INDIANAPOLIS — This Hispanic Heritage Month, we’re looking at the growing role of Hispanic Americans at the voting booths and in public offices both across the country and in Indiana.
Between 2010 and 2020, Census Data shows Indiana’s Hispanic population increased by more than 160,000 people.
"The one thing that really unites Hispanics and Latinos is our dedication to our family, to hard work and to making sure that we do make a difference for our families," Cyndi Carrasco, former candidate for Marion County Prosecutor, said.
The number of Hispanic people elected to public office has grown tremendously across the nation over the past few decades. However, they still only make up about 2% of all elected officials.
There’s a lot of work to be done, and WRTV’s Amber Grigley talked with some of those who are making sure they secure a seat at the table.
"When I walk in every day into the statehouse and come here, I pinch myself every single morning,” Diego Morales, Indiana Secretary of State, said.
"They're being taken seriously. It's a community that is flexing its muscles now and growing and becoming more and more important politically," Danny Lopez, Former Chief of Staff for Gov. Holcomb, said.
A serious position, that is changing the face of politics for many years to come.
"We are no longer asking for permission to enter these spaces and we're not waiting our turn," Kara Lopez-Owens, former State Senate candidate, said.
Between 2010 and 2020, Indiana’s Hispanic and Latino population increased by 42.2%, according to U.S. Census Bureau Data, going from 6% of Indiana’s total population to 8.2%.
"It's been a long time coming. I think it's about time the people representing us represent the communities they're working for," Mistie Rivas said.
Rivas moved to Indiana from Zacatecas, Mexico, at the age of three.
She just obtained citizenship last year. Granting her the opportunity to do the one thing that would make her American dream, complete.
"Voting was something that I really wanted to do,” Rivas said.
And she did just that in the 2022 election. Especially knowing that there were candidates on the ballot who looked like her and her family.
"I was so happy. I was like let everybody know. I was like it's my first-time voting, yeah, I know it sounds a little silly, but it was just something that I had always looked forward to,” Rivas said.
Since the 2018 midterm election, Latinos have become the second fastest-growing racial and ethnic group among U.S. citizens eligible to vote, according to the Pew Research Center.
"I like to see, not only more Morales last name in the ballot, but I’d like to see other Latino Hispanic last names on the ballots,” Morales said.
Morales was elected in 2022 as Indiana’s first person of color to serve as the Secretary of State — a Guatemalan who is living his American dream.
"We need a seat at the table and that's something that I’m trying to fill. This gap here in the state house, which I’m honored to be the secretary of state, but I cannot do it alone I need more Latinos,” Morales said.
Carrasco also ran in the 2022 election for Marion County prosecutor.
"When we came to Indianapolis and I saw that there was such a growing community here in the city, I wanted to be a part of making a difference for them. The way I thought I could do it was by working hard and earning my seat at the table," Carrasco said.
Karla Lopez-Owens has been working with the Indiana Latino Democratic Caucus for nearly a decade. She channeled her own political quest by running for state senator.
She said that some Hispanics and Latinos are fearful of the government. The first step in making change is gaining enough trust to get them registered to vote.
"I think it's going to take continuing to have these conversations and letting them know that a new way is possible. Then we'll finally get a lot of people energized and people elected that look like us,” Owens said.
A goal Morales set when he took office this year was making sure the younger generation of Hispanics and Latinos can follow behind.
"One of my goals is to increase voter turnout. I want all communities, specifically our minority communities, to come out,” Morales said.
Danny Lopez spent years as Special Assistant to Gov. Pence and Gov. Holcomb’s Chief of Staff. He said there's an incredible wave that's coming for younger Hispanics and Latinos and it's going to happen naturally.
"I don't think it's an overstatement to say that the way that community matures and grows economically, politically and culturally is going to determine the future of our state,” Lopez said.
"Even though the campaign didn't turn out the way that I had hoped for, that doesn't mean that I didn't spend the year of my life working towards something. My campaign means something, and you don't have to have the title you or the position to make a difference,” Carrasco said.
On Monday, Carrasco announced she's seeking to fill the remainder of the State Senate term for District 36, representing parts of Marion and Johnson counties.
That seat is vacant after the death of Senator Jack Sandlin. The Indiana Republican Caucus will meet on October 18 to pick someone to serve the remainder of the term, which ends in 2024.
Lopez announced Thursday that he's running in the 2024 race for Indiana House District 39, representing Carmel. VFW leader Matt McNally is also running for the seat.
Representative Jerry Torr announced this week he will not seek re-election.