chapter  8
24 Pages

Minority representation in the US Congress


Introduction This chapter examines the descriptive and substantive representation of Latinos and African Americans in the US Congress. More specifically, it examines substantive representation by testing whether representatives and senators who have larger Latino and African-American constituencies are more likely to vote with minority interests in mind. We also track minority descriptive representation in both chambers. In doing so, the chapter contributes not only to the study of legislatures but also to our understanding of minority political dynamics. In particular, we add to a relatively small literature on Latino representation. Scholars and observers have long noted the importance of the ‘scar of race’ in America, and a large literature examines African-American political dynamics. While other racial and ethnic groups are also the object of study, such as Native Americans, Asian Americans and immigrant groups, there has historically been little interest in Latino populations. Although there are several potential explanations for this oversight, it does correspond to the historic reality of a small Latino population with little political influence. While Mexican-Americans retained influence in a few locales during the century following the end of the Mexican-American War (1848), Latinos generally had few resources and were politically dominated by Anglos. More recent years have seen a growing number of scholars and publications in the field, which parallels the expansion of Latino influence in political, cultural and economic sectors. This chapter does not directly study immigrant representation, however. While this endeavour makes sense in the European context, the immigrant category in the US is exceedingly diverse. With so many immigrants from so many parts of the globe, it is difficult to discuss the policy issues relevant to immigrants as a group. In addition, as a nation of immigrants, almost everyone in the US has some familial connection to the immigrant experience. While bonds to distant nations of origin can be weak, they can also be vividly imagined and politically relevant to even the great-great-grandchildren of immigrants. To study the descriptive and substantive representation of immigrants would be a complicated and nearly impossible task in the American context.