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A United Latino Voice in Springfield

  ·  Cristina Pacione-Zayas

The line for the early train toSpringfieldwas decidedly Latino on May 7, Latino Unity Day at the state capitol. With 2013 marking its second year, Latino Unity Day is a relatively new but vital opportunity for leaders from Latino-led, Latino-serving organizations, as well as the community at large, to send a collective, coordinated message to legislators:  The state’s investment in Latinos must keep pace with the community’s growth—and its economic, cultural, and civic contributions.

The coordinated events planned for the day would be a clear demonstration of collaboration between co-conveners, including: Hispanic Illinois State Law Enforcement Association,Illinois Association of Hispanic State Employees, Illinois Latino Council on Higher Education (ILACHE), Illinois Latino Family Commission, Latino Policy Forum, La Red Mexicana de Lideres and Organizaciones Migrantes, League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), NACLAC—Hispanic Council on Latino Advancement,  and the Illinois Latino Agenda, a group co-convened by the Latino Policy Forum and MALDEF.

Latino Unity Day kicked off with a policy and budget briefing on various sectors of interest, including health and human services, Latino state employees, business, and education.  As the audience engaged with presenters, I was reminded of how the activities of the day echoed the Latino Policy Forum’s three core strategies: inform, influence and lead.  Literally a ‘forum’ for issues and ideas, the Latino Policy Forum conducts analysis to inform, influence, and lead, engaging Latinos at all levels of the policy-making process with an understanding that advancing Latinos advances a shared future.

INFORM: The policy briefing was rich in information on the status of Latinos across the state and issues affecting the community.  Some highlights included a discussion on health and human services by our sister agency, the Illinois Latino Family Commission, citing Latinos as simultaneously the largest uninsured group and the population with the least access to health care.  Another eye-popping statistic cited by the Illinois Association of Hispanic State Employeesis that the past decade has resulted in a net gain of just 150 Latino state employees—a population that represents 16 percent of Illinoisans is just 4.7 percent of its state government employee workforce.  Lastly, our Executive Director, Sylvia Puente, drove home the importance of education funding for our communities: Even as the Latino community grew 33 percent between 2000 and 2010, education funding has been stagnant at best.

INFLUENCE:  The Latino Policy Forum uses its research and analysis to “influence” the legislative and administrative processes of local and state governments, adding a Latino perspective to legislation, administrative rules, and resource appropriations.  Echoing this practice, Latino Unity Day included time for participants to visit legislators.  Armed with information about how current legislative proposals would affect Latino children, families and businesses, participants spent the afternoon weaving in and out of legislators’ offices and waiting for an opportunity to snag a couple minutes of time from target lawmakers. 

LEAD: Observing Latino leaders and community members alike conduct visits in each legislative chamber demonstrates the Forum’s “lead” strategy.  I overheard many cite statistics and information from the policy briefing, mixing personal testimony with hard numbers to build a solid argument for investing in the Latino community.  Armed with research and data, anyone can be a leader. 

The numbers reflect reality in Illinois: The state's population would have decreased at the last Census had it not been for growth in the Latino community. Population growth is directly related to Illinois’ representation at the federal level as well as Illinois’ economic outlook. Latinos are an increasingly important part ofIllinois’ future, and appropriate state investment in these communities will make that future stronger for all Illinoisans.  Latino Unity Day served to not only drive that message home with legislators, but also with participants. Many left Springfield feeling empowered and renewed in solidarity as we marveled at what progress can be made with a united effort. 

Posted In: Leadership, Strengthening Leadership, Representation in Government, State Investment