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Asian Americans Have A Voice With New City Council Caucus

By Chuck Sudo in News on Jun 24, 2013 6:00PM

Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th) at the Old Town School of Folk Music in January 2012. Credit: Samantha Abernethy/Chicagoist

Hispanics may be the largest ethnic group in Chicago but Asian Americans are the fastest growing bloc. According to 2010 Census numbers, Chicago's Asian American population increased from 423,032 to 583,563, a 38 percent growth. The influx has transformed once lily-white neighborhoods like Bridgeport into veritable melting pots and further informed the cultural and business fabrics of neighborhoods like Albany Park, Avondale, Rogers Park, West Ridge and Pilsen.

With this increase in the Asian American population comes language barriers between residents and business owners and government agencies, which is one of the reasons for the formation of the City Council Asian American Caucus. The new group brings together 11 aldermen whose wards feature sizable Asian American populations: James Balcer (11th); Danny Solis (25th); Dick Mell (33rd); Margaret Laurino (39th); Pat O'Connor (40th); Brendan Reilly (42nd); James Cappleman (46th); Ameya Pawar (47th); Harry Osterman (48th); Joe Moore (49th); and Debra Silverstein (50th).

Pawar told Chicagoist the caucus's formation was a result of three-to-four months of discussions. "What we found was we kept hearing stories about language barriers between business owners and city inspectors. The city and our communities have become more diverse and we wanted to figure out how we wanted to tackle these and other issues."

2013_6_24_asianamericancaucus.jpg Some of those other issues include legislation at all levels of government concerning immigration, language access at all levels, education, advocacy and public health concerns such as Hepatitis B, which is an ongoing problem in the Asian American community—"it's kind of taboo with some communities," Pawar said.

The language barriers and public health concerns dovetail into the launch of The Health Care for America Plan—aka "Obamacare"—later this year. The federal government has already started an outreach campaign involving professional sports leagues encouraging healthy Americans to sign up for health insurance coverage when the program goes live in October.

Pawar believes that's only part of the outreach necessary. "When Obamacare launches in October, families for whom English isn't their primary language are going to be required to fill out more paperwork than what's found in a college application," he said. "How are we as a city going to make it possible for Asian Americans to find these things?"

Moving forward, the Asian American Caucus will work with community groups and other local organizations to spread the word that there is a group in City Hall working to address their needs. "We want them to know we're here to work with you and there is a vehicle available to listen to them as a bloc," Pawar said.