In the September general election in Massachusetts, 13 Latino candidates won races statewide. What does that history-making result mean for voters, Latino, Hispanic and otherwise, and the policies that will affect them? Marie-Frances Rivera, president of the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, joined GBH’s Morning Edition co-hosts Paris Alston and Jeremy Siegel to discuss. This transcript has been lightly edited.

Jeremy Siegel: How significant is this increase in Latino representation in state leadership that we've seen?

Marie-Frances Rivera: It's historic. It's important. And at Mass. Budget, the organization that I run, our goal is really to advance policies that achieve racial and economic justice in the Commonwealth. So it's one thing to have folks representing us, it's another thing then to move forward and change policy.

Paris Alston: You know, I'm thinking back to Sonia Chang-Díaz, who became the first Latina elected to the state senate in 2003. Of course, she made a gubernatorial run this year as well. And now we have all these candidates from incumbents like Andres X. Vargas of Haverhill and Jon Santiago of Boston, to Judith Garcia in Chelsea and Estela Reyes of Lawrence, who are both newcomers. What has shifted in that time since Chang-Diaz was elected?

Rivera: If we're using Senator Chang-Díaz as an example, Senator Chang-Díaz was able to be instrumental in moving forward education funding reform, especially in our lowest-income communities in the Commonwealth, many of which have very diverse Latinx populations and BIPOC populations. We were able to, together, win billions of new funding for education. So once people get in office and you have a time period where you're able to really shift things either on the state or the city level, it's pretty remarkable what you can do.

Siegel: Looking back at those past two decades at this point of change and the change that we've seen and the results from just this year's election, how are you expecting this shift to play out in policy?

Rivera: One thing I'll say is that our communities — I identify as Latinx — are culturally rich. There are beautiful cities like Lawrence and Holyoke. And when you're looking at indicators like eviction rates, school test scores, access to jobs — I can keep going, right? We score extremely low, in all of those measures. So one thing I'll say is that there is a lot of work to do. And I know that many of these candidates that, you know, have won their primaries and are going into the general election, or are newcomers, are very well aware of the monumental challenges that we have ahead of us and are ready to do the work.

Alston: Let's shift gears and talk about the voters for a little bit ahead of the primary. I stopped by Villa Victoria to talk to a couple of folks. Their names are Ricardo Cruz and Yazmin Pizarro. And while they were aware of many of the issues surrounding the elections, it was clear that they had sort of become and disenchanted with modern day politics.

[Previously recorded]

Ricardo Cruz: It doesn't matter who the candidate that wins is. If they win, okay, they're going to try to fight. But then again, it switches.

Yazmin Pizarro: If somebody shows, like, they really come out of the community on a regular day, not something that you do with some, you know, big campaign.

[Recording ends]

"Once people get in office and you have a time period where you're able to really shift things either on the state or the city level, it's pretty remarkable what you can do."
-Marie-Frances Rivera, President of the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center.

Alston: So both Ricardo and Yazmin told me that they weren't going to vote in the primary election. And of course, they're just two people out of many who did turn out and or maybe did not. But I'm curious about having this increased representation and how that has the potential to energize voters.

Rivera: Voting for candidates is certainly one way to engage civically. And if we're thinking about Villa Victoria, Inquilinos Boricuas en Acción, or IBA, the organization that organizes residents and does affordable housing work in that community, is incredible. And that's why there are so many folks in that community that are civically engaged. But there are also a myriad of ways to be civically engaged. Even if you're thinking about the ballot for elections in November, there's four ballot questions that you can engage in direct democracy. So it's not just about candidates. It's also about us having the power to directly engage in issues.

Siegel: When we talk about Latino or Latinx voters, especially at the national level, I think they're referred to as a voting block in a monolithic way oftentimes. And I don't expect you to speak on behalf of all Latino, Latinx voters here in any way, obviously. When we're looking at the Massachusetts election — and thinking about and talking about these issues in a more nuanced way than how you just hear the Latino vote tossed out time and time again — what nuanced issues and treatment of the election are you going to be keeping an eye out for in the November election ahead in Massachusetts?

Rivera: Like you said, Latinos are not a monolith. We have Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, Guatemalans, people who have been here for generations and then the newcomers. All of those different populations, and that's just the Latinx community. Then there's the Black community — we have lots of different populations and pockets of folks that are experiencing things differently. And there are people who don't have access to vote, that live in our communities every day. So we also have to be aware of that. My organization, Mass. Budget, really focuses on the policy side, but there are amazing organizations that really focus on increasing voter engagement and meeting people in communities where they are there. There are local organizations like La Colaborativa in Chelsea. And then there are statewide organizations like Mass Vote and the Voter Table who do amazing work, really speaking directly to voters to really engage in the process and to really understand specifically what the challenges are in each of their communities.