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Spring 2019 Newsletter: Letter from the Executive Director

  ·  Sylvia Puente

I first went to work in Springfield in 1982 on a fellowship in the governor’s office. At that time, there was just one Latino in the Legislature and one that worked in the governor’s office. While we celebrate the great strides our Latino community has made, at the same time, please know that we at the Latino Policy Forum recognize there still is much more to be accomplished.


Today Latino representation in state government is at an all-time high. In the first months of 2019, Latino appointments have included:

  • As Deputy Governor, Jesse Ruiz, a longtime Forum ally on public education issues, and Sol Flores, a Forum co-founder and former board chair.
  • Aurora Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia is the new Director of the Department of Veterans Affairs.
  • Martin Torres, former Forum associate director, is a member of Gov. J.B. Pritzker's policy team.
  • Mario Treto Jr. has been named Director of Real Estate for Illinois (the second openly LGBTQ state director appointee).
  • Lisa Duarte as First Assistant to the Deputy Governor for Budget & Economy.
  • Irma Snopek, a Forum advisor on education issues, was appointed as First Assistant Deputy Governor for Education.
  • Teresa Reyes, a long-time Forum ally, as Deputy Chief of Staff for Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton.
  • Former Forum Education Director Dr. Cristina Pacione-Zayas has been appointed by the governor to the Illinois State Board of Education.
  • Francisco Menchaca as Director, Division of Financial Institutions at the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation.
  • Longtime Forum Board Member Carmen Ayala, who became the first woman and the first Latina in state history to be sworn in as Superintendent of the Illinois State Board of Education. Carmen is also possibly the first Latina to attain a position like this in the nation, and she has been a driving force in changing the school funding model in Illinois so that it is more inclusive and equitable for Latino students.
  • Robert Muriel as Director of the Illinois Department of Insurance
  • Matt Perez, Illinois State Fire Marshall

Congratulations to the newest members of the Latino Caucus Barbara Hernandez, Celina Villanueva, Aaron Ortiz, Delia Ramirez, and Karina Villa.


For the first time in its long history, Chicago has elected an African-American woman as mayor. This is no small feat and is, indeed, a culmination of a long struggle for advancement in the African-American community.

The Forum, in its efforts to forge alliances with African-American organizations, co-hosted a mayoral candidate event on March 28 at Malcolm X College. Both Lori Lightfoot and Toni Preckwinkle talked about how they would bridge the city’s largest minority communities and oppose those forces that seek to divide us. 

The Forum looks forward to working with the new mayor to ensure relations between ours and the African-American community prosper and result in equitable policies. Frontline efforts in this regard can be accomplished through the Forum’s Multicultural Leadership Academy which brings both communities together to build strong bonds and work together toward common goals.


In February, Governor Pritzker introduced his FY20 budget as part of a multi-year endeavor to ensure that Illinois eliminates its structural deficit and becomes fiscally stable. His address highlighted plans to create new revenue streams that will balance the budget, including a progressive income tax that the Latino Policy Forum has actively advocated for with previous administrations. Read the Forum’s response to the FY20 Budget Proposal here.

As we move forward, the Forum will monitor and work to ensure that Gov. Pritzker's administration continues to support initiatives and legislation that help advance all families in Illinois.


Unfortunately, this year's actions in Washington have brought about a series of difficult situations to deal with, specifically, a far too familiar theme coming out of the White House. Trump continued his attacks against immigrants and Latinos nationwide when he ordered a government shutdown motivated solely by his political intentions to build a wall along the US southern border. His exploits forced the country to endure a 35-day government shutdown, the longest in our nation’s history. The Forum denounced this ill-conceived shutdown. Please read the statement  here.

Trump continues to ignore a majority of Americans who oppose construction of the wall and support finding a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Despite this, he declared a national emergency, mandating that federal funds be redirected toward building the wall. Congress, led by both parties, supported legislation to reverse the mandate. However, Trump issued his first veto to override the legislation in order to move forward with his fabricated national emergency. 


For many reasons, Latinos have been historically undercounted. The 2020 Census already has presented huge obstacles for ensuring an accurate count: Lack of internet access, underfunded outreach to non-English speakers and Trump’s attempts to undermine participation by adding a citizenship question to the census form.

The stakes for Illinois are high in 2020. Illinois already stands to lose one Congressional seat because of population decline, but a large undercount may result in the loss of a second House seat, not to mention the potential of billions of dollars in federal funding to public service agencies. Even Illinois’ ranking as one of the 10 most populated states is in jeopardy. Illinois stands to lose $1,800 per year for every person who does not respond to the census. We simply cannot let this happen. We must make sure that everyone living in the U.S. is counted. Remember, there is strength in numbers and if we are undercounted, we could be overlooked. Please look forward to the Forum’s outreach campaign to reach hard-to-count Latinos.


After every election, I’m reminded of how great an impact one person's vote can have—it is the most powerful tool to create change in the community. But, while the number of voters in Tuesday’s election haven’t been tabulated yet, when the final voter numbers came in for the February mayoral runoff election, I was disappointed. Only 35 percent of Chicago voters went to the polls, the second lowest turnout in its history. Regrettably, the turnout among Latinos was even lower, only 27 percent cast ballots, according to Chicago Board of Elections.

It’s important that we Latinos flex our political muscle. The best way to do this is by voting. If we expect our leaders to respect us as a community and consider our interests in the future, we must show that we are a voting force that can influence an election.

A useful resource for elected officials and others interested in working on issues to build understanding of the Latino community is available. The interactive tool gives Latino population concentrations and percentages per Illinois Senate District and per Illinois House District.

In closing, I’d like to call attention to an important event that is just around the corner. Latino Unity Day, organized by the Forum and a host of collaborators, will take place on May 8, 2019, in Springfield. This year’s theme will focus on the importance of being counted in the 2020 Census. Do miss this important event!  Latino Equity: Countdown to Census 2020, Unidad, Fuerza, Adelante. Please save the date and RSVP here.