Saludos. My name is Victoria Neave Criado, state representative for House District 107 and chair of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus. It is my honor to deliver our 2023 Latinos State of the State. And we look forward to working with our fellow legislators and Governor Abbott this 88th legislative session. 

I’m the daughter of an immigrant dad from Mexico and a strong Tejano mom from Dallas. From the barrio, to the courtroom as an attorney to the halls of the Texas capitol, I and my Latina and Latino colleagues are a testament to the resilience of our community. Our community who rises and sets with the sun to put food on the table, para salir adelante. Our community has grown strong. Latinos own nearly 30 percent of small businesses in Texas, generating billions of dollars in annual revenue for our state and creating millions of jobs aqui in Texas. As the governor acknowledged in his inaugural address, we have the highest number of Latino-owned businesses of any state in the country. And this year, Texas Latinos made history by having the highest number of Latina legislators in the Texas House of Representatives, also the highest of any state in the country. 

This is a direct result of the power of your vote. After years of a dark and exhaustive pandemic, our state is finally starting to see bright and early daylight. But daybreak is not guaranteed. In this critical time when our schools and communities need more support than ever we must leave partisanship aside and recognize that Texas is home to all of us. 

Keeping our state at the forefront of the global economy requires an investment that lightens the burdens of families. Keeping Texas strong requires an investment into our people. Porque merecemos que nuestro gobierno respalde a su pueblo. And in the coming months, the state legislature will agree on a budget that will create opportunities for Texans to launch a business or send their kids to college. With the $33 billion dollar surplus, our legislature can make the necessary changes to ensure that all Texas students reach their full potential. Today, Latino students make up 52.7 percent of our public school classrooms and in places like my hometown of Dallas, Latino students comprise almost 70 percent. The future of our Texas economy is in their hands. We must support students as they weather the effects of the pandemic by changing school funding to be based on enrollment and not attendance. This way schools can keep their students healthy, without fear of losing crucial dollars. We can’t shortchange our schools out of fair funding.

Any efforts to defund our public school students by divesting money into private hands will not be tolerated in this Legislature. It is time for us to secure higher teacher pay. Our teachers invest into our students daily, often taking on responsibilities to provide for their students beyond their calling. Teachers like Miss Irma Garcia, and Miss Iva Mireles who gave their last full measure of devotion to protect the innocent lives of their fourth graders at Robb Elementary in Uvalde Texas in honor of the 19 little angels whose lives were cut short by a gunman in Uvalde. We will do right by their memories. We need to ensure access to life saving resources and make sure that they’re allocated to be better prepared in the event of another tragedy. And the Uvalde families are asking the governor and lawmakers to raise the age to 21 to purchase an assault weapon for the 21 lives lost in Uvalde. 21 for 21. We owe it to them to get this done. From the cradle to their careers, our students should be safe and supported. 

From building spaceships in Houston to the leading international port in Brownsville, our Texas economy is incredibly diverse. Preparing our graduates for college and technical degrees means preparing Texans to thrive in our workforce. And every day that we invest into community colleges and trade programs we get closer to reaching the goal of our state’s strategic plan to increase the number of folks with an advanced degree to 60% by the year 2030. 

The beating heart of our Texas economy is our state’s workforce. And even as we recover from years of an exhausted pandemic Texans have shown the nation our ability to endlessly adapt to life’s circumstances. In Texas, we have the ninth largest economy in the globe, and economic development happens locally. A strong Texas economy starts with a strong skilled workforce. So ensuring safe working conditions and fair wages, paid maternal and parental paternal leave and health benefits for hardworking folks strengthens the foundations of our economic system. Texas must remain the best place to open up a business and find a job that pays a fair livable wage. 

Three million small businesses create good paying jobs that keep the lights on for millions of Texans. Supporting our small businesses which account for 99.8 percent of businesses in Texas means supporting our workforce. Latino Texans in 2019 earned $213.7 billion with more than $50 billion going to taxes, leaving Latinos with $162.4 billion in spending power that can be reinvested into local communities per a report last year by a business coalition. A strong and healthy workforce is the key to fulfilling our state’s fortune. 

Supporting Texans in times of sickness by ensuring the ability to see a doctor strengthens our workforce and increases the trust that folks have in our government. Today, thousands of Texans remain without health insurance, worried sick for themselves and for their children. We cannot predict medical emergencies but we can be prepared for them. And new moms and their babies deserve full access to specialized doctors and health care providers. Investing and telemedicine to modernize our approach to health care gives folks ready access to a doctor from our cities to our countryside. 

And our border is home to 2.8 million Texans and counting. Cities like Laredo and El Paso have invested their own resources to welcome folks who are coming into our state determined to work for a better future. We recognize that the border is facing a complex situation, but we must build bridges, not walls. The importance of working with our federal counterparts for a pathway to citizenship cannot be understated. 

There’s no other place quite like Texas. Despite all the setbacks we have faced we have shown that our communities are able to grow under any conditions. Our roots keep us grounded and blooming in every season and all of us are working for a chance to get ahead a chance to go to college or settle down and raise a family. Our state is committed to investing in infrastructure that builds our communities up and doesn’t leave folks in the dark. Tomorrow, we live to see another sunrise and we will continue to improvise and navigate all of life’s uncertainties with confidence and steadfastness with full coffers and flowing waters we will build a sunlit path for our children and our posterity so that they may enjoy the fruits of our labor for generations to come.  

Mi gente, the state of Latinos in Texas is strong and I can assure you that we will not be silenced.

Editor’s Note: The above commentary was given by state Rep. Victoria Neave Criado, D-Mesquite, chair of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, in the 2023 Latino State of the State Address. Rep. Neave Criado can be reached by email via: [email protected]

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