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8th Annual Latino Unity Day: Building Equity and Counting Down to Census 2020

  ·  Manuel Gonzales

Standing at a podium under the rotunda of the Illinois Capitol, Latino Policy Forum Executive Director Sylvia Puente was reminded of the day she first came to Springfield to work in the governor’s office as a twentysomething Latina.

“I walked under this beautiful rotunda, looked up and saw myself feeling very lonely here because there was no one else around who looked like me,” Puente said, speaking in front of hundreds of Latino activists and elected officials gathered around her to kick off the 8th Annual Latino Unity Day. “So much has changed since and now, this is what Latino unity looks like! I’m so proud to be here with you.”

The large gathering was clear evidence that Latino Unity Day has continued its steep participation growth trajectory, while highlighting the fact that there are now more Latino state elected officials and officials appointed to high level positions in the governor’s office than ever before. Nearly 400 people had RSVPed for this year’s Latino Unity Day, which was convened by the Forum along with a host of other organizations dedicated to serving Latino communities in Illinois. See photos from the 8th Annual Latino Unity Day by clicking HERE.

This year’s event theme was focused on Latino equity and building participation in Census 2020, a critical mission to ensure that Illinois’ hard-to-count communities are counted. At stake with an undercount in Illinois could amount to a loss of more than $1.2 billion in federal funding over the next decade and a congressional seat, which Lt. Governor Juliana Stratton heralded during her speech during the event’s luncheon.

“Twenty percent of our children under the age of 5 live in hard-to-count communities, and it is imperative and critically important that those communities are in fact reached or it would be devastating for our entire state,” Stratton said. “We need you to partner with us to elevate the voices of people. We need you to speak to friends and family and community in formal and informal ways about why participating in this census is so important.

“You are all examples of what’s possible, and you are at the forefront of a movement that we’re seeing all across the nation of black and Latinx communities that are building alliances and making it abundantly clear that we cannot be ignored. We will work together to build the bridges to make sure everyone has access to opportunity and that everyone from our hard-to-count communities participates in the next census.”

Unity Day gives Latinos an opportunity to travel to Springfield and advocate for issues and legislation involving the state budget, immigration and housing, education and Latino representation in government.

In an address from the Governor’s Mansion, Gov. JB Pritzker lauded the efforts of the day’s participants for their civic engagement.

“Your efforts are helping people live better lives,” Gov. Pritzker said. “I hope that the work that you talk about and we’re exploring today, and the advocacy you’re doing today that you’re making it easier for your community to overcome big challenges. Thanks for sharing your voices with me.”

This year’s Latino Unity Day priorities were focused on the census, in addition to support for early childhood education, the governor’s Fair Tax effort and legislation that would require publicly held corporations in Illinois to have Latino and African American representation on their boards.

The Forum, along with its partners in the Illinois Latino Agenda released two statements of support of the Fair Tax effort and the corporate boards bill. Click HERE to read the Progressive Income Tax statement and HERE to read the corporate boards statement. 

Last, but not least, participants celebrated the Senate’s passage of the Retaining Illinois Students and Equity bill, or RISE Act, which now awaits the governor’s signature after passing the House in early April. The RISE Act would allow undocumented immigrants to receive state-funded student financial aid to attend college and also would extend eligibility for the state’s Monetary Award Program, or MAP grants, to certain transgender individuals who are disqualified from state or federal financial aid because they have not registered for the draft.

“It’s been a great day!” State Rep. Elizabeth Hernandez said. “We got the RISE Act passed, so it’s been a very good day and very symbolic on a day we call Unity Day.”

 The Forum would like to thank those organizations that co-convened Latino Unity Day: the Illinois Association of Agencies and Community Organizations for Migrant Advocacy (IAACOMA); Illinois Association of Hispanic State Employees (IAHSE); Illinois Coalition for Immigrants & Refugee Rights (ICIRR), Illinois Latino Council on Higher Education (ILACHE); Latino Policy Forum; League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) Community Partners Hispanic Illinois State Law Enforcement Association (HISLEA, Illinois Migrant Council; Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF); United States Hispanic Leadership Institute (USHLI). We would also like to thank PepsiCo for their continued sponsorship and the David & Reva Logan Foundation for its generous financial support.