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Advancing the Conversation for a Critical 2020: Letter from the Executive Director

  ·  Sylvia Puente

Editor’s Note: This letter is a version of Executive Director Sylvia Puente’s speech at the Forum’s annual policy fundraiser, Latinos On The Move 2019.

Every few years, there’s a buzz in the philanthropy community that dominates the conversation. It leads to a shift in thinking, in doing, and in how we approach the challenges before us.

That buzz term is “racial equity.” So, I wonder, how are Latinos being folded into the conversation around this idea? Of course, I believe Latinos should be included in any conversation surrounding racial equity, but I have been at a few tables where this was not the case and where we were an afterthought.

Is it because the Latino community seems to be thriving? Maybe. However, I would counter that there’s a long way to go in understanding how immigration and the growing wage gap fit into this racial-equity conversation.

Yes, it is true that a sector of the community is moving into the middle class. There are thriving commercial strips in predominantly Latino communities, and Latinos have high rates of labor force participation. The number of Latino college graduates has doubled over the past 20 years, and even a third of Latino households are now earning incomes of greater than $75,000 annually.

Additionally, Latinos are driving all the demographic and labor market growth in this state! These facts can make it seem like the Latino community is doing well, but below the surface exists a murkier story:

  • About one in five Latinos are still living in poverty.
  • About 400,000 Latino children are growing up in low-income households—the largest number among all racial/ethnic groups.
  • Those thriving commercial strips? They’re being squeezed as customers hide in fear due to the current immigration climate. I’ve been told that business on 26th Street in Chicago’s Little Village can drop by up to 40 percent when a new anti-immigrant federal policy is announced, or rumors of ICE agents are circulated. These centers of commerce are crucial for the city’s economic viability, and not just for Latinos—all Chicagoans feel the shockwaves when we see a declining tax base.
  • We’ve also seen violence directed towards the immigrant and Latino communities. Latinos have been targeted specifically for our race, such as with the horrendous massacre at the Walmart in El Paso, Texas. And I would be remiss if I did not mention the schools and places of worship that have also been impacted by[s1]  this tragedy of hate, attacked because those who attend them are Jewish, Muslim, or African American.

All the aforementioned issues are parts of the puzzle to realizing racial equity—a puzzle with undefined edges.

We also must consider how we proactively work to increase economic and labor-markets opportunities. For example, when the Forum was conducting a listening session in Joliet last year, we heard of Latino US citizens working as day laborers because they saw no other viable economic opportunities. Whether out of fear or limited opportunity, this is clearly a case of unrealized opportunity and potential.

How do we address this reality? How do we address the reality that six out of every ten Latino workers earn less than a living wage of $15 per hour? How do we shine light on the fact that Latinos still have the lowest levels of college completion among all racial-ethnic groups? How do we address the reality that fear grips too many in our community?

The Forum’s work is vital because we’re committed to creating opportunities to address these realities.

I’m so proud of the work the Forum has done over the past year.

We made sure Latino children were front and center. We provided leadership and input to Governor JB Pritzker’s education agenda through his appointed education committee. We co-chaired Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s education transition team.

We dispelled the myth that English-learning students lag behind their counterparts in public schools. The Forum collaborated with the University of Chicago on a groundbreaking study that shows with the right support and teaching English learners can catch up, and in most cases, outperform their classmates. Yes, you read that right, outperform, their English speaking peers.

We worked toward building a critical black-brown coalition by completing another year of our Multicultural Leadership Academy, bringing together African-American and Latino community leaders.

We encouraged voter turnout by hosting mayoral and gubernatorial candidate forums—one on early education and one on black-brown issues.

And finally, we co-led the passage of the Immigrant Tenant Protection Act, which prohibits landlords from intimidating, harassing, or evicting tenants based on their immigration or citizenship status.

Looking forward, if we hope to achieve racial equity, we must also build participation in the 2020 Census. As I like to say, we must be counted if we want to count.

That’s why the Forum is building a coalition of over 100 organizations, school districts, elected leaders, Latin American consulates, and thought-leaders to wage a massive public-information campaign. We need to dispel misinformation about the Census and quell the fear that is too real in our community. We need to move the hardest of the hard-to-count to BE COUNTED.

I wish you a joyous holiday season with your family and loved ones and look forward to working with you in 2020.



 [s1]Is this the right word… acknowledge?