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Latino Unity Day Brings Together Illinois Legislators, Advocates, and Partners in Springfield

SPRINGFIELD - On May 2, 2023, Latino Unity Day returned to Springfield for its annual celebration. 

Community leaders and members of the Illinois General Assembly came together for a day and a half of thought provoking and inspiring panel discussions supporting the Latino community. The day's theme, "Building Illinois: Unidos y Fuertes,” motivated conversations on education, Latino representation, health care, immigration and current legislative action.   

“Latino Unity Day is a testament to the power of community and the importance of celebrating collective action and leadership. Witnessing Latino leaders come together, all working to address and amplify different issues affecting the well-being of the Latino community, was incredibly inspiring,” said Anna Arzuaga, Housing Policy Analyst for the Latino Policy Forum. 

One of first sessions of the day, "Latino Representation In State Government," led by Juan Valenzuela, president of the Hispanic Illinois State Law Enforcement Association (HISLEA) dealt with the need for elected officials to not only reflect the background of their constituents, but also share in their lived experiences. 

"As a Latina, it gave me a sense of pride seeing so many people that look like me represented in the state legislature and in senior agency roles," said Nina Sedeño, Immigration Policy Analyst for the Latino Policy Forum. "After attending the Immigrant Impact Taskforce Report release at the Governor's mansion, I was reminded that Illinois is truly the most welcoming state in the nation." 

Illinois created a program in 2020 that provides Medicaid-style coverage to undocumented immigrants 65 and older, ineligible for traditional health insurance. The program has been expanded twice, now covering those 42 and older, and members of the Healthy Illinois Campaign pushed to further expand coverage to people 19 and 42. 

Among those organizations in the Capitol halls was the Hispanic Federation, an organization dedicated to empowering and advancing the Hispanic community, supporting Hispanic families, and strengthening Latino institutions. Members of participating organizations joined lawmakers to advocate for various legislative initiatives for the betterment of Latinos and all marginalized communities in the state.  

"Unidos y Fuertes. This year's Latino Unity Day theme couldn't have been more appropriate. Over 300 participants demonstrated how relevant Latinos are in Illinois and how civically engaged they are, " said José Marco-Paredes, the Forum's Director of Civic Engagement. "Our state will be as strong as its capacity to provide equitable opportunities to every community." 

Latinos are one of the fastest growing demographics across the nation. In Illinois, they make up 18% of the population, according to the U.S. Census. Still, despite the growth in population size, the Latino community is underrepresented in government. A point that Sylvia Puente, President and CEO of the Latino Policy Forum made in releasing an analysis of the Legislative House and Senate districts. The study demonstrates that 13 of the 118 Illinois House districts have a Latino population of 50 percent or greater. To have equity, there should be 21 majority districts. 

There are 5 of the 59 Illinois Senate districts that have a Latino population of 50 percent or greater. To have equity, there should be 11 majority districts. 

Valerie Coffman, Adult and Early Childhood Education Pipeline Specialist said this about attending her first Latino Unity Day, “I am so grateful for the experience and knowledge I gained. Thank you Latino Policy Forum and planning committee for creating the space and like-minded Latinos and Latinas to come together. I have been re-energized and am excited for the work ahead. Adelante!”