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Manuel Galvan
Hispanics in Chicago from
Central America take first steps
to political empowerment


There are two axioms about Chicago's Hispanic community. It mirrors the nation's Hispanic population in percentage of individual groups. Its largest populations, in order, are Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Cubans and others. The second has become a fallacy, but the first is still valid.

As for national-origin rankings in Chicago, Guatemalans have become the third largest group, although they are still in the early stages of political empowerment. Cubans, still the nation's third largest group, have become fourth in Chicago.

Chicago's Hispanic population more closely resembles the national Latino numbers than does that of any other major city with a significant Hispanic population.

These conclusions are from a recent report by The Latino Institute, a research, leadership development and advocacy organization. It compared 1990 census data for the 10 largest cities with Hispanic populations of more than 200,000 and found that "Chicago is a unique amalgam of Latino national-origin groups." Among the large cities, "Chicago is the most representative of the national Latino population." "We've always seen Chicago as the cultural crossroads of Hispanics in America," said Juan Andrade Jr., president and executive director of the Midwest/Northeast Voter Registration Education Project.

As for the Cuban's dropping to fourth place, it came as no surprise to Andrade or most of Chicago's Hispanic demographers. "The Cuban population was not comparatively large to begin with," said Andrade. "Second, they're an older population, the oldest of any Hispanic groups, and not heavily populated with people in their child-bearing years."

Chicago mirrors the nation's Hispanic population because for more than a century, the city has attracted a mix of all the groups from Latin America.. For the last several decades, the city's Hispanic percentages have been similar to U.S. figures, and remain so. Historically, most other U.S. cities and regions have mainly attracted one group or another. Mexicans settled in the Southwest, Puerto Ricans in the Northeast and Cubans in Florida. That, however, is also changing with Dominicans increasing their numbers in New York and Nicaraguans increasing theirs in Miami.

In Chicago which ranks third behind New York and Los Angeles in largest number of Hispanics Mexicans account for 65 percent of the city's Latino population. Puerto Ricans are 22.6 percent, Guatemalans 2.4 percent and Cubans 2 percent. Ecuadorians at 1.2 percent are Chicago's fifth largest Hispanic population.

... Guillot organized a July trip to Guatemala and El Salvador. It was not only the first time an Illinois delegation of Hispanic officials visited the region, it was politically bipartisan.

Nationally, Mexicans account for 61.2 percent of the Hispanic population. Puerto Ricans are second with 12.1 percent, and Cubans with 4.8 percent are third. Nationally, Guatemalans, at 1.2

34/November 1993/Illinois Issues

percent, are seventh. Salvadorans are fourth with 2.6 percent and Dominicans fifth with 2.4 percent. Columbians rank sixth with 1.7 percent.

What should Chicagoans expect politically from its Guatemalan citizens? Andrade, whose organization monitors Hispanic registration and voting patterns, I said there are five stages of development for national-origin groups to reach political empowerment. The first stage is to organize themselves, usually into several business, civic or community groups. The second is to establish social service agencies. Third, they get their community to become naturalized citizens. Fourth, they register to vote, and fifth, they elect a member of their community to public office.

At this point, Guatemalans in Chicago are shifting from the first to the second stage and thinking about the third. Already in existence are Casa Guatemala, an advocacy group, the Guatemalan Civic Society and a Guatemalan Chamber of Commerce. There are discussions about social service agencies and longer range plans for the naturalization process. However, a pressing issue, especially with regard to funding for the service agencies, is undercounting. While the census numbered the community at below 13,000, the majority of Guatemalan organizers give "a conservative estimate of 80,000."

Hispanic elected officials in Chicago and Cook County are split with about half being Mexican-Americans and half Puerto Ricans. The highest ranking Guatemalan in Chicago and Illinois politics is Manuel Guillot, chief of staff to Sen. Miguel del Valle (D-5, Chicago). "Politically, the Guatemalan population is young and scattered," said Guillot, who was born in Chicago, but raised in Guatemala. The largest numbers of Guatemalans in Chicago are spread through several neighborhoods on the city's north and northwest sides.

Because of the increasing numbers of Central Americans in Chicago and the unfamiliarity of Hispanic elected officials in Illinois with the nations of Central America, Guillot organized a July trip to Guatemala and El Salvador. It was not only the first time an Illinois delegation of Hispanic officials visited the region, it was politically bipartisan. Del Valle and Guillot were joined by U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Chicago), Sen. Jesus Garcia (D-l, Chicago) and Arabel Resales, Gov. Jim Edgar's executive assistant for urban and community affairs.

The trip was considered generally successful and beyond expectations in terms of the delegation's visits and talks with major government, political, cultural and education officials in the two Central American countries. The group established an educational exchange of professors between universities in Illinois and Central America. Several other joint projects are in talking stages. However, the major accomplishment was considered to be the establishment of relations between the group and Central American officials with plans to meet again in the future.

In the meantime, Chicago's Hispanic leaders are working with the National Association of Latino Elected Officials to create a series of workshops on Latin America to better understand those countries and their people. Then there's the future of potential political influence. Guillot sees the need for Latino elected officials in Illinois and other states "to provide input and direction on the foreign policy of this country as it relates to Latin America. *

Manuel Galvan is a Chicago-based writer and marketing consultant.

November 1993/Illinois Issues/35

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