Home » Blog » Pa'Lante in 2022: Latino Unity Day Recap

Pa'Lante in 2022: Latino Unity Day Recap

Illinois Latino legislators, advocates, and partners push forward as LUD returns to Springfield

By Judith Palma, Social Media Coordinator, Latino Policy Forum

On March 23, Latino Unity Day returned to an in-person gathering in Springfield for its 10th annual celebration. Community leaders and members of the Illinois General Assembly came together for a day packed with panel discussions supporting the Latino community.

The day's theme, “Latinos Pa'Lante: Beyond Recovery,” inspired conversations around education, pandemic response, Latino equity, representation, voting power, health care, and current legislative initiatives. In the first session of the day, members of the Illinois Legislative Latino Caucus presented their “Raíces” document, which lays out policy priorities for 2022.

"Ese documento es lo que nos va a tener a nosotros los legisladores comprometidos con la comunidad," said Sen. Karina Villa, 25th District, West Chicago, Dupage County. "The Latino Caucus wanted to create a document that would show the community what we are working on, how we decided to take all of the concerns we have heard from our community and move them forward. This Raíces document will keep us rooted and committed to la causa."

Also presenting on the “Raíces” document were Latino Caucus Members Rep. Lisa Hernandez, who represents the 24th district; Rep. Dagmara Avelar, 85th District; and Sen. Cristina Pacione-Zayas, 20th district.

Representative Avelar nodded to her background as the director of programs for the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant Refugee Rights (ICIRR). "Two years later, I'm sitting as the state rep for the 85th district. I want to say that because it's important to recognize that when we have people from the community who have worked with the community and who think about legislation from the voice of those directly impacted, we can have a movement that is not transactional but transformational," she said.

Leaders pressed for Latino representation and equity throughout Latino Unity Day 2022, but several critical moments of the night celebrated the progress already made. For example, Rep. Hernandez received applause for her appointment to the House budget negotiation team during the morning panel. “This allows me to keep an eye on funding and, in particular, to see that we are not missed,” she said. “We are not taking the crumbs anymore. We are right in it."

Lieutenant Governor Juliana Stratton; Governor JB Pritzker; and Latino Policy Forum President & CEO Sylvia Puente. Photos: Steven Arroyo

Sylvia Puente, President and CEO of the Latino Policy Forum, took a moment during her remarks to acknowledge that she had never before seen so many Latinos in the Governor's inner circle. "They have backgrounds in advocacy and organizing and are now taking those skills to the general assembly,” Puente said. “I cannot overstate the significance of the Latino presence in the legislature today."

“We now have 16 Latino caucus members. For decades, leader Hernandez was the only suburban representative. Currently, six of them are from suburban communities, where 85 percent of the growth of the Latino community has been.”

Puente and other community leaders noted that Latinos are not only driving the state population growth; they are the state's economic driver. With Governor JB Pritzker standing to her left, Puente stressed the need for an additional 20 percent of state investment in the Latino community, which 2020 Census data indicate grew by 15 percent, not including a reported 5-percent undercount. "The Latino community needs 20 percent to stay even. We need that 20 percent in the voting booth for primaries and general election in November,” Puente said.

Lieutenant Governor Juliana Stratton followed Puente's remarks to deliver a message of unity between Black and Brown communities.

Lieutenant Governor Stratton and Gov. Pritzker thanked the organizations and community leaders in the room for their role in guiding political decisions. "Your advocacy makes it easier for your allies in the government to keep taking on challenges facing Latino families across our state,” Gov. Pritzker said. “To all the groups and individuals here for Latino Unity Day and who are in the halls of the Capitol today, thank you for sharing your voices and advocating our agenda with lawmakers."

Among those organizations in the Capitol halls were the immigrant rights organization ICIRR, and Mano a Mano Family Resource Center, an organization dedicated to empowering immigrant families in Lake County and McHenry County. Members of the two organizations were in Springfield to advocate for various legislative initiatives, including HB 4437, dubbed Healthy Illinois for All. Other legislative initiatives on their agenda include SB 3774, which expands the Earned Income Tax Credit, and SB 3144 for legal representation for all.

Between panel discussions, an issues-packed agenda, and a day of advocacy at the Capitol, Latino Unity Day goers felt energized and ready to continue making strides in their communities.

Itedal Shalabi, Co-founder and Executive Director of Arab American Family Services, attended Latino Unity Day for the first time this year. At the end of one morning session, she took the microphone to offer some unifying words of solidarity that resonated throughout the room. “I am proud to say that our partners have lifted us,” Shalabi said. “Keep paving the way. We are all watching."


More photos:

Mariachi Los Rayos of Leman Middle School

Latino Unity Day 2022

Mariana Osoria and Jessie Fuentes of The Puerto Rican Agenda of Chicago and Sylvia Puente

Deputy Governor Sol Flores and Sylvia Puente

Latino Policy Forum staff Rosario Hernandez, Erika Méndez, José Marco-Paredes, Vanessa Peña, and Roberto Valdez Jr.