Growing Hispanic population brings optimism for Chicago’s future

A demographic shift is underway among Chicago’s ethnic and racial groups.

With the Hispanic community becoming the second-largest ethnic group in Chicago, the vision for the city’s future is changing as the Hispanic community finds its voice, representation and job opportunities.

Census data released Thursday show the Hispanic community — defined by the Census Bureau as people of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American descent or other Spanish culture or origin regardless of race — now makes up 29 percent of the city’s population.

Some, like Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, say that the change is an exciting one that brings optimism for the future. “But if we are going to make this work, we have to advance public policy that is good for all of the city’s residents,” he said.

The Sun-Times talked with prominent members of the community to get their thoughts about what this means for the city.

Jesus Chuy Garcia

Mayoral candidate Jesus “Chuy” Garcia addressed supporters at Alhambra Palace Restaurant. | Ashlee Rezin/For Sun-Times Media

Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, Cook County commissioner

“It’s a reflection of the immigrant community’s vitality and the reality that the family structure continues to provide stability that is seen in the city’s South, West and Northwest sides. You see thriving business and retail districts in these neighborhoods where working-class families live, and they’re anchored in schools, in the community and in churches, which explains the growth despite issues like gang violence.

“The community remains significantly under-represented, and that needs to change. I think this forces us to come to grips with the type of Chicago we want, and realize we remain segregated and separated and we’re not a good city until we include everyone.”

Sylvia Puente, executive director Latino Policy Forum

Sylvia Puente, executive director Latino Policy Forum | Stefano Esposito/Sun-Times

Sylvia Puente, executive director of the Chicago-based Latin Policy Forum

“If a third of the city is Latino, one could argue that a third of our [city] council should be Latino, and we are definitely a far cry from that.

“The story is similar in most aspects of leadership in the city — from business to philanthropy. The fact that Hispanics in recent years have been entering high-profile political races is reason for hope. The hope is that that level of representation or that level of visibility will continue in the future. Whether or not they have the capacity to win, that’s a whole other question.”

Rebecca Shi, executive director of the Illinois Business Immigration Council. | Provided photo

Rebecca Shi, executive director of the Illinois Business Immigration Council

“The Latino community is highly entrepreneurial. Nearly a quarter of all business owners [in the IBIC] are Hispanic. They’re big job creators, and the more growth we see means more growth in the business community, which means more jobs and a bigger and better economy.

“Population growth also means people are becoming more civically engaged — meaning more people become citizens and they vote in elections — and we’re going to see legislation become more inclusive at the local and federal levels.”

Maria Pesqueira, president of the Healthy Communities Foundation. | Provided photo

Maria Pesqueira, president of Healthy Communities Foundation

“One will have to really take a look at the needs of the demographic to make sure that they’re being addressed. When you look at income, many are underemployed. Looking at health disparities, one can say we need to look at how to invest in that community to strengthen it. We need to invest in that population if the growth is going to continue.

“Right now, we’re moving the needle but not fast enough. When you look at inequality across the board, one might say that more has to be done and that begins with investing in the future, in our children and making sure that we build bridges among our youth and build strong alliances across communities.”

Gloria Castillo, president and CEO of Chicago United, a corporate membership organization that promotes multiracial leadership in business. |Provided photo

Gloria Castillo, president and CEO of Chicago United

“I see it as a larger trend about Chicago. People come here because the city represents opportunity. Black people came here during the Great Migration because there were jobs and better opportunities. What you see in the growth is the same thing — this is a place where you can work and raise a family.”

“While there’s a lot of good news, there’s a lot of room for growth. There’s a large gap between white earners and Latino earners. That gap affects retirement, buying homes, educating children and your ability to give back to the community. So, while looking at the upside of these numbers, we also have to be intentional in our equity practices so we can drive change.”

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