By Wilfredo “Wil” Rojas, M.Ed. | AC JosepH Media Guest Blogger

Recently, Front Runner New Jersey published a feature story on the challenge issued by the group Latinas United for Political Empowerment (LUPE) to the NJ Reapportionment Commission.

The story noted the unusual reapportionment dynamics at play and LUPE’s claim that the New Jersey Legislative Redistricting Commission lacks a single person of Latino origin on the 13-member Commission.

A letter, dated November 12, penned by Patricia Campos-Medina, President of LUPE, Inc. and Laura Matos, President of LUPE PAC, read in part, “For the past two decades, Latinas have had representation in the decision-making of the New Jersey Legislative Redistricting Commission.” The well-written letter was addressed to the Chairman and Vice-Chairwoman of the New Jersey Democratic Party and copied to Gov. Phil Murphy and other New Jersey state elected officials.

The Republican and Democratic parties of the state and leaders of both parties in both government houses appoint members to the Commission. It surprises this columnist the while Latinos make up at least 20 percent of the NJ population (and growing!), there isn’t a single Latino appointee, which is absurd.

Let it be known that as a crusading columnist with a long history in the struggle for fair and equal rights and advocate for diversity and inclusion, I would like to not only thank but wholeheartedly endorse the challenge presented to the Democratic Party.

For those who are in the dark about redistricting, let me school you a little: Every ten years, after the census is concluded, every state in our nation re-draws its districts for Congress, state legislatures, and local governments.

The process is to ensure that about the same number of people live in each district and, as a result, each person is equally represented in our government. Redistricting presents tremendous opportunities, and tremendous challenges, for creating fair and equal representation in government. Historically, legislative districts have often reflected sophisticated calculations executed in the back-room far from the public eye.

The resulting districts often split cohesive communities and produce legislatures that neither meaningfully represent constituents nor reflect the public’s diversity and views. LUPE, Inc. and LUPE PAC are requesting the inclusion of a Latina, as has been the case in recent history, that will actually represent the diversity of New Jersey in the chambers of political power.

Some of the most consistently loyal supporters of the New Jersey Democratic Party, since Latinos started settling in New Jersey, have come from Latinas, who pursue issues like the economy, health care, racial and ethnic inequality, violent crime, immigration, and economic inequality; all issues that disproportionately affect them and their families.

Latinas have struggled to have a seat at the political table, where deals are cut, jobs are apportioned, and political power is negotiated to reflect the diverse population of a state that prides itself on its diversity.

Adding a Latina to the Reapportionment Commission would be considered a privilege to work on such an important undertaking that cement Latinas’ relationship with the New Jersey Democratic Party everywhere the parallel courses will allow.

I am certain that LUPE recognizes that incredibly challenging work that lies ahead for the Commission. The women of LUPE, Inc., and LUPE PAC stand ready and qualified to assist in any way possible without becoming a distraction.

Latinos have to continue to seek collaborative and inclusive participation where Latino organizations and volunteers can unite to more efficiently right the wrong that failed to add a single Latina to the Commission.

Bio: WilfredoWil” Rojas is an award-winning columnist, veteran civil rights activist and former officer with the Gloucester County NAACP. He is the cofounder and retired director of Philadelphia Prison System’s Office of Community Justice and Outreach.

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