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Women Of Color Make History In Senate, House, State Races

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Women of color won historic victories in Senate, House, and state races across the nation this past week.

In Nevada, former state Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto defeated Republican Congressman Joe Heck to become the first Latina elected to the US Senate.

Cortez Masto, the granddaughter of a Mexican immigrant, was swept into office in a Latino and immigrant voter wave in Nevada organized by the Culinary Workers and other groups on the ground.

“I’m proud to be Nevada’s first female and our nation’s first Latina senator,” Cortez Masto tweeted on Wednesday. “It’s about time our government mirrors the diversity of our nation.”

In California, state Attorney General Kamala Harris became the nation’s first Indian-American Senator, and the state’s first Black Senator.

“Harris’ mother, Dr. Shyamala Harris, emigrated from India. Her father, Donald Harris, emigrated from Jamaica,” notes the Los Angeles Times.

“According to the U.S. Senate’s website, just nine black Americans have ever served in the Senate. Democrat Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois became the first black woman to serve in the body in 1993.”

In Illinois, Representative Tammy Duckworth defeated Sen. Mark Kirk to become the first Thai-American elected to the US Senate.

Duckworth, a Purple Heart recipient, also made history in 2014 as the first veteran and first Asian American woman to be elected to the House from Illinois.

Cortez Masto, Harris and Duckworth add up to history: along with Sen. Mazie Hirono, who is Japanese-American, the number of women of color in the Senate has now quadrupled.

In Washington state, immigrant rights leader Pramila Jayapal defeated Brady Walkinshaw to become the first Indian-American woman elected to the House.

Sen. Jayapal has said that her candidacy and win could prove to be “a light in the darkness” of this election.

There was another bright light, this time in Minnesota. Organizer Ilhan Omar won her Minnesota House race, becoming the nation’s first Somali-American legislator.

“I think I bring the voice of young people,” she said. “I think I bring the voice of women in the East African community. I bring the voice of Muslims. I bring the voice of young mothers looking for opportunities.”

A 90-year-old community member expressed his joy to MPR News:

“I never thought a Somali lady, a refugee, can get through all this hardship, and difficulties, to get elected to Minnesota parliament.”