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Hispanic Americans in Congress, 1822-1995


Image of José Serrano
[Office of the Historian]

United States Representative
Democrat of New York

One Hundred First - One Hundred Ninth Congresses
March 20, 1990 - Present

José Serrano was born in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico on October 24, 1943. When he was seven years old, his family moved to the United States. José was educated in the public schools in the Bronx, New York and attended Lehman College of the City University of New York. He served in the U.S. Army Medical Corps for two years and received an honorable discharge in 1966.

While a paraprofessional member of the staff of the New York City Board of Education from 1969 to 1974, Serrano also served as chairman of the South Bronx Community Corporation. In 1974, he was elected to the New York State Assembly, where he served for fifteen years; he was chairman of the Education Committee from 1983 to 1990. During that time he sponsored several pieces of landmark legislation, including the reform of the election process for members of local school boards. He was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1976, 1984, 1988, and 1992.

Serrano was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives with ninety-two percent of the vote in a special election called in March 1990 to fill the unexpired term of Robert Garcia, who had resigned. In his first term in Congress, he served on the Education and Labor Committee, where he successfully sponsored a bill to encourage school districts and community leaders to create programs to reduce dropout rates in schools, a serious problem in his district. He was elected to a full term in November 1990 with more than ninety percent of the vote. In the 102nd Congress, he was the principal sponsor of the Voting Rights Language Assistance Act, which strengthened and expanded the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

In the 103rd Congress, Serrano gained a seat on the Appropriations Committee, where he served on the Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education; and on the Subcommittee on Foreign Relations. During that Congress, he was elected to a two-year term as Chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute. Under his leadership, the Caucus successfully opposed efforts to establish an official language for the United States, a measure that some saw as intolerant of cultural diversity. In the 104th Congress, Serrano serves on the House Judiciary Committee, and has a seat on the Subcommittee on the Constitution.

He has long been an advocate of a congressionally-approved plebiscite for his island birthplace, Puerto Rico, giving voters a chance to choose among three options for its political future: independence, statehood, or retention of the current commonwealth relationship with the United States. He also favors and has introduced legislation which would grant the right to vote in referendums to non-residents of the Island, who were born there or had at least one parent who claims Puerto Rican birth.

Throughout his public career, Serrano has consistently pursued a legislative program to help the needy, especially the elderly, the physically-challenged, and children, and has worked towards an economy where employment, housing, and health-care services are widely available.

Official U.S. House of Representatives Web Site: José Serrano

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