Hispanics have had a profound and positive influence on our country through their strong commitment to family, faith, hard work, and service. They have enhanced and shaped our national character with centuries-old traditions that reflect the multiethnic and multicultural customs of their community.

During National Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15 to October 15), we recognize the contributions made by and the important presence of Hispanic and Latino Americans in the United States.

We can look forward to more Hispanic impact and influence, perhaps none more than from the growing power of the California Legislative Caucus.

Latinos have continually sought to increase their political representation in all levels of government. However, it was not until the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s that Latinos were able to reap the benefits of their political organizing. As a result, the last three decades of the 20th century have been witness to the effects of Latino’s increasing political power.

The first two Latinos in the California State Legislature in modern history were elected in 1962. Phil Soto (1962-1966), a Democrat from La Puente, and John Moreno (1962-1964), a Democrat from Los Angeles, were elected to the State Assembly and served prior to the formation of the Latino Legislative Caucus. Most importantly, their elections set the precedent for a long line of Latino legislators committed to the service of their communities. In 1968, Alex Garcia, a Democrat from Los Angeles, was elected to the Assembly, and, in 1970, Peter Chacon, a Democrat from San Diego, followed suit.

In 1972, three more Latinos were elected to the State Assembly: Joseph Montoya, Ray Gonzales, and Richard Alatorre.

Aware of their unified strength, the five Latinos serving in the State Legislature officially formed the Chicano Legislative Caucus in 1973. The establishment of the Caucus marked a significant turning point in the political empowerment of the Latino community. For the first time in California’s legislative history, an agenda was formulated and legislative priorities were developed to protect and preserve the rights of Latinos throughout California.

Today, the Latino Legislative Caucus is comprised of thirty-eight members (eleven Senators and twenty-four assembly members) and three auxiliary members (constitutional officers).  It is one of the most influential organizations within the State Legislature. Its members hold strategic leadership positions and focus primarily on improving the quality of life for working families in California. Currently, due to the changing demographics of California, it is apparent that the issues affecting Latinos in California are issues that affect all Californians.

Fernando Guerra, a political science professor at Loyola Marymount University, said it’s a mistake to believe that the caucus was ever a political monolith focused on just immigration policy.

“Latinos have always thought that education, health, public safety, the economy, and jobs were all more important than immigration,” he said. “The idea that immigration was the No. 1 issue that Latinos pursued just isn’t true.”

The Latino caucus last week celebrated its 50th anniversary by reflecting on political accomplishments and introducing a package of 14 bills intended to strengthen Latinos’ access to health, housing, and education.