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Chicago Sun-Times

Ethnicity Emerges As 4th District Issue

by Lucio Guerrero

March 12, 2002
Copyright © 2002
Chicago Sun-Times. All Rights Reserved.

In the race for Congress in the state's only Latino district, the words coming from the candidates are words usually not heard in a political campaign.



Orgullo Mexicano.

But in the irregularly shaped 4th District created to give Chicago Hispanics a voice in Congress, it's becoming evident that the only common thread through the district is language. Vieques is an island in Puerto Rico , Boricua is slang for Puerto Rican and Orgullo Mexicano is Mexican pride.

The two candidates running for the office, longtime incumbent Luis Gutierrez, 49, and attorney Marty Castro, 38, represent the two largest Hispanic blocs in the district: Puerto Rican and Mexican.

Both of the candidates say they are not pandering to their respective communities, but sentiment on the street and campaign literature says otherwise.

"It seems pretty clear that Gutierrez is going to look out for Puerto Ricans , while Castro will take care of the Mexicans," said Roberto Ortiz, a Puerto Rican man who lives near Humboldt Park. "I can't imagine a Puerto Rican voting for Castro."

To see the ethnic divide, one only needs to drive through two of the biggest Puerto Rican and Mexican communities in the West Side District.

Along Paseo Boricua, a six-block commercial stretch of Puerto Rican -owned stores along Division Street between Western and California Avenues, signs supporting Gutierrez can be found in almost every storefront--abandoned or not.

In the Logan Square community, a Mexican enclave that is usually a strong supporter for Gutierrez, the signs for the longtime congressman are nowhere to be found this year. A few Castro signs dot the road in homes and stores.

"It seems that Castro would care more about the people here and not so much about what goes on in Puerto Rico ," said Lourdes Gomez, a Mexican-American woman who was shopping in the Gap in the Mexican area of Logan Square. "I don't have much concern about what happens in Puerto Rico ."

And if seeing isn't believing, listening to the two candidates speak is enough evidence that there are nationalistic undertones to the rhetoric.

"While [Gutierrez] was fighting the bombing of Vieques , he should have been fighting to stop the gang bullets back home," Castro said during a recent debate between the two. "He should be fighting here instead of some island 2,000 miles away."

Castro also attacked Gutierrez for lobbying President Clinton to grant clemency in 1999 to 11 Puerto Rican nationalists who were members of FALN, the Spanish acronym for the Armed Forces of National Liberation.

And to remind voters in the district of his Mexican background, Castro sent out a political mailing showing him as a young boy dressed in a mariachi outfit. It also describes--in Spanish--how much pride Castro has in his "Mexican roots."

For his part, Gutierrez has played to the nationalistic passion that many Puerto Ricans feel for their homeland. He frequently travels to the country, owns a home there and has been a leading figure in the fight against U.S. bombing in Vieques , an island off the coast of Puerto Rico used by the Navy for bombing practice.

He's also gotten the support of popular Puerto Rican governor Sila Calderon, who traveled to Chicago and took part in an event sponsored by a group in favor of Gutierrez.

Mexicans outnumber Puerto Ricans in the district by a nearly five- to-one margin: 321,949 to 68,722.

Both candidates deny they are looking for any kind of patriotism to sway voters.

"I think it's an unfair assessment on the campaign to think that the ethnicity of the candidates should matter," said Castro. "I'm an effective and results-oriented candidate, and the campaign has nothing to do with his or my ethnicity."

He said the issue in the 4th District--a meandering C-shaped district that connects Hispanic enclaves in the city and the suburbs like Cicero and Berwyn--is getting someone elected who will look out for the interests of the community in Chicago, not abroad.

"Even if he went to Mexico to fight for the Mayan indians, it would mean that his attention is not here in our community," Castro said.

Gutierrez says his actions in Congress should be enough to prove that he looks beyond his Puerto Rican roots.

People on the street have their own take on the race.

"I don't think they give us a lot of credit," said Luis Nobles, a Mexican American who lives in Logan Square. "I'll vote for the best candidate. I don't care if they are Mexican, Puerto Rican or American."

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