Chinatown deserves its own ward

A historic pattern of Asian American erasure is clear in Chicago, where just one alderman has ever identified as Asian American.

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The Chinatown Gateway at South Wentworth Avenue and West Cermak Road in Chinatown.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

The City of Chicago is an excellent representation of the diverse American landscape, boasting a vibrant population of citizens of countless ethnicities, races, gender identities, ages, abilities and religions.

Unfortunately, despite Chicago’s diversity, many communities are politically underrepresented and ignored due to systemic barriers that perpetuate inequity and inaccessibility. As our elected aldermen begin redistricting Chicago’s 50 wards, the resolute belief of the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community in and surrounding Chinatown is that we deserve a voice of our own in City Hall.

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Chicago is a collage of diverse neighborhoods, each with its own defining characteristics and community pride. One of the oldest communities in the city, Chinatown is also one of the most unique of Chicago’s 77 neighborhoods. Fifty-five percent of Chinatown residents are foreign-born, and our residents overwhelmingly speak Mandarin or Cantonese at home.

These distinct characteristics are accompanied by specific policy needs. However, those needs cannot be accurately represented in City Hall when our community is split across four wards whose representatives do not identify as Asian American, do not speak our native languages, and are not well-positioned to advocate for our culturally relevant needs.

The pattern of Asian American erasure is clearly evident, as only one alderman has ever identified as Asian American in the nearly 200-year history of the Chicago City Council. Our municipal government should proportionately resemble the city’s demographics to more accurately represent the residents and to better advocate and understand the community’s needs.

It is only through equitable representation on the Chicago City Council that we will move our community forward and overcome some of our biggest challenges. An AAPI city council member will help us address the challenges our community members currently face in accessing social services, combating health disparities, and navigating language barriers, which inhibit access to critical services.

Our request is simple; we ask that as our elected city leaders redraw the ward maps this year, they give Chinatown its own ward and representation on the Chicago City Council. From 2010 to 2020, Chicago’s AAPI community increased in population by 31%, and Chicago’s Chinatown is the only Chinatown in the United States whose population is currently experiencing growth. We should not have to wait another ten years for equitable representation in City Hall. Our population and needs are increasing exponentially right now.

By granting Chinatown its own city ward, the City Council will demonstrate its commitment to equity and inclusion in the City of Chicago, the State of Illinois and the nation. In addition, this action will clearly and unequivocally show that AAPI perspectives and voices are an essential component in our national dialogue regarding legislation and addressing human service needs.

Finally, and most importantly, granting Chinatown its own ward would show that our elected leaders in City Hall are committed to amplifying the voices of historically underrepresented populations to move the needle forward on critical issues of equity and access.

We look forward to productive conversations on racial equity and increasing representation for the AAPI community with neighbors from all communities, especially our allies, who share so many of the same challenges and values. We know that the goal of creating a more equitable and socially just world is only achievable if we work in solidarity with each other, and we look forward to building brighter futures for all our city’s residents.

Paul Luu is CEO of the Chicago-based Chinese American Service League.

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