Hispanic Heritage Month: Pioneering Political Spirit

Hispanic Heritage Month
Denise Valdez & Senator Catherine Cortez Masto_1536858404881.jpg.jpg

In just two generations, a Nevada family went from working the fields to serving in the U.S. Senate.

The story of Nevada Senator Catherine Cortez-Masto is everything the American dream hopes to be.

Catherine Cortez-Masto made headlines after winning her bid to replace Senator Harry Reid, making her the first Latina ever to serve in the U.S. Senate. It’s a title she doesn’t take lightly.

“It’s one thing to make history but it is another for me to have a seat at the table and be able to use my voice for others who are traditionally underrepresented,” says Cortez-Masto.

When she arrived in Washington, she quickly realized there was work to do, broadening the ethnic base.

As a Junior Senator, she set out to bring diversity to not only her office but to others on Capitol Hill.

They brought together minority government workers to discover what barriers were holding them back and urged them to support each other to build their careers.

She also would like to see government interns get paid, so those coveted jobs can be open to students of all backgrounds.

“When people think of diversity, check the box right? Oh, I hired that Latino. I hired that African American. I’m done. That’s not what this is about right? This is about changing that culture. This is about every single day,” says Cortez-Masto.

The grand-daughter of a Mexican immigrant, Cortez Masto heavily identifies with many of her constituents. The struggles her family faced are the same ones they face.

Cortez-Masto also says, “everyday I walk through the halls of Congress or even when I was attorney general. I think of the courage it took for my grandparents to come to this country and the hard work it took for my parents so that their two daughters would graduate from college.” 

As a native Nevadan, Cortez-Masto is the daughter of Joanna and Manny Cortez. Her father was the longtime head of the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority. He also served as a Clark County Commissioner.

Cortez-Masto’s dad is of Mexican descent and her mom is of Italian descent.

“So one Sunday I’d be at Mexican American grandmother’s house having frijoles, tortillas, tamales, you name it … next Sunday I’d be at my Italian grandmother’s,” says Cortez-Masto.

Those Sunday dinners and rich cultural background help shape the woman she is today. 

Cortez-Masto also credits dedicated mentors for opening doors in her life, and she now hopes to kick those doors wide open for others to follow.

“It is the opportunity to open that door even wider. Not only that I’ve gone through, but others that are coming in behind. I’m pulling them through and helping them through.”

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