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Optimism after the unrest

Two Latino Chicago aldermen share how their wards are on the mend after post-Memorial Day incidents

By Dave Fidlin, August 10, 2020 1:23 pm

Ald. Felix Cardona Jr: “The majority of my ward is moderate to conservative Democrat. They’re telling me, ‘We get it. But let’s move on.’” (Photo: Instagram)

One alderman referred to the atmosphere as “the wild, wild west.” Another elected official, who recalled the Chicago riots of 1968, said, “This is far worse.”

Two months have passed since an audio recording of a periodically tense exchange between Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and the 50-member City Council was shared with local media.

The nearly 80-minute conversation occurred the weekend after Memorial Day, when emotions over George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis reached a boiling point locally and spilled into public view with looting, vandalism and other unlawful acts.

The conversation about the status of different Chicago neighborhoods among the elected officials included some strong language — particularly from Lightfoot.

“I don’t know about you, but I haven’t seen shit like this before,” Lightfoot said in the recording. She later stated, “I can’t explain the psychology of people being so ruthless and reckless.”

Several Latino neighborhoods within Chicago were subject to looting and riotous behavior, alongside the peaceful protests of late May and early June.

In the months since, a number of Chicago Latino aldermen have shared how their individual communities are moving forward as they try addressing the heavy topics of racial justice, police relations and restoring order as some national and local retailers begin reopening their doors.

Aldermen acknowledge the damage

Ald. Felix Cardona Jr., who represents the city’s 31st Ward, acknowledged his jurisdiction took a hit from the looting that occurred early this summer. More than two-dozen businesses — many, he said, within the telecommunications category — were impacted, as were some larger ones, such as Big Lots, Discovery and Walmart.

But as summer has progressed and some of the city’s COVID-19 restrictions have lifted, Cardona in an interview with Chicago Mundo Hoy said his ward is on the mend with renewed vigor.

“It’s been better — way better than how it was when all this stuff happened,” Cardona said of the circumstances early this summer. “There’s a whole sense of optimism.”

Cardona, whose ward encompasses a portion of the city’s northwest side, said his constituents have a desire to get back to a sense of normalcy.

“What I’m hearing now is they’re not happy about the continuous riots or protests,” Cardona said. “They’re done with it. The majority of my ward is moderate to conservative Democrat. They’re telling me, ‘We get it. But let’s move on.’ I’ve been knocking on doors.”

Ald. Gilbert Villegas’ 36th Ward also encompasses some areas of the city that were at the heart of the post-Memorial Day unrest. Case in point: Brickyard Mall, which was heavily looted and subsequently became a sore spot as allegations of police brutality arose when a woman stated she and her family were assaulted by officers May 31.

Working with the police

Despite the serious situation, Villegas maintains his office continues to work collaboratively with law enforcement and others on the front lines of day-to-day life.

“Our ward is doing pretty good right now,” Villegas said in an interview with Chicago Mundo Hoy. “We work closely with our first responders and our police departments. We’ve enjoyed that relationship. Whenever something has come up, we’ve been that connector.”

Ald. Gilbert Villegas in 2015, shown opening Northwest Middle School with Principal Marilyn Strojny (r). (Photo: Instagram)

Villegas said his desire with law and order is to approach it in an even manner by keeping civilians accountable for their actions on the streets and their homes, while dually ensuring sworn personnel are following proper protocol at the same time.

“We want to be fair,” Villegas said. “We want to support our first responders. But when they do something wrong, we want to call them out.”

While the racial unrest has been an overarching issue across the city throughout the warm weathered months, Cardona and Villegas said there are other weighty issues they continue to hone in on this summer — most notably the invisible virus that has claimed scores of lives in recent months.

“Since COVID, we’ve had to pivot, and we’ve had to add some social services functions to our office,” Villegas said. “Our job has changed.”

The pandemic has dented economies across the globe, and Cardona said his goal is to work toward preserving the one within his district before COVID-19 became a part of the cultural vernacular.

Those preservation efforts grew more intense, Cardona said, as he worked with retailers after the post-Memorial Day looting.

But there are celebrations, such as the reopening of a local Walmart. Cardona said he took part in a ribbon cutting ceremony at the big box retailer July 27, the day before his interview with Chicago Mundo Hoy.

“I fought really hard to have them stay here. It’s going to have a high traffic volume,” Cardona said. “A lot of my residents, a lot of my seniors — they’ve been waiting and they’re excited.”

Cardona said his interest in helping business owners hits close to home.

“I come from a small business family,” he said. “My parents had two small businesses. I understand the struggles and the hardships.”

While the first half of 2020 arguably holds more challenges than one might have contemplated from the get-go, Villegas said he sees a silver lining as the second half of the year picks up steam.

“Our residents, my constituents, are stepping up,” Villegas said. “That’s very reassuring. We really are all in this together. It’s great to see fellow Chicagoans understand that.”

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