Juan Gomez-Quinones, a history professor at the University of California at Los Angeles, said previous generations of Latinos who were sent to Congress came mostly from the southwest and had trouble navigating East Coast-based power structures.
But population changes have meant more congressional seats in the southwest. "They're no longer outsiders," said Gomez-Quinones, author of "Chicano Politics 1940-1990."
The new generation "is a sign that the Latino vote, Latino candidates, the makeup of the demography of the Latino candidates is changing with the times," said Maria Cardona, a Washington-based Democratic consultant.
It also reflects the youth of the Hispanic population, whose median age is 27, compared to 37 for the nation overall, while capturing the integration of children of Latino immigrants into American society. Three of the candidates in California are U.S.-born children of immigrants who overcame poverty and highly successful in their careers.
All three House districts in New Mexico, the most Hispanic state in the nation, have Latino candidates. California is expected to nearly double the number of Latinos in its congressional delegation from 6 to 11.
In Florida, a state with three GOP Latinos in Congress, has one competitive race between Rep. David Rivera and Democratic challenger Joe Garcia in the state's 26th District.
Los Angeles City Councilmember Tony Cardenas and California state Sen. Juan Vargas, both Democrats, are running in open seats where Latino voters have a strong chance to determine the outcome.
Two Democrats, Jose Hernandez and Raul Ruiz, and a Republican, former California Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado, are running in districts where they must also win non-Latino votes. All three are children of farmworkers and at least one immigrant parent with "rags-to-riches" stories that appeal across communities and parties.
Hernandez, 50, is challenging Rep. Jeff Denham, a Republican, in California's newly created 10th Congressional District. He stresses his educational background and dreams of going to space as a child.
"I'm not a politician," he says in the ad. "I'm an astronaut and an engineer."
Ruiz, a Harvard-trained physician with two additional graduate degrees from the school, is in a tight race with GOP Rep. Mary Bono Mack for California's redrawn 36th Congressional District. He said his values of personal and social responsibility resonate with voters. As a poor student trying to get to college, he raised $2,000 from local businesses to buy his books for two years.
"I'd hand them a contract and I would tell them that I'm offering you an opportunity to invest in your community by investing in my education," said Ruiz, 40, who returned to Coachella Valley where he practices emergency medicine.
Maldonado is trying to unseat Democratic Rep. Lois Capps in California's redrawn 24th Congressional Dediteistrict. Maldonado is a former state senator whose views don't always line up with his party's. He picked strawberries with his father and, after college, helped grow the small farm to one that employs 250 people.
"I am who I am and I'm not going to change and when the Republicans are right, I'll fight with them and when they are wrong, I'll fight against them," Maldonado said.
Gamboa reported from Washington.
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