Tuesday marks the start of Hispanic Heritage Month, which celebrates of the cultures and honors the contributions of Hispanic and Latino Americans.
In Chicago, the Latino community makes up about one-third of the city. Their contributions have been integral to not just the Latino community, but the city at large.
In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, the Chicago Latino Theater Alliance (CLATA) is producing an event this week — and it’s already sold out.
“Our event on September 17, to celebrate Latino Heritage Month, as I like to call it, is already sold out and we are doing it because we produced a Chicago Latino International Film Festival for the last three years, and due to COVID we had no choice but to go in open air,” said Myrna Salazar, co-founder and executive director of CLATA.
The event, Destinos al Aire, is being produced in collaboration with the National Museum of Mexican Art, International Latino Cultural Center and Puerto Rican Arts Alliance. The drive-in, live outdoor show at ChiTown Movies in Pilsen includes a screening of "American Curious" and performances. It will also be streamed live on Facebook.
Beyond arts and culture, Hispanic Heritage Month recognizes the contributions Hispanic and Latino community members have made across the city, state and country.
“The Latino business community in the state of Illinois contributes $15 billion to the economy in spending power,” said Jaime di Paulo, CEO of the Illinois Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. “We have around 120,000 businesses Latino businesses or firms in the state of Illinois, and we also create about 100,000 jobs.”
Meanwhile, it’s both an election year and a census year.
Jaime Dominguez, an assistant professor of political science at Northwestern University, said representation in the government is important.
“Latinos have grown politically, I would say substantially in particular over the last 20 years,” Dominguez said. “Prior to that, I would argue that Chicago was basically seen as a Black, white governing city.”
That’s not the case anymore, Dominguez said. The population has grown, as has representation in City Council and the state legislature.
“It’s very, very important that Latinos have a voice and a space when it comes to city governance, particularly on issues that are very important to the city, but specific to Latinos, such as the issue of early education, immigration reform, better policing around our communities,” Dominguez said.
And there’s also the coronavirus pandemic, which has disproportionately affected the Latino community — including its businesses.
“The data shows that we’re going to lose about a third of our businesses,” di Paulo said. The Illinois Hispanic Chamber of Commerce is preparing to roll out technical assistance for businesses.
“They’re a key component to society. We feel like if a business closes down in our neighborhood, the neighborhood goes away. Our businesses are the heart of our communities,” he said.
This story also aired Saturday, Sept. 19 on “Latino Voices.” See more from that show here.