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Chicago Latino Community to UIC: Keep the Doors Open

by Joe Iosbaker |
October 30, 2008
Students wore t-shirts that read: LARES – Keep the Doors Open
Students wore t-shirts that read: LARES – Keep the Doors Open (Fight Back! News)

Chicago, IL - Hundreds of Latino students from the University of Illinois-Chicago (UIC) and Chicago high schools packed into the UIC Forum on Oct. 27 to defend their right to an education. The occasion was a hearing on the Status of Latinos at UIC held by the Illinois Latino Legislative Caucus.

Students were joined by community members, faculty and employees who turned out in response to an attack on the Latin American Recruitment and Education Services (LARES) program and other support services. LARES was created 33 years ago when there were only 100 Latino students enrolled at UIC. Through the struggles of the Latino communities for UIC to open its doors, plus the efforts of LARES, today there are 3300 Latino students.

However, that is the same number that was present here ten years ago. In the past decade, there has been further growth in the immigrant population in the Chicago area. Today, while 13% of UIC students are Latinos, almost 30% of Chicago is Latino. The Black student population has been declining compared to their percentages in the state and city as well, down to only 9% at UIC, while 35% of Chicago is Black.

LARES has seen its operating budget cut from over $100,000 a decade ago, to less than $10,000 this year. Now the state is threatening a ‘rescission’ of UIC’s overall budget. This would mean the legislature taking back funding. Chancellor Eric Gislason told the state legislators at the hearing that there will be a rescission and that it could be 5%. Other sources suggest it could be as much as 10%.

Gislason’s message to the hearing was that UIC is doing enough to help Latinos. Further, he said that he would not promise that LARES and other support programs would be spared when the cuts come down.

UIC Workers to Face Layoffs

Workers at UIC are also preparing for layoffs as the rescission deepens. Sirlena Perry, a clerical employee and union activist with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 73, responded, “The state should raise taxes on the rich, not cut back services to the working class and the poor.” She expressed the feeling of many union workers here. “They can’t just balance their budget on the backs of the workers - if there are cuts, management should take the first and the deepest.”

Illinois has one of the lowest rates of taxation of the wealthy of any state in the U.S. Over the years of deregulation of the stock market, the richest 1% in the country has made enormous wealth. Now their greed has caused the biggest crisis since the Great Depression. Then, when Wall Street was in trouble, the U.S. Congress bailed them out with billions of dollars. However, working people are denied any help when we face foreclosure of our homes.

Now the financial crisis threatens workers, including at UIC, with layoffs. Latino and Black workers will be hurt even worse. They have had to fight against racist discrimination to get equal pay with the white workers at the Urbana campus. John Ayala, a building engineer at UIC who spoke at the hearings, referred to the increase in hiring of Latinos, but noted that, “Most Latinos are employed in the lowest-paying jobs.”

The mobilization at this hearing was hugely successful. Witnesses said that the chancellor was visibly shaken by the statements and the mood of the crowd.

Ayala signaled that more struggle will be needed for workers to advance their cause. “Having this and future hearings may be the only way to get UIC to respect the Latino community and will give hope to many discouraged employees.”

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