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Carrying on the Rudy Lozano legacy

Note: Parts of this article were originally published in Spanish in Contratiempo magazine in 2004. It appears here in English for the first time, with some previously unpublished material, to provide the background to Rudy Lozano Jr.' s run for 23rd District State Representative.

Nearly 35 years after Rudy Lozano's passing, Lupe Lozano still cooks in the kitchen where she found her husband murdered. Many people suggested that she move, for security reasons; the family and close associates were convinced that it was a contract killing ordered by one of his many enemies. But Lupe felt that it was important to stay there. The kids moved with her folks next door for a while but asked to come back home. She doesn't think she'll ever move; there are too many memories in this house.

Over the years the, this brick two-flat near 26th and Pulaski has become almost a museum. Among the many vintage photos in the living room there's a portrait of the whole family with Harold Washington; there's also a large crate containing the pictures, posters and panels commemorating Rudy's life that were displayed for months after the 1991 dedication of the Rudy Lozano Library, located in the heart of PiIsen near Ashland and 18thStreet. In the kitchen hang the lyrics to a song written by a friend and sung at his funeral. It reads, in part: "It is better to die one your feet/than to live on your knees./Brother Rudy Lozano/your death has not been in vain. The ideas that you left us/l have them here in my hands."

If the Lozanos can't help surrounding themselves with mementos of the year 1983, it's not just because that was when Rudy was taken away from them. It's also because that was a time when the end of Irish-driven machine that had run the city for decades seemed like a real possibility. It was a time when an African-American man could become Mayor of Chicago with the aid of a Latino sidekick, and spend more time working with community activists than with wheeler-dealers. It was the height of the independent movement into which Rudy had — pretty much literally — dragged the whole family. "Imagine, as a baby I was at marches," says Rudy Jr. "There's a photo of me marching as a three year-old, holding a poster."

In November 2002, the city's Department of Cultural Affairs placed a seven-foot tall porcelain-enameled sign with photographs and a short bio of Rudy in front of the house; he was the first Latino to be honored with a Chicago historical plaque. During the dedication ceremony, Emma, the younger sister who, like everyone else he touched, was politicized by Rudy, spent as much time waxing nostalgic about the glory days of the independent movement as she did eulogizing her brother.

"Next year, let's bring together again everyone who worked together to elect Washington," Emma said. "Let's come together as the coalition we once were. For those who were there …" For a moment her speech halted and her eyes were fixed on something only she saw. "For those who weren't there …" She paused again, then concluded wistfully, "it was a magnificent thing."

But 2003 came and went, and a new coalition between blacks and Latinos did not materialize. Does this mean that the machine has successfully wiped out independent politics in Chicago, that the city lacks leaders of the caliber of Rudy and Washington, or both?

* * *

Organizing was in Rudy's blood. His father was a metal worker, and "whenever he'd go on strike all he talked about was 'fight for your rights, fight oppression, maintain unity,'" Emma said. "We definitely had a leftist upbringing."

So it wasn't too surprising that in 1970, at the age of 19, Rudy led a walkout at Little Village's Harrison High to protest a lack of Latino staff at the mostly Hispanic school. He went on to organize similar protests at UIC in the early 70s and form a local chapter of CASA (Center for Autonomous Social Action) in 1974 to assist undocumented workers and encourage his then-apolitical community to vote. In 1979 he joined the International Ladies' Garment Union and made a pioneering effort to unionize the undocumented in Chicago.

Until that point, the only elected Latino representative in Chicago was William Emilio Rodriguez, a socialist who served one term as alderman in the 1910s. But the 1980 Census that showed Latinos comprised 14 percent of city's population got the attention of the machine. When Mayor Jane Byrne was attacked for a redistricting plan that reduced the number of majority African-American wards and failed to create a single Latino one, she reacted by kicking a white alderman upstairs to a high-paying city job and replacing him with an attorney in Ed Burkes' law firm whose last name was Martinez. He had always gone by the first name Joseph, but after his appointment he insisted on being called Jose.

Rudy and other independent Latinos saw the handwriting on the wall, and they wouldn't stand for such tokenism. In 1980 they approached black leaders, including Washington, who was then a congressman, to draft a strategy for the nomination of the first non-white Chicago schools superintendent. Some Latino organizations, like Pilsen Neighbors, demanded a Latino superintendent, but Rudy wanted the position to go to an African-American. "On the Latino side, Rudy was the person who was willing to give a little, to compromise," says Rep. Danny Davis, (D - 7th District), who was a freshman alderman at the time.

Rudy and CASA leaders like Jesus "Chuy" Garcia had more in mind than just the school superintendent issue. They envisioned a long-term political alliance between the city's burgeoning African-American and Latino populations. With hindsight that may seem perfectly natural, but at the time it was a radical concept: No one had yet tried to build such a coalition, here or elsewhere in the nation. Washington and other African-Americans embraced the idea, but there were several black leaders who felt that working with the Latino newcomers would be a disservice to their own long-suffering communities. "We would have big arguments about why blacks and Latinos should work together," says Davis, who was elected Alderman in 1979.

Eventually, these independents hammered out a plan to join forces in legislative districts where blacks and Latinos constituted a majority, according to Davis: If a district was mostly Latino, they would endorse a Latino for the state senate and an African-American for state representative, and vice-versa.

Carrying on the Rudy Lozano legacy, Pt. 2

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