Nearly two million Hispanic live in metropolitan Chicago, representing in excess of 20% of the region’s total population and constituting the third largest Hispanic community in the United States. Like other regions of the nation, Chicago Hispanic are the fastest growing segment of the overall population, increasing 25% in the last decade, and are, not surprisingly, beginning to wield enormous economic and political clout as their numbers grow.
Old stereotypes don’t work. Contrary to the prevailing view, Hispanic are not a collection of immigrants from across the border. Sixty percent of Chicago’s Hispanic population is second and third generation, educated in the U.S., bi-lingual (with English being the primary language spoken) and represent an extremely diverse set of cultures from many different countries — including Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico and other countries of Latin America. Increasingly, they’re taking their place in the corner office, at the head of the classroom, in the City Council Chamber and yes — even as Venezuelan-born Ozzie Guillen of the White Sox showed us — in the manager’s office of a ball field.
But all the impressive demographic data can hide structural issues in our society that serve to hold back Hispanic from achieving even greater success including, most notably, shortcomings in our education system and an absence of resources and opportunities for entrepreneurs and growing businesses.
In education, language barriers and social values that do not yet promote education enough have led to a 50% dropout rate among high school students. Efforts by our public and private school systems to stem this tide are helping, including more bi-lingual educators and focused resources to target at-risk students and work with them to stay in school. Community initiatives — many of which are sponsored by the City of Chicago — are also encouraging businesses and professionals to join in the effort by helping one student at a time. Mentoring and tutoring programs, “tuition reimbursement rewards” for staying in school, student intern programs and scholarship programs — like Scholarship Chicago — are helping Hispanic students plan for and pursue post-secondary education. Helping high school and college students complete their education is paramount to enabling the Hispanic population to assume a broader leadership role in our society and to enjoy more of the economic rewards of their success.
In business, more needs to be done to help entrepreneurs network, obtain the skills and access the funding they need to establish their businesses and compete for contracts from the region’s larger, established companies and government agencies. Much progress has been made on this front through the creation of the Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center and through the education/workplace/career initiatives of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, the Illinois Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the Hispanic Alliance for Career Enhancement, and other business and civic organizations. A variety of private initiatives are targeting specific needs of the Hispanic business community, including, for example, a new grant program from IBM, Tradu’celoAhora! (Translate Now), that provides access to English-to-Spanish translation software for 30 non-profit groups that serve the Hispanic communities in Chicago and other metropolitan areas.
While the Hispanic community is forecast to continue to be one of the major sources of growth in the Chicago region, continued investments in the education of Hispanic youth and support for Hispanic entrepreneurs are needed to help provide the professional talent, skilled labor and business resources needed to support growth. Our success in this endeavor will benefit both the broader community and the Hispanic population that calls Chicagoland home.
Managing Partner, Sanchez, Daniels & Hoffman