will now have up to $20,000 of student loan debt relieved. That means forgiveness of all student debt for about half of Latino student loan borrowers.
That’s a big deal. And a generation of young Latino leaders will now be able to launch their careers without the weight of student loans holding them back.
So in our efforts to live up to those who came before us, we’ve made real progress — not just for Latino communities across the country, but for the next generation of Latino leaders, too.
Yet, there’s still so much work left to do to build a more inclusive, compassionate America.
Unfortunately, on some of the biggest, most urgent issues facing our democracy, we’re witnessing a dangerous new brand of hostility.
On meaningful immigration reform, Republicans have blocked us at every turn.
After Republicans appointed a radical, right-wing majority to the Supreme Court, the Court then overturned almost 50 years of precedent established under Roe v. Wade and took away a woman’s fundamental right to make her own health care decisions.
And now, while Democrats try to protect the right to vote and a democracy where all voices are valued, Republicans in state houses across the country are attacking voting rights.
For Latinos and all Americans, it’s clear: our very democracy is at stake.
But we can’t let the challenges in front of us distract us from the opportunities ahead.
In the spirit of trailblazing Latinos like Roybal and Ochoa, of family members and loved ones who pushed to get us where we are today — during this Hispanic Heritage Month, let’s do more than just celebrate.
Let’s fight to honor their legacy by working to create a more just, more inclusive future for our children.
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