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Reflecting and Looking Forward: Letter from the Executive Director

  ·  Sylvia Puente

Dear Friends,

Winter days are here which means colder weather, shorter days and plenty of holiday cheer. It also means there are only a few days left in 2017, making me reflect on the past year and look forward into 2018. There have been moments this year that our country can feel proud and optimistic about, most recently seeing the incredible voter turnout in the Alabama senatorial election. We saw African American voters, specifically African American women, go to the polls in record numbers, which shows us the great impact voter engagement has on elections. 

Still, there’s an urgent need for Americans to get engaged with the government at a federal level at a time when DREAMers’ futures hang in the balance, while Congress is more focused on providing a tax bill that will benefit the wealthiest more than it will middle-class America. With the White House's rescindment of the DACA program in September, the livelihood of nearly 800,000 DREAMers, including 42,000-plus Illinoisans, and millions of families is at stake. That is why it is so critical that we ramp up efforts to get legislation passed as soon as possible. How can you help in these efforts? It's simple. Call your member of Congress and urge them to support the DREAM Act. You can find information and resources, including how to contact your member of Congress, by visiting the Forum's Impacto page, which includes a DACA Toolkit. Ideally, the DREAM Act would be passed prior to Congress’ winter recess, but keep in mind, for every day Congress fails to act, 122 DREAMers go from stability to uncertainty. So, we must act now!

In the spirit of the holiday spirit, we must help those in need, especially the people in Puerto Rico, Florida, Houston and California who are still recovering from the disasters that hit home. If you are interested in helping these efforts out, please visit The Puerto Rican Agenda and The American Red Cross to learn more. 

This past year had its ups and downs, and we saw tensions and divides grow deeper across the country, including here in Illinois. But what I also realized is within those divisions, certain leaders and organizations stepped up efforts to ensure the Latino community was respected and that the rights of people were protected. I greatly appreciate and applaud those who came to the forefront, some of whom included graduates of the Forum’s first Multicultural Leadership Academy cohort and others who are lawmakers at the highest levels of state government! 

I’m proud to say that the Forum did its part, as well. The Forum helped foster relationships, develop leaders and give input as a trusted resource at many levels of government and the public stage. I could not be prouder with what we accomplished in 2017.

Here are just a few of the issues we championed in 2017:

  • The Creation of Impacto Illinois, a civic engagement platform to keep Latino leaders informed of the most important news shaping our nation and state that is impacting Latinos.
  • English learners have moved from the margins to the mainstream and the Forum has spearheaded efforts toward an equitable education for our children.
    • The Forum played a major role in protecting the interests of Latino children in public schools by contributing to school funding reform and school funding equity. Specifically, the provisions of the formula which will allocate an additional $38 million to strengthen the education of English learners, which is a 60% increase.
    • Virtually all the Forum’s recommendations on bilingual education were adopted into the Illinois plan of the ESSA, which is so important because all schools must now report on the academic progress of their English learners. Read this PODER to learn more about the Forum’s role in informing parents about ESSA.
  • A series of digital town halls with Univision Chicago that reached over 115,000 viewers on the topics of immigration and the growing number of Latinos in Chicago Public Schools.
  • The publication of Immigration SOL that provides useful statistics that dispel the negative myths about immigrants.
  • As mentioned in the Forum’s previous newsletter, we also worked successfully with partners to pass the Illinois Trust Act, the strongest immigrant protection legislation in the nation.
  • The Forum also hosted Senator Tammy Duckworth in town hall meeting to welcome the new federal legislator to her office and learn about initiatives she has that affect Latinos.
  • Last, but not least, this year’s Latinos on the Move policy breakfast fundraiser was a resounding success. UnidosUS’ CEO and President Janet Murguia was the keynote who spoke about the importance of civic engagement and empowerment for Latinos. We also honored Chicago philanthropist King Harris for his many contributions to the Forum and Latinos overall. 

As we look forward to 2018, we can surmise that it will be a pivotal year for Latinos in the United States, but especially for Illinois, with races for governor, attorney general and key congressional districts in play. We congratulate and wish well 23-year Congressman Luis Gutierrez who is resigning from his post in the 4th District and has hinted at a run for the White House. Check out this news story in ABC 7 that features an interview with me about this.

These elections will present opportunities for Latinos to make their voices heard, and candidates running for office must understand that Latinos can no longer be ignored. The perfect way to send their message to the candidates? By showing up to the polls and voting. Civic engagement has been a Forum pillar since our inception, and it’s our responsibility to make sure we are presenting the resources and facts necessary so that Latinos are well informed on the candidates running for office. The Forum will do this by engaging the candidates and Latino leaders to spotlight those issues that are critical to the community. 

Finally, I would like to highlight that in 2018 we will be commemorating the Forum’s 10-year anniversary as an organization. For a decade, the Forum has facilitated the involvement of Latinos at all levels of public decision-making and has conducted analysis to inform, influence and lead. But the organization’s legacy stretches far beyond 10 years. In fact, our roots go back more than three decades, as Latinos United and before that as a committee to focus on Latino issues under Mayor Harold Washington.

We are planning many activities, both festive and informative, around this milestone so stay tuned for more information in the coming weeks. In the meantime, we are looking for partners to collaborate round-table discussions around Illinois, so if your organization is interested or you know of an organization interested in partnering with the Forum, please contact me at spuente@latinopolicyforum.org.

We are more motivated and more optimistic than ever to be a leading voice for Latinos, and we hope you will join us in 2018 as we reflect on the Forum’s impact and help shape the direction for the Latino community over the next decade. On behalf of myself and the Forum staff, I wish you and your loved ones a happy and healthy holiday season.  And as I mentioned in the last newsletter, to stay grounded and focused, I make sure to bend, flow and when needed, stand strong and dance. See you in 2018!


Sylvia Puente

Posted In: Strengthening Leadership