“It is about making history, but it is so much more,”
expressed Senator Catherine Cortez Masto on becoming the first Latina Senator in U.S. history at the LATINA Style 50 and Diversity Leaders reception. “For me it is about having a voice at the table to represent Latinos on the issues and principles and things that we care about and letting those young girls see that whatever they seek, whatever opportunities they want to have, they can achieve.”
On the evening of February 8th, LATINA Style honored Cortez Masto with the Trailblazer Award in recognition of her accomplishment as the first Latina Senator, for her leadership, work and commitment to serving the United States.
Born and raised in Nevada of Mexican descent, Cortez Masto is making history as the first and only Latina in the U.S. Senate. With women making less than a quarter of the representation in Congress —21 women senators currently serving—Cortez Masto doesn’t believe this is enough.
Today, she uses her voice to create change, believing women need to be at the table to bring different perspectives. “In government, I’ve always felt that if you’re going to truly represent your constituents, you need to be just as diverse as those you represent,” she shares via Tumblr. “But I don’t think simply being a Latina Senator is the key here. Now, it’s my turn to leave behind an open door for women who want to follow in my footsteps. We must ensure that those that work hard and play by the rules can succeed at becoming whoever they want– that the tools and resources are there to help them get ahead. And that’s exactly what I’m going to work for every day.”
Involved in her community at a young age, Cortez Masto, along with her family, worked to help those in need. “My father would ride his bike all over town to talk to people, engage with them and fight for them,” she shares. “When he was discriminated against because he was Hispanic, someone opened doors for him and that’s why he opened doors for others.”
Her drive to fight for people and run for office to represent them came about after she went into private practice as a lawyer and worked on a pro bono case where she helped a young couple trying to save their property. “I ran for office to represent people, their stories and their struggles,” she shares.
Serving two terms as Nevada’s Attorney General and her role as Chief of Staff to Governor Bob Miller making ‘behind the scenes’ decisions motivated her to run for a seat in the Senate. She felt it was time for her to stand up and fight for the issues she cares about, and represent her constituents.
Diversity in politics is one element Cortez Masto brings to the halls of government. She met recently with Latina Senate staffers to discuss the importance of increasing workforce diversity and ensuring equal pay for equal work throughout the country. The group discussed obstacles women face throughout their careers in Senate offices, succession planning, and lack of diversity on Capitol Hill.
Whether it is by partnering with organizations to ensure women and students of color have access to internship and employment opportunities in Congress or through mentoring opportunities, Cortez Masto aims to increase the needed representation of women at all levels.
“Women, especially women of color, continue to be underrepresented in the Senate, boardrooms, and businesses across the country,” says Cortez Masto. “Despite this underrepresentation, women also have to face the stark reality that they earn less than men in similar occupations. The lack of sufficient federal paid family leave causes undue hardship for countless women and families. This is unacceptable. We must continue to fight for higher representation of women in all professions and wage equality regardless of religion, origin, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression. In addition, paid family leave should not be a luxury, but a guarantee. There are no excuses for these unjust practices and I will continue to fight for women everywhere.”
Whether it’s giving back to the community or opening doors for others to succeed, Cortez Masto believes mentorship is key to success. “If you’re in a leadership position, you have an obligation to making sure you are mentoring young people and affording them access to the tools and resources they need in order to succeed,” she shares. “As a Latina, we face challenges that are unique to us, but it doesn’t mean that we let anything stop us! I hope that as a U.S. Senator, young Latinas will see that if I can do it, they can, too.”
Cortez Masto feels fortunate to have supportive parents. She calls her mother and sister, the strongest, wisest, most loving women she knows. “They inspire me and are always there when I need a good sounding board,” she shares. “They don’t always tell me what I want to hear, but they tell me what I need to hear.”
Cortez Masto also credits her grandmother playing an important role in her life. Her hard work and perseverance helped her become the woman that she is today.
Inspiring a new generation of women and girls to become engaged in politics, Cortez Masto is passionate about giving back to her community, public service and believes “United together we can succeed.”
Cortez Masto chairs the Women’s Senate Network, a committee initiative launched in 2001 by Senator Debbie Stabenow to help reelect women Democratic Senators and ensure that women who are thinking of running for Senate have the advice, tools and resources they need to get elected. “I am looking forward to heading this initiative and bring more women to the United States Senate,” she shares.
“We have to remain united,” she says. “We have to make sure that we are working together not only to use our voices but also to reach out to our community and make sure they feel comfortable, that they feel confident and protected.”
Senator Cortez Masto is a member of six U.S. Senate Committees that will enable her to be a strong advocate for Nevadans: The Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs; the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources; the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation; the Committee on Rules and Administration; the Committee on Indian Affairs; and the Special Committee on Aging
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