CHICAGO – Over the last few decades, within every level of government, latino representation has certainly increased.
In Chicago, the Latino Caucus has become one of the most dynamic, but leaders said they still have a long way to go.
Following the election this year, the city council has many new faces.
A lot of them represent Chicago’s growing latino neighborhoods, enabling more political action for those communities.
“The latino community is certainly increasing its muscle when it comes to political empowerment,” 22nd Ward Ald. Michael Rodriguez said.
The Latino Caucus estimates that 30 percent of the city is latino. Right now, the caucus represents 23 percent of the city council.
U.S. Rep. Chuy Garcia has seen the evolution through the decades.
“Not too long ago, there were like two members within city council,” U.S. Rep Chuy Garcia said. “The struggle to get here has been slow.”
It’s been three decades since the latino community began to make its mark on Chicago politics; focusing on things like immigration, education and crime.
The idea of Chicago becoming a sanctuary city to its immigrant community first came up in the early 80s as the latino population grew.
In the late 80s, Mayor Daley signed 13 executive orders reaffirming fair and equal access to employment regardless of nationality and citizenship.
“It was a real time of change back then,” Rodriguez said. “I think now we are experiencing another real time of change.”
In 2012 under Mayor Emanuel, he called Chicago “the most immigrant friendly city in the country.”
Rodriguez said he is seeing the contributions on a state level as well.
“We just had one of the most amazing sessions in Springfield and young latinos and latinas were driving a lot of that change,” Rodriguez said.
In the last few years, the city’s latino caucus has focused on building even more latino leadership, establishing a training program.
Angelica Alfaro, the first in her family to go to college, just finished it.
“I see the potential in our communities, but not a very clear path many times,” Alfaro said. “We need to make sure that we have our voices at the table.”
Alfado and the Latino Caucus do not want those tables to only be the ones inside city council chambers.
“Less than three percent of corporate boards are made up of latinos,” 36th Ward Ald. Gilbert Villegas said.
The caucus has also focused on raising dollars to provide opportunities for many young people today. In the last few years, they’ve handed out $320,000 in scholarships.