With new congressional maps based on the 2020 census, the number of Latino-majority districts in California has increased from 10 to 16. The six new Latino-majority districts could help Democrats retain control of the Bedroom. But that could demand more from Democrats than they are willing to give.

Although the state has lost a congressional seat due to slowing population growth, independent redistricting commission maps approved last month give Latinos more power based on their ever-growing numbers. The 16 Latino-majority districts make up nearly a third of the state’s 52 congressional seats. The question is whether Democrats can take advantage of these new districts to reduce the seats held by Republicans in the California delegation from the current 10.

The new Latino-majority districts are concentrated in the Central Valley, a former Republican stronghold that has turned purple, though white and conservative corporate farming interests continue to wield more political power than the larger population of Latinos in low income working on their farms.

In District 22, one of three predominantly Latino districts in the Valley, the incumbent is Republican Rep. David Valadao, a longtime owner of a dairy farm in Hanford. California Assemblyman Rudy Salas Jr. (D-Bakersfield), who worked in the fields with his father as a child, is running to overthrow the district. If he succeeds, it would be a win for Central Valley Latinos.

“If Democrats maintain control of the House, it will be because Latino voters have gone to places like Orange County and the Central Valley,” Christian Arana, vice president of policy at the Latino Community Foundation, based in California.

Orange County, another former GOP stronghold now competitive, is also home to a new Latino-majority neighborhood.

But some experts warn the redistricting effects won’t be immediate because the new Latino-majority districts encompass rural and historically disenfranchised communities that are difficult to organize.

“It often takes an election or two before the community is able to take advantage of the new Latino-majority seats,” says Thomas Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

Opinion columnist

John Guerrero

Jean Guerrero is the author, most recently, of “Hatemonger: Stephen Miller, Donald Trump and the White Nationalist Agenda”.

Republicans can win those districts with low Latino turnout. A long tradition of Latino exclusion in the Central Valley, which persists today at the local level, aggravates distrust of politics. This mistrust is “not conducive to participation,” Jesus Martinez, executive director of the Central Valley Immigrant Integration Collaborative, told me.

If Democrats are to harness the power of these Latino-majority districts, they must invest in in-person, door-to-door outreach to these communities, which have benefited unequally from stimulus checks, child tax and emergency housing assistance provided by last year. US rescue plan. The plan was rejected by all Republican members of Congress in the state.

It won’t be enough to remind Latinos of what the Democrats did and how the Republicans fought against aid. Given the pandemic’s disproportionate toll on Latinos, many will want to know how Democrats would prioritize their families’ economic recovery as well as access to health care and education.

Citizenship for lifelong Latinos who lack legal immigration status is also critical because it is inseparable from the economic and health prospects of their mixed-status communities. So far, Democrats have failed to deliver on that promise.

“Latinos are on the periphery of California politics, even as they are at the heart of the economy and its future,” Sonja Diaz, founder of UCLA’s Latino Policy & Politics Initiative, told me. She said Democrats should seek Latino candidates who can address the concerns of Latino communities.

Many community leaders are optimistic about the long-term consequences of redistricting. Along the southern border, there will now be two Latino-majority congressional districts. One of the new neighborhoods combines the Imperial Valley with parts of the Coachella Valley. The old map encompassed San Diego with the Imperial Valley.

Daniela Flores, co-founder of the Imperial Valley Equity and Justice Coalition, explained that the largely agricultural concerns of the Imperial Valley will now receive more attention. “We have more political power,” she told me.

Imperial County — the county with the largest percentage of Latino residents in California — has seen one of the biggest increases in Latino support for Donald Trump between 2016 and 2020. Flores says the militarization of borders is creating well-paying jobs in law enforcement and prisons, promoting a conservative ideology among some Latinos. High unemployment rates and chronic neglect of Latinos in the region add to the cynicism and rejection of the government.

But Trump’s appeal in this community lies primarily with a minority of Latino men who buy into his personality. Republicans are unlikely to make long-term inroads with California Latinos if they remain focused on the culture wars.

“If the insurgent wing continues to control the party, it’s going to lose even more traction,” Fresno City Councilman Miguel Arias said. “I don’t see them being able to move away from their long history as immigrant scapegoats and find a boogeyman at the helm of people of color to focus on the day-to-day challenges of working families.”

Many Arias voters have to support multiple generations. Arias himself shares his check in several ways: for the needs of his struggling parents, his children’s education fund and his retirement. “Just because we’re no longer harvesting crops as middle-income earners doesn’t mean Latinos don’t have the same problems that our cousins, parents, and siblings who live in poverty face every day. day,” Arias said.

Whether these new districts turn to Democrats may well hinge on which Latinas lead the vote, in the same way they were instrumental in defeating Gov. Gavin Newsom’s recall. “These are the ones politicians would do well to pay attention to,” said Pablo Rodriguez, executive director of Communities for a New California Education Fund, noting that Latinas have a higher propensity to vote than Latinos.

With the future of the next Congress straddling California’s new districts, Latinas could also play a pivotal role in protecting long-term democracy.

@jeanguerre