D.C. Capitol Hill Latino Staffers Talk About Challenges They Faced Because Of Their Backgrounds


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Olivia Perez-Cubas is Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s communications director. Photo Credit: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
Olivia Perez-Cubas is Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s communications director. Photo Credit: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

Latino staffers are leading offices on Capitol Hill, running communications operations and advising some of the highest-ranking members of Congress.
Many started out their careers as interns. Some got their big break through the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, or through someone looking out for them.
They share their wisdom for other Latinos who hope to follow in their footsteps.

Getting a foot in the door

Joanna Rodriguez, communications director to Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla.: “It was actually another Hispanic woman. She was in charge of hiring interns for Sen. Rubio at the time and brought me into the office early on.”
Bianca Ortiz Wertheim, chief of staff to Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M.: “My path through government is that there’s goodness. There’s a belief that there can be goodness in government and that the shared love here in the office for New Mexico is also a common denominator.”
[Editor’s note: Ortiz Wertheim is one of two Latina chiefs for Senate Democrats. The other is Susie Perez Quinn, Florida Sen. Bill Nelson’s chief of staff.]
Veronica Duron, legislative assistant to Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y.: “I came to D.C. 10 years ago through the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute fellowship. I did a year long placement on the Hill, on the House side, with Congressman Solomon Ortiz.”
Olivia Perez-Cubas, communications director to Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.: “I started as an intern for Sen. Rubio. I’m from Miami and it was actually Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and her staff who connected me to the senator’s office
Juan Pachon, communications director for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Democrats: “I was able to get to D.C. through a fellowship program for Hispanics. It’s through the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute.”
Jaime E. Lizárraga is senior adviser and director of member services to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call)

Daily challenges

Jaime E. Lizárraga, senior adviser to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.: “This is probably more a thing of the past but … I’ve often heard the expectation that as a Latino staffer, you would only work or focus on Latino issues. All issues are, in my mind, Latino issues. Every policy issue that Congress acts on affects the Latino community in one form or another.”
Emily Benavides, deputy communications director to Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio: “I didn’t come from a background where we were super politically active. … This was a totally new direction for my family, so I had to sort of scrape my own way and build my own network. It’s challenging but I was lucky in that I was able to find other young Hispanic conservative women and we banded together and supported together, created our own community here in D.C. and thus were able to ……