There are two words Juan R. Rangel thinks should be embraced rather than disparaged: "assimilation" and "Americanized."
Rangel is chief executive officer of the United Neighborhood Organization, which operates 11 charter schools and is opening up three this fall.
"I think we are trying to take back what those words mean," Rangel says. "[Some people] don't like Americanization, they don't like assimilation. But that is what has always worked for immigrants.
Juan Rangel (Brian Jackson~Sun-Times)
"There is an element in our communities that wants to retain their ethnic identity and their language," he says. "To be Americanized is almost a bad thing. We are fighting that. ... i don't think our story is unique. It is the story of Chicago. It is the story of this country."
Rangel says one of his goals has been to get the right kind of leadership. The Metropolitan Leadership Institute, which he helped create 11 years ago, has become "the 'go-through group' if you want to be involved in civic life, civic affairs," he says. One of MLI's "graduates," Silvana Tabares, won a hotly contested primary victory March 20 over Rudy Lozano Jr. in the Illinois 21st Illinois Representative District.
The Latino community has great assets, he says. It has family orientation, a tremendous work ethic and an entrepreneurial spirit. Even in Little Village, one of the poorer neighborhoods, there is a thriving business community, he says.
"You have the makings of a great middle class," Rangel says.
As for UNO, Rangel says he hopes social historians in 50 years will ask what made Chicago's Hispanics more successful than those of other cities such as Los Angeles and decide that UNO was a big part of it.
"We started out as kind of a traditional organizing group in the [Saul] Alinsky model," he said. "Along the way we kind of found our voice in terms of what we thought the Hispanic community was about. ... I don't think that any of us anticipated that we would be come one of the largest charter school operators in Illinois, but that is what we have become."
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