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Winter 2023: Letter from the President & CEO

  ·  Sylvia Puente

Friends and neighbors, 

Happy New Year! I wish you all a year filled with love, laughter, and cheer! 

There is plenty for us at the Forum to cheer about…we are celebrating our quinceañera in 2023. Fifteen years of building the Latino community's power, influence, and leadership. It takes a village to transform public policies that ensure the well-being of our community and society as a whole. My heartfelt thanks to the generous support of our friends, donors, and the many foundations that see the Forum as a wise investment. Thank you for being so supportive!  

A special thank you to the Forum’s staff and the board - past, and present. We continue to build an organization by drawing from a storied history, mindful of the challenges and opportunities of the present, and hopeful about the future. I am privileged to work and have worked with so many dedicated and selfless people. 

Two key themes will dominate the work of the Forum throughout the year: economic mobility and building equitable pathways for Latinos. 

Latinos continue to face systemic barriers preventing their ability to improve their financial status throughout their lifetimes. As a result, the community needs access to income, assets, training, and employment as well as to more intangible resources like power — the ability to make choices for themselves and influence others. 

As Dr. Hayes-Bautista explained during his presentation at Latinos on the Move 2022: Driving Growth In Illinois, were it not for Latinos, Illinois' population and workforce would have contracted. The group contributed more than $97 billion to Chicago's economy. Regardless, Latinos continue to not benefit from the prosperity they create. 

An essential part of the state’s labor force is immigrants. As the country grapples with a broken immigration system and a refugee crisis, Illinois has an opportunity to lead in providing access to quality jobs for all who settle here. Late last year, the Illinois Latino Agenda (ILA) convened its first meeting of the “Welcome to Illinois” coalition. This new collaborative is to respond to the ongoing migrant situation to share information, provide updates, and determine if there are synergies to teamwork.  

As we near the third anniversary of COVID-19, I want to acknowledge the profound negative impacts of the pandemic on the Latino community and populations across the US. Illinois has added counties reporting what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention refers to as having a "high" community spread of COVID almost weekly since winter began. 

Undoubtedly, the COVID-19 pandemic, including “long COVID,” has created a socioeconomic crisis that will likely negatively impact each of us for decades. I invite you to read the recent report, Long-Term Socioeconomic Consequences of COVID in the Latino Community: Creating a Path Forward. Unfortunately, while many of our government, civic, and philanthropic partners have been responsive to the COVID crisis, COVID is not done with us. 

I was blessed and privileged to attend the inauguration of Governor JB Pritzker this month. As the Governor begins a second term, the Forum urges his administration and other elected officials and policymakers to secure that resources directed at fixing what COVID has broken reflect the socioeconomic importance of Latinos and the severity of the damage COVID has done to them.   

The Forum also congratulates the Latino members of the general assembly on their inauguration. We look forward to continuing to work with you to positively impact the Latino community and all Illinoisans. 

With plans to soon retire from her historic post as the first female Latina State Superintendent of Education, the Forum extends deep gratitude to Dr. Carmen Ayala for her tireless leadership and esteemed successes in the face of adversity. I offer my heartfelt thanks to Dr. Carmen Ayala for ably serving the children of Illinois. The COVID crisis made a difficult job even more challenging. Nevertheless, she leaves a strong and inclusive legacy that has enriched the lives of Illinois school children.  

Dr. Ayala led Illinois schools through the difficult COVID-19 pandemic and was charged with restoring academic improvement for the state. Now at the end of her tenure, Illinois is at a decade-high in its high school graduation rates—a feat driven by a rise in graduation by Black and Latino students. Dr. Ayala also served on the Board of the Latino Policy Forum.  

Congratulations to Andrea Saenz, the new President and CEO of The Chicago Community Trust, the first Latina that holds that position at CCT. The Forum is excited to see how Andrea will bring her lived experience and unique perspective to critical issues that impact Latinos in the Chicagoland area. 

I am excited to share that the Forum will soon announce this year’s Multicultural Leadership Academy (MLA) cohort. The MLA provides a series of leadership workshops to community, policy, arts, and culture leaders sponsored by organizations committed to social change, policy impact, and community improvement that serve communities of color throughout Illinois. Through a curriculum that focuses on strengthening leadership among the African American and Latinx communities, we hope to promote the next generation of civic leaders.  

Finally, I want to welcome two new editions to the Latino Policy Forum team: Nina Sedeño, Immigration Policy Analyst, and Anna Arzuaga, Housing Policy Analyst. Felicidades to both of them! 

Wishing you peace and wellness.