Growing Latino population seeking representation and respect in Boone County government

Boone County’s Latino population continues to grow, but some residents say representation in local government is lacking. Boone County Council has only one Latino council member – Freddy De La Trinidad.

He was nominated in 2021 and is running in the November election for one of four seats representing Boone County’s Third District.

De La Trinidad said his experience was not easy.

“When you’re the first Hispanic, on any type of thing locally, you’re the change,” he said. “But change can be ugly, right? »

De la Trinidad navigates what seem to be two different worlds: a historically white population and a growing Latino community.

“Now that I’m here, it’s a bit of a shock,” he said. “It’s a different perspective [and] a different point of view that they are not used to.”

While De La Trinidad is new to the council, the Latino presence in the county is not. In 2000, Hispanics were estimated to make up more than 12 % of total county population. During the last census, this percentage almost doubled. In Belvidere, Latinos make up 37% of the population.

“I always tell people that a lot of our immigrant population has really contributed a lot to the county over the past 20 years,” De La Trinidad said.

A stroll down State Street in Belvidere and the Latin American business boom is evident. But obstacles exist. He told the board that he felt a mentality of “sticking to his own” or “sticking to his roots”, leaving aside the Latino experience.

He cites that Latino business license applicants are treated differently than white applicants. He recalled a vote for a Latino business seeker who was denied a permit last year.

“I was the only one who voted for this family to have their banquet hall among the 12 members of the county council,” he said. “And when I said that, and told them it was racially motivated, a lot of people there were shocked that I even said that.”

This spring, the council imposed a moratorium on rodeo permits to investigate complaints against organizers.

De La Trinidad said that for 25 years, several Mexican families have been hosting these sporting events that draw people all over the Midwest. He says the events bring tourism and money to the county.

The shows are inspired by the rodeo traditions of Zacatecas and Durango, Mexico, where riders display their skills and cultural pride. The event also hosts bands playing Banda music, popular in the region.

After a two-month hiatus, the committee concluded that rodeo organizers were not breaking any regulations, but they still reduced the number of events each family could hold from six to four.

Some of the complaints were about the music, traffic, and the treatment of rodeo animals, a complaint common to all rodeos.

When residents spoke negatively during public comments at board meetings about people attending events, it alarmed many in the Latino community.

Eddy Batres is a member of the Boone County Latin Affairs Committee.

“We could hear their derogatory words such as ‘drunks’, ‘dirty people’ and ‘crazy drunks,'” he said. “Just terms that shouldn’t exist among people when we’re trying to identify a segment of the population.”

For Ivan Silva, a rodeo promoter, it was the silence of the board during some of the worst comments that surprised him the most.

“They left [a member of the public] make this comment, ‘You know, if you want to practice your culture, go back to your country,’ he said. “Everyone was in shock. But no one said, ‘Hey, you’re not allowed here anymore. Don’t say that here.

The WNIJ reached out to Boone County Chairman Karl Johnson for comment, but received no response.

Batres says more representation is needed.

“Because we’re here and we pay taxes, we think it’s important for us to start taking local responsibility,” Batres said.

Besides La Trinidad, third district voters will find another Latin candidate, Juan M. Hernandez. The local Democratic Party chose him to replace Cherie Bartelt who retired this summer. Like De La Trinidad, he is running as a Democrat.

Republicans Sherry Branson, Rodney Riley, Marion Thornberry and Dana Logsdon are also running in the Third District. According to the Boone County Republican Club, they operate on a shared platform of “public safety, no new taxes, protecting farmland and supporting working families.”

Voters will choose up to four candidates to represent the district.

De La Trinidad joins several Latinos who have entered into political contests in northern Illinois.

Republican Jonathan Ojeda is vying to represent the growing Latino population in a state district that includes Boone County. He faces incumbent Democrat Dave Vella.

In Illinois’ newly redesigned 34th District, Republican Juan Reyes entered the race to face incumbent Steve Stadelman.

This story is part of WNIJ Hola’s ongoing coverage of how the growing Latino community in Northern Illinois is shaping the region.