Hispanic candidates in Chicago are a bellwether for the country

Hispanic candidates in Chicago are a bellwether for the country
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Chicago is the last place one would expect “Jesus” to appear, but that is exactly where “Jesus,” aka Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy”(Chew-ee) Garcia, is rising from a gaggle of local Hispanic elected politicians to run as the favorite to replace retiring U.S. Congressman Luis GutierrezLuis Vicente GutierrezBiden's inauguration marked by conflict of hope and fear The Hill's Campaign Report: Democratic primary fight shifts to South Carolina, Nevada Democrats rally behind incumbents as Lipinski takes liberal fire MORE (D-Ill.) next year.

Chicago has the fifth largest Hispanic population in the U.S.; 2.1 percent of them are of Guatemalan origin, 9.6 percent are Puerto Rican and 79.2 percent are of Mexican-origin, according to 2013 data.

One congressman out of 435 is not usually a big deal, but this time it is. Luis Gutierrez has emerged over the years as Congress’ biggest booster of comprehensive immigration reform. He’s done so from a position outside Democratic Party leadership and stands out because he is neither an immigrant, nor a Mexican American or Cuban American. He is Puerto Rican although, of the 58 million or so American “Hispanics,” only 9 percent are Puerto Ricans.

Unlike millions of Hispanics born outside the U.S., who take years to become citizens, Puerto Ricans are natural born U.S. citizens. Congress made them citizens in 1917 so they could be drafted by the U.S. Army when the U.S. entered World War I.

Despite being only 9 percent of all Hispanics, Puerto Ricans punch above their weight when pursuing elected office, particularly in places like New York, New Jersey and until now, in Chicago.

With Gutierrez’ retirement from Congress, the opportunity for Mexican-American politicians to reach more elected and leadership positions is like water seeking its own level. Elective politics, with 79 percent of Chicago Hispanics being of Mexican origin, makes an additional Mexican-origin congressman very reachable at the 2018 ballot box.

Until recently, Xavier BecerraXavier BecerraFederal contractor raises allegations of sexual misconduct at Fort Bliss facility: report Overnight Health Care: CDC advises vaccinated to wear masks in high-risk areas | Biden admin considering vaccine mandate for federal workers Biden administration spending 1M to boost vaccinations in underserved communities MORE was a longtime Los Angeles County Democratic congressman and the highest ranked Mexican American in Congress; he also was a member of congressional Democratic Party leadership. That ended when California Gov. Edmund Gerald Brown, Jr., appointed Becerra California’s first-ever Hispanic attorney general to replace U.S. Senator Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - CDC equates Delta to chickenpox in contagiousness Harris's bad polls trigger Democratic worries Why in the world are White House reporters being told to mask up again? MORE.

Attorney General Becerra is running for election on his own in 2018 and will a top contender for a future governor when he wins in November.

Back to Chicago: There are numerous potential Hispanic candidates to replace Gutierrez. Northwestern University professor Jaime Dominguez lists potential candidates:

The scramble to replace Gutierrez is in full swing and the field could get crowded. While the congressman has endorsed Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, other alderman such as Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th ward), George Cardenas (12th ward), Gilbert Villegas (36th ward) and Joe “Proco” Moreno (1st ward) have expressed interest in vying for the prestigious seat.”

“Chuy” Garcia should be remembered as the Mexican-born immigrant that ran a good race against incumbent Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Garcia managed long ago to marry a Puerto Rican woman, which should help him with that community.

Gutierrez assumed leadership of House campaigns for immigration reform; he brought much attention to the issue, including being arrested more than once at demonstrations. The numerous Mexican-origin members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus – 16 – now outnumber Puerto Ricans in the 30-member caucus. With Gutierrez retiring, there is a natural vacuum in leadership on the issue of immigration.

A flamboyant nationally known guy named “Jesus” will probably replace Gutierrez’ in Congress. He should be able to take a real leadership role on immigration. It seems that Mexican Americans might be able to build political power that more reflects the nearly 34 million Mexican-origin people scattered through all 50 states of the U.S. They happen to be concentrated in two of the three largest states, California and Texas and now number almost 1.7 million in Chicago.

To paraphrase former presidential candidate Ross Perot — The Mexicans are coming! The Mexicans are coming!

Raoul Lowery Contreras is the author of “The Armenian Lobby" (Berkeley Press, 2017) and “The Mexican Border: Immigration War and a Trillion Dollars in Trade" (Floricanto Press, 2016). He formerly wrote for the New York Times News Service.