Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Are Latino map complaints misguided?

It shouldn’t be a shock that some Latino political activists are upset with the new legislative and congressional boundaries created by the General Assembly for the upcoming decade.

Illinois' 4th congressional district (the one meant to create Latino representation from our state) isn't going to radically change in the upcoming decade. I think THAT is a more outrageous act than the splitting up of the Little Village neighborhood when it comes to increased Latino political empowerment.

The Democratic-led Legislature has managed to offend many people (and not just Republicans) with the boundaries they have drawn that reinforce the political influence of urban Chicago – which provides da Dems with their strength in this state.

SO WHY SHOULD it be any surprise that Latino activists who were hoping for a significant boost in their own political power are miffed, so to speak, that they didn’t get as much as they had hoped for.

Among those who are upset, and who may well decide they want to file a lawsuit challenging the new political boundaries, is the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund.

They issued a statement saying they “don’t consider it a good map” in large part because they don’t like the fact that the Chicago neighborhoods that consist of Spanish-language enclaves were used to split up into several districts.

MALDEF officials say they would rather have had the neighborhoods maintained intact; as in a state legislator from Little Village, a legislator from Pilsen, a legislator from Humboldt Park, …


They seem particularly miffed about the splitting up of the Little Village neighborhood, which many of the Mexican ethnic residents want to think of as the heart of the Latino community of Chicago and Illinois.

Yet I can’t help but notice there are other activist groups who are accepting of the Legislature’s efforts. The Latino Policy Forum says they’re “cautiously optimistic” that the General Assembly’s efforts will become law, and will bolster the number of Latino officials serving in the Illinois Legislature.

I’ll be the first to admit to having an interest in Latino political empowerment and increasing the numbers of legislators because that Latino population in Illinois has become a significant factor.

THE MOST RECENT Census results show that Latinos now outnumber African-Americans in Illinois (just over 2 million Latinos, compared to 1.8 million black people across the state).

So the idea that the total should increase beyond the dozen Latino legislators now in existence is NOT a radical concept.

While I’ll be the first to admit that the increases proposed seem meager, I also realize that Latino-based districts have to fit into the state as a whole, and that means maintaining the African-American-based districts, the creation of new districts that may result in the election of Asians to the state Legislature, and all those white people across the rest of the state.

It’s a balancing act, and I can’t help but wonder if the activists who are getting all worked up are forgetting this fact.

I PARTICULARLY AM skeptical of the MALDEF complaints. They REALLY seem bothered by the split of the Little Village neighborhood, which I don’t understand.

If I were them, I’d be mostly upset over the fact that the Congressional districts only include one Latino district – even though the population numbers are there to justify the creation of a second Latino district.

As I have written before, an altering of the Illinois Third congressional district could have made it the Mexican-based district, with Rep. Luis Gutierrez’ Fourth district becoming a Puerto Rican-based district. It also would have eliminated that connecting strip in Gutierrez’ district that has always created its odd “earmuff” configuration.

Instead, the congressional map means to protect the incumbency of Rep. Dan Lipinski – a fact that dismays me, but does not surprise me.

I THINK GETTING a boost there would have been a more worthy cause than worrying about keeping Little Village intact with its own member of the Illinois House of Representatives.

Perhaps it is because so many communities get split up amongst legislative districts that I can’t understand why the Little Village neighborhood ought to be treated any different.

Another factor to take into account is the fact that the Latino population in Illinois is spread across the state; which is always the reasoning given by the so-called political map “experts” for complicating the creation of a second Latino congressional district.

More so than any state Legislature districts within the Chicago city limits, I’d like to see the creation of legislative districts in areas outside of select city neighborhoods.

BELIEVE IT OR not, there are certain suburbs that have significant Latino populations. It is possible to bolster the number of such ethnic districts in the suburbs, which would be a nice compliment to the city-based Latino districts based around the ethnic enclaves that exist in Chicago proper.

I don’t hear any complaints along these lines.

Which makes me wonder if the MALDEF opposition to the new maps – which got their final vote of approval by the Illinois Senate on Tuesday – ought not to be viewed as Latino opposition, but merely the objections of the Little Village neighborhood; which does have a tendency to think it is the be all and end all of Latino life in Illinois.

MALDEF may have the right to file whatever lawsuit it desires. But that doesn’t mean their objections ought to be taken too seriously as speaking for all  2 million Latinos across the state.


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