Hernandez advocates for immigrants at One Book talk

Jamie Lovegrove, Reporter

Adolfo Hernandez, the director of Chicago’s Office for New Americans, spoke to Northwestern students and Evanston community members Tuesday evening about his efforts to make Chicago the “most immigrant-friendly city in the world.”

The Global Languages Initiative and One Book One Northwestern co-sponsored the event, which attracted about 70 people.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel appointed Hernandez to the newly created position last December with the intention of putting Chicago at the forefront of immigration reform, Hernandez said.

Hernandez also discussed his own personal background. He was born and raised in Chicago’s Little Village and also spent some time on a corn and bean farm in Guadalajara, Mexico.

“Everyone here comes from very different places, and that is what makes a city like Chicago incredibly special,” Hernandez said. “No matter where you are in the city, you get this cultural vibrancy. In Chicago it is very clear that immigrants contribute to our society.”

Hernandez noted in particular that Chicago immigrants are 30 percent more likely to start a small business than other citizens. He said he believes that attracting immigrants and pushing for immigration reform is “not only the right thing to do from a values perspective, but also the right thing to do from an economic perspective.”

Medill Prof. Jack Doppelt introduced Hernandez. He also discussed Harold Washington, a former Chicago mayor, and his defiant advocacy for immigrant rights in the face of other politicians who tried to limit them.

“It is in Chicago’s blood to be friendly to immigrants,” Doppelt said.

Weinberg freshman Bryan Huebner, who is from California, said he attended the event because he is not as familiar with the unique situation of immigrants in Chicago and wanted to learn more about the topic. He said he was particularly interested in some of the new programs Hernandez’s office plans on introducing, such as Chicago New Americans, which would create a path of citizenship for eligible immigrants.

“I think he gave me a good general idea about the city,” Huebner said. “It gave me a great starting point so that if I do want to do more research and figure out more about the specifics of these programs.”

Penny Nichols and Katrin Voelkner, co-chairs of the NU Global Languages Initiative, organized the event in conjunction with One Book One Northwestern.

“You can’t talk about Chicago, neighborhoods and ethnicity without talking about languages, and that’s what the Global Languages Initiative is doing,” said Nichols, a professor in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese. “Immigration is one of the themes we are pursuing this year, and (Adolfo) is wonderful, vibrant, articulate and really just very impressive.”

Following the lecture, Hernandez took audience questions ranging from the relative absence of immigration debate in the 2012 presidential cycle to issues surrounding detained young immigrants or asylum seekers.

Hernandez emphasized the importance of getting his message out to people who are not as familiar with immigrant issues, including those who might view immigrants as a threat.

“We’re in the city of Chicago where a lot of people understand why this is important,” Hernandez told The Daily following the talk. “Part of what I view as our responsibility is to advocate for immigrants wherever we can around the city and around the country.”