Latino Voices

Examining Johnson’s Transition Plan for Chicago’s Latino Communities

Examining Johnson’s Transition Plan for Chicago’s Latino Communities

Mayor Brandon Johnson’s administration recently released a transition report, “A Blueprint for Creating a More Just and Vibrant City for All,” the work of his 400-member transition committee. The report and its recommendations reflect much of the progressive agenda Johnson campaigned on.

Read the full report.

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Sylvia Puente, co-chair of the Illinois Latino Agenda and president and CEO of the Latino Policy Forum, said the ILA worked with the new mayor to ensure proportionate Latino representation in the transition committee.

“I think we’ve grown in political strength,” Puente said. “We’ve grown in representation. I don’t think there’s one Latino community in Chicago. The purpose of the Illinois Latino Agenda is to have consensus from a key group of Latino leaders on our vision for the Latino community, for our city of Chicago. … When we didn’t know who his Latino representatives would be, we met and identified over 100 people. And there could have been many, many, many more Latino leaders in the city whose names he gave to the administration because we did not want there to be an excuse, ‘We don’t know who Latino leaders are.’ And we’re pleased that a good number of those individuals did make it on the various transition teams.”

Jose Muñoz, executive director of La Casa Norte and co-chair of the Illinois Latino Agenda, is a member of the housing subcommittee. He pointed to the continuing gentrification occurring in communities with large Latino populations as a long-term concern but said the arrival of migrants to Chicago is an issue with immediate urgency.

“I think a long-standing issue that we’ve been dealing with is the gentrification of many of our communities like Pilsen, Little Village, Humboldt Park,” Muñoz said. “And that’s a long-standing issue that we need to continue to address. But the most immediate concern right now is the migrant issue. We have a number of individuals that are coming into the city of Chicago, they’re being sheltered in police stations, park district offices, and it doesn’t seem to be an end in sight for those individuals to come in.”

In addition to his role as partner and co-chair of diversity, equity and inclusion at Benesch Law, Juan Morado is also a member of the health and human services subcommittee. The section outlining that committee’s recommendations does not include a specific approach to supporting people with substance use issues, but Morado said the report is intended to create a new framework for the city to look at the problem.

“When you’re talking about substance abuse in particular, what we need to do is shift the way we think about it as being a health care issue versus, say, a criminal issue,” Morado said. “Quite often, drug abuse can lead to an individual maybe committing a crime and then we’re locking a person up and they’re not actually getting the treatment that might help them at the end of the day. I think what the report tries to do is make it clear that we need to shift the way that we’re evaluating these issues and treat them as a health care issue.”

One of the short-term recommendations the health and human services subcommittee made is declaring a health care crisis.

“I think what it’s going to accomplish more than anything else is to put the spotlight on what’s actually happening in our city right now,” Morado said. “Declaring that crisis maybe galvanizes some of the resources that we might not normally look to move as quickly as we would otherwise. And so having that kind of declaration really helps us put an emphasis on getting resources out, addressing the root causes of these problems and making sure that folks who are coming into our city are getting settled.”

With the arrival of those migrant families, CPS has added thousands of children to its enrollment after years of enrollment decline. Those children largely add to the Latino population of students, who now comprise the majority of CPS students. Mariana Osoria, co-chair of the Puerto Rican agenda of Chicago and member of the education and youth subcommittee, said a number of recommendations in the plan address how the committee would like to see those students supported.

“Some of the key things that we talked about within this report were: How do we look at how we are represented within the school district?” Osoria said. “So if you look at the report, you’ll see that there are opportunities to look at the pipeline for educators, whether that is looking at actual students from CPS or parents and other community leaders and really think about a grow-your-own focus to be able to have educators that reflect our community. You also will find in this report something that I think is really critical — a focus on early childhood and in early childhood education including from birth. And we know that 80% of the brain is developed in the first three years of life, 90% in the first five. So recognizing that that foundation is going to be critical to help Latino young children be able to be successful through the trajectory of their education.”

In June, the Illinois State Board of Education released its proposed plan for addressing low literacy rates in schools. Osoria said while literacy is on the subcommittee’s radar, its recommendations are intended to represent more holistic considerations.

“One of the things that the transition report aims to look at is that families should be able to walk to school,” Osoria said. “They walk their children to school in their community. And that school should be able to deliver a high-quality education, which includes literacy. But it’s beyond literacy, it’s looking at the whole community, the whole child, the whole family. This report truly really looks at the school as center of community and thinking about how can families access the resources and needs that limit them being able to meet their dreams and educational goals and really is focused on equity and justice.”

At a time when tensions between Black communities and the largely Latino migrants who have been housed in primarily Black neighborhoods are at a high pitch, Puente said keeping an open dialogue between those groups and city leaders can help counter perceptions that they are in competition for resources.

“The mayor says it best: Everyone is welcome to the table and we need to be able to talk to each other,” Puente said. “And I think we as Latino leaders, we as Illinois Latino Agenda and all the organizations that we represent are committed to that conversation and to that dialogue. I will share that we have convened something called the Welcome to Illinois Coalition, which does bring together many of the providers working on the migrant crisis. And we’ve been very deliberate in reaching out to leaders from the African American community where there is some tension to invite them to the table to have conversation. But I think it’s also important to know that that’s what the tension is. It gets a lot of media attention. But there are committed groups of African American leaders and faith-based leaders across the city that are coming together to address the migrant council who really believe in welcoming the stranger.”

Puente also commended Johnson’s creation of a deputy mayor for immigration.

“That’s the first time I think we’ve seen someone at that level in his administration and we’re all really pleased,” Puente said.

One item the transition report does not outline: how to pay for the recommendations it makes.

“The city has to develop a budget to be able to support the ambitious plan that it has in place, and budgets are based on values,” Muñoz said. “And you’re going to see that the values of this plan, which focuses on equity, investment and community and supporting and addressing issues that have plagued our communities for decades are going to be addressed. The only way to do that is by having public-private partnerships, making sure that all levels of government are invested in investing in this plan and that all of us are coming to the table to roll up our sleeves to help support the plan.”

“Budgets represent values,” Puente said. “I think the first test of that will be we’re going to begin budget hearings for that first budget under the new administration. And we will see where those budget priorities land.”

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