On April 7, the Union for Puerto Rican Students (UPRS) marked the start of a week of events for the 20th Pa’lante Conference at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) that ends on April 11. The Pa’lante Conference was created as a means to promote critical dialogue on themes related to the political, social and cultural realities of the Puerto Rican people in the island and in the Diaspora.
Congressman Luis V. Gutierrez, the first Latino in the Midwest to be elected to Congress, a Chicagoan and Puerto Rican, was invited to speak at the conference. Gutierrez read an excerpt from his memoir “Still Dreaming: From the Barrio to Capitol Hill,” which has both English and Spanish editions. He explained that his memoir illustrates his life in Chicago, Puerto Rico, and the people that were involved in any way possible in his life that led to his current political career.
“People always ask me, “Why do you make immigration such a key issue?”. I know what it’s like to not fit in anywhere. I know what it’s like for people to ridicule you, laugh at you, discriminate against you because of who you are, because you seem different than they are. And when I see the immigrants today, I say to myself, “I’m not going to laugh at them. I’m going to extend to them a warm hand of friendship,”” said Gutierrez.
Gutierrez discussed his role in the political campaign of Harold Washington, who was the first African American mayor in the city of Chicago (1983-1987). “On Election Day, we won 280-220. Thousands upon thousands of people were touched that day. Because they went out to vote, they needed a change, [and Mayor Harold Washington was that change],” said Gutierrez.
This motivated Gutierrez to become involved in politics and run for Congress. “I can’t let these phony fake democrats, who don’t support the democratic nominee, run so I ran against them.”
Gutierrez also discussed the importance of Puerto Rican studies and cultural roots, and his current role in fighting for a comprehensive immigration reform in Congress.
“I couldn’t find Puerto Rico on a map. But, I had a little button that said, “Yo Tengo Puerto Rico en mi Corazon.” I believe being Puerto Rican is seeing unfairness, injustice, seeing abuse and not being able to stand by idly while it happens. If you don’t believe it, go to Puerto Rico and see how it is,” said Gutierrez.