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This spring marked the 40th anniversary of Harold Washington’s landmark election as the first Black mayor of Chicago. Washington’s election was historic in every sense of the word. A coalition of Chicagoans from every neighborhood and all walks of life upended the power structure that dominated city politics and created hope for Black and brown residents long denied access to power.

Washington’s administration was met with resistance at every turn. And just weeks into his first term, Rudy Lozano, an activist responsible for building the Black and brown coalition that helped elect Washington, was assassinated 40 years ago, on June 8, 1983.

Rudy was my uncle. I can’t help but think of him as Chicago faces a new challenge just weeks into Mayor Brandon Johnson’s tenure.

As Texas governor Greg Abbott continues to bus asylum seekers from the southern border to Chicago, our communities are divided as to how to respond. In an emotional City Council meeting that culminated with alders approving $51 million in funding for temporary shelters for the migrants, longtime residents and elected officials from majority-Black communities expressed exasperation and frustration with how the City is using its resources. Many opposed the proposal, saying the money should go to investments in their communities instead.

Black Chicagoans are right to advocate for more investments in housing, jobs, education and infrastructure in their communities. Their frustration is also shared by a large population of immigrants who have been here for decades and have established families with US citizen children. These immigrants  can also argue that when they arrived here, they were seeking asylum as well. And since they migrated here, they have been promised immigration reform by several presidential candidates, none of whom followed through when elected into office. These are families who fear separation via deportation every day they walk out of their homes, who have been told reform isn’t possible because of the Republican party, yet with a stroke of a pen, Ukrainian and Venezuelan migrants are given protection under parole in place. 

It is also crucial to assert that politics do not have to be a zero-sum game, and the tensions evident in Chicago this week are the result of a long-standing strategy to divide Black and brown Chicagoans.

Just three years ago, after the police murder of George Floyd, Black and brown Chicagoans took to the streets in unity to demand change. When grocery stores closed in Black and brown communities following the uprising, conflict emerged between Black and brown Chicagoans. The tensions were inflamed by social media and news coverage, institutions built to draw attention to conflict at the expense of painting a complete picture of our communities. These stories overshadowed the powerful way Black and brown communities stood together to protest systemic racism. Ultimately, it was community members, violence interrupters and local leaders, not city officials, who diffused tensions.


The humanitarian crisis Chicago faces is one of the federal government’s making. Certainly, state leaders like Greg Abbott and Florida governor Ron DeSantis deserve scorn for their cynical plots to use human beings as political props. But it is critical to examine American international and immigration policy as well.

The people arriving in Chicago are asylum seekers, meaning they are people seeking protection from human rights violations and violence in a different country but have not been legally granted “refugee” status. Refugees have rights guaranteed by international law.

Many recently arrived asylum seekers are fleeing Latin American countries such as Venezuela, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, where they face unavoidable gang violence, poverty, and corruption. The U.S. government has its hands in these crises due to its historical support for dictatorships and right-wing governments in Central America that set conditions for today’s instability. Sanctions imposed by the U.S. government on countries like Venezuela and Cuba create conditions for extreme poverty, unrest and ultimately forced migration.

As thousands of asylum seekers have arrived in Chicago, local leaders and non-profits have come together to help people find food, shelter, and public services. But this challenge requires a larger response, which the federal government has not yet met. While City leaders have asked for more resources, Chicago and Illinois received just $8.5 million from the federal government to provide services to migrants.

It was under these conditions that the City approved $51 million in aid for migrants arriving in Chicago. Make no mistake, these are challenging circumstances.

But on the heels of a truly historic election, we are up for the challenge. A multi-racial coalition of people who believe in a Chicago of opportunity and prosperity for all came together to elect a leader who believes the same thing.

“We have an opportunity to do something righteous, and that’s to make sure that families who want to call the city of Chicago their home, regardless of how they got here, that Chicago is big enough to take care of the residents who have been here and make room for those who wish to call Chicago home,” Johnson said on Wednesday.

It is opponents of this vision – the same opponents of people like Harold Washington and Rudy Lozano –  who try to convince Chicagoans that politics are a zero-sum game, that we don’t have enough. If my uncle was alive today he would support the extension of parole to the 13 million undocumented as well as reparations for African American communities. The divide-and-conquer tactic is old and weak. The only solution is to grow a conscious and principled community in justice – the same conscious and principled unity for which Rudy Lozano was  assassinated on this date 40 years ago.

Together, we are strong. Together, we can demand a Chicago of abundance for all.

is a community activist and the founder of Healthy Hood Chicago. She is Rudy Lozano's niece.