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Chicago’s “Chuy” Garcia kicks off Latino Heritage Month

Jesus “Chuy” Garcia

Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia

The 25th anniversary of Latino Heritage Month at Elgin Community College deserved a dynamic speaker to kick off the festivities. It got one with Cook County Commissioner and recent Chicago mayoral candidate Jesus “Chuy” Garcia.

During his keynote speech at the Kickoff Breakfast on Sept. 11, Garcia illustrated how the plight of Latinos runs parallel to the struggles of other minorities. An example he gave was how the 1947 federal case of Mendez v. Westminster, which declared segregation of Mexican and Mexican-American students into separate schools to be unconstitutional, influenced the 1954 Supreme Court case of Brown v. Board of Education.

"We need to share more and talk more about our history,” Garcia said. “Especially when it relates to education. We need to share our struggles and more importantly our victories.”

Garcia, Cook County Commissioner since 2009, was born in north central Mexico and moved to Chicago's Pilsen/Little Village neighborhood at age 10. And it wasn't long before he took an interest in helping those who faced racial and social inequalities, particularly those in the Latino community.

Inspired by civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and labor organizer Cesar Chavez, Garcia was motivated to become a voice for the voiceless. 

“There were many challenges and hurdles,” he said of his mission to get Latinos elected to the city council and state legislature. “Chicago had been dominated for many years by the Chicago political machine. They had managed to concentrate all political power in the hands of a few power brokers.”

But that did not stop Garcia from his drive to improve the lives of Latinos through political action.

From a student activist at the University of Illinois at Chicago to alderman, Garcia became the first Mexican-American member of the Illinois State Senate in 1992. His list of accomplishments includes 30 years in public service and a bid for Chicago mayor that forced the first run-off election in the city's history. Garcia said that election forced 18 other runoffs in the Chicago city council, which he considers a significant accomplishment directly related to the success of his campaign. 

Although he lost the bid for mayor to Rahm Emanuel, he said many of his positions on policy issues have been implemented by Emanuel's administration, including one of the issues he championed in his campaign, the creation of a trauma center on Chicago's south side, which is currently in the works.

“We shook up Chicago and I'm proud of that,” Garcia said. “We put Chicago on the map nationally and internationally … We raised the Latinos community profile.”

Catalina Restrepo, president of ASPIRE, a club for first-generation students, was one of more than 200 guests at the event. She said celebrating Latino Heritage Month promotes a sense of pride and togetherness in the community.

Luiz Martinez, associate professor of biology, echoed Restrepo's comments.

“This is an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of the Hispanic community,” he said. “An opportunity to celebrate those who came before us to fight for the rights of Latinos in America. It's also a reminder for the new generation that there is still a long road ahead of us.”

Events for Latino Heritage Month will be held through Thursday, Oct. 15. For more information, contact the Student Life Office at 841-214-7370.   

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