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Post office in Pilsen accused of discriminating against non-English speaking customers

Ald. Sigcho-Lopez plans to submit a formal complaint after a viral Facebook post claims staff at the post office berated a Latina woman who didn’t speak English.

The Cesar Chavez station of the U.S. Postal Service in Pilsen.
Carlos Ballesteros/Sun-Times

Pilsen’s first-term alderman is calling on U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia and the U.S. Postal Service to address allegations of discrimination against non-English speakers at the neighborhood’s post office.

The allegations stem from a viral Facebook post by Evelyn Gonzalez, who wrote that during a visit earlier this week to the post office, 1859 S. Ashland Ave., a retail clerk told several customers, “I do not speak Spanish, I cannot help you.”

Gonzalez wrote that the clerk berated an elder Latina woman, and when Gonzalez asked the clerk why she was being rude to the woman and others, the clerk threatened to call police on her.

Gonzalez, an eyelash technician who lives in the neighborhood, said this wasn’t the first time she’s witnessed staff at the post office treat non-English speakers poorly.

“That could’ve been my grandmother,” Gonzalez said. “You’re in Pilsen — most of your clients are Latinos, and you don’t have a Spanish speaker on staff? That doesn’t seem right.”

I went to the USPS office today located in Pilsen, Chicago (Ashland @ 19th st) to send out a package.. in the 5-10...

Posted by She's so Lashed on Monday, February 3, 2020

Gonzalez’s post immediately set off a firestorm in the comment section from residents who said they’ve also witnessed staff at the post office in the predominantly Latino neighborhood mistreat customers who don’t speak English.

Those complaints percolated up to Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th), who met with Gonzalez at his ward office on Friday. He also spoke with the son of the senior Latina woman who felt discriminated against at the post office.

Sigcho-Lopez plans to send Garcia’s office a letter about the incident on Monday and hopes the congressman files a complaint with Postmaster Wanda P. Prater, who oversees operations in Cook County for USPS.

“Our understanding is that this is not a new issue,” Sigcho-Lopez said in an interview Friday. “It’s not acceptable for this to happen in this day and age in a working-class, immigrant community like Pilsen. We hopes this sets a precedent in how they service our communities.”

Garcia said in a statement he plans to contact the agency in the coming days.

“As an immigrant and representative of a district home to multiethnic and multilingual communities, I take these issues very seriously,” Garcia said. “All community members deserve fair and respectful service.”

A supervisor at the Pilsen post office branch declined to comment.

In a statement, a spokesperson for USPS Chicago said the agency is investigating the incident and “apologizes to customers who may have suffered a bad customer experience and any inconvenience.”

The statement goes on to say that “bilingual employees may not be available at all times” and that non-English speakers can “read signage in another language by scanning that with their favorite translator app.”

A plaque inside the Post Office in Pilsen honoring late labor leader Cesar Chavez. February 7, 2020.
A plaque inside the post office in Pilsen honoring late labor leader Cesar Chavez. February 7, 2020.
Carlos Ballesteros/Sun-Times

The post office in Pilsen is named after late Mexican-American labor leader Cesar Chavez.

In July, veteran window clerk Alfredo Jacinto retired after working there for nearly 40 years, according to WBEZ.

Jacinto used to help Alicia Guerrero, a housekeeper at a senior care facility who’s been going to the post office in Pilsen since 1987. But Guerrero said she’s had a tough time communicating with the staff since Jacinto left.

Alicia Guerrero said staff at the Post Office in Pilsen aren’t helpful to non-English speakers like her. February 7, 2020.
Alicia Guerrero said staff at the post office in Pilsen aren’t helpful to non-English speakers like her. February 7, 2020.
Carlos Ballesteros/Sun-Times

“My English isn’t that good,” she said in her native Spanish.

Guerrero rents a P.O. box and comes in to pay the $53 fee once a month. But if she needs to do anything else, she’d rather wait until her son can take her.

“I get frustrated every time I come. They can’t help me, and if I try to work it out with them they just say they can’t help me,” she said.

Carlos Ballesteros is a corps member of Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster Sun-Times coverage of Chicago’s South Side and West Side.