COLUMN: ‘Chuy’ García highlights Latino political success but future needs leaders who encourage unity among ethnic communities


Una Cleary

Defeated mayoral candidate Jesús “Chuy” García addresses his supporters at his election party on Tuesday.

As journalists, our most important tools are our eyes, ears and mouths. We use them to interpret our surroundings, gather information and ask questions. Most of all, we use them to tell the truth. 

As I covered Congressman Jesús “Chuy” García’s election night party, I used my tools to evaluate what this moment in history entailed. 

I am not a politician, a historian nor a political analyst, but as a Latina journalist who closely followed the election coverage of other journalists, I argue my evaluation is worth considering. 

My assessment is not absolute. I cannot speak to the experiences of all Latinos whose identities vary in social class, education, sexualities and more. 

My perception is that of a second generation Mexican American, or a U.S. born individual with parents who were born in Mexico.

With that said, this is what I gathered. 

Tuesday night’s highlights included former Chicago Public Schools’ CEO Paul Vallas and Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson securing the April 4 runoff spots.

García’s election party symbolized a passing of the political torch to other Latinos.

It was a night mixed with pride for many but also fear for others.

The banners and TV screens that boldly read “CHUY FOR CHICAGO” may lead you to think the night was about García, but the spotlight was really on his political supporters and endorsers.

Before García even came on stage, a crowd of people chanted “si se pudo” or “we were able to do it” around Jeylú Gutiérrez, who made history becoming the 14th Ward’s first Latina alderwoman, ending former Ald. Ed Burke’s 50-year reign.

The phrase carries a rich history, one that can be dated back to the struggles of working class Latinos part of the United Farm Workers Union in the 1970s. 

American labor leaders Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez adopted the phrase during their 25-day fast in Arizona which inspired farm workers, as they demanded fair wages and better working conditions.  

For many Latinos, it is a phrase that continues to invigorate and transpires into the political landscape. It makes us feel that this land of the free is also ours to thrive in. 

People gathered around the new alderwoman, whose area includes Gage Park, Archer Heights, parts of Brighton Park and Chicago Lawn. 

“I really, really, don’t have words to describe how I’m feeling,” Gutiérrez said during her speech. 

Turning to look at García tucked away to the left of stage and acknowledged her supporters she said, “I thank you for giving me the opportunity, Chuy, and team, Chuy, and the coalition in believing in me,” Gutiérrez said.

Gutiérrez was not the only one who expressed gratitude towards García. 

Cook County Commissioner Alma Anaya, told supporters to “soak in the fact” that “this movement is 40 years in the making” and threw her fist up as cheers from the crowd followed.

Anaya also highlighted Michael Rodriguez’s 22nd Ward reelection.

“Chuy had ran so we could fly,” she said. 

The “movement” Anaya refers to is a reflection of the years Latinos were kept from politics in Chicago and the sense of pride commonly felt to see someone that looks like you in positions of power. 

In Wilfredo Cruz’s book “Latinos in Chicago: Quest for a Political Voice,” he said it was not until 1983 with Chicago’s first Black mayor Harold Washington that Latinos were put on the political map.

“He appointed a lot of Latinos to city government, and then he started campaigning for people running for office, like Luis Gutierrez for alderman, Jesus García for alderman, for state senator, so you start seeing the beginnings of political empowerment,” Cruz said in an interview with WTTW.

It was a full-circle moment for Latinos and García to be the product of Washington’s two term mayoral run. 

“Thank you for believing in our mission, and thank you for everything you left on the field today,” García said to the crowd. 

While listing all his political positions from a member of the Chicago City Council to Cook County Board Commissioner, García paused briefly before saying, “and yes, a member of Congress in the United States.”

His affirming tone points to a common experience among some Latinos.

For many, some of us never thought we would graduate high school in the United States, make it to college in the United States or own a home in the United States. 

Between the cheers and claps, I assure you García’s words touched the hearts of those who share an immigrant identity. 

García’s personal experience speaks to voters in majority-Latino precincts. He earned about 39% of the vote according to WBEZ, though there is a conflicting notion that arises that we must acknowledge.

As a Latina, I fear my community will get too caught up in trying to only elect Latinos into positions of power out of years of spite without remembering that in order for our city to flourish, we need to build a coalition across communities. 

Although García frequently touts his coalition in his speeches, his predominantly Latino political supporters speak otherwise.

We should celebrate that many Latinos are no longer cast in the shadows of society and have been able to overcome what many of our ancestors in their lifetime never could. 

However, we should also be cognizant of other communities and work together to uplift each other.

Although many Latinos continue to face discrimination in society, I hope members of our community who are privileged enough to vote do not forget that we were once excluded. 

It is imperative that we learn from history and not repeat the same exclusion tactics upon other communities that were once placed against us.