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Local official proud of his Hispanic heritage, while his religious faith guides his leadership decisions

Benjamin Valdivieso

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The Latino population has grown significantly in the northern Illinois region. It’s being reflected in all aspects of society including government. Here’s a closer look at a local elected official whose thoughts and background demonstrate a diversity in the Latino experience.

Ben Valdivieso said he's always had a desire to get into politics.

“I think I've had a calling,” said Valdivieso who began his first term as a member of the Rochelle City Council in 2023.

“I don't know if it's God telling me that that's my calling,” he said.

Valdivieso is a deputy in the Winnebago County Sheriff’s Office.

He was born and raised in Rochelle and is first-generation Ecuadorian on his father’s side. His father immigrated in his youth to the U.S. in the 1960s.

“They moved here, my dad met my mom and they became kind of high school sweethearts,” Valdivieso said.

His mom’s side is white American with strong ties to the region.

“I identify myself as Hispanic,” he said. “Not to say that I'm not proud of my mom's side of the family. That's completely the opposite. I'm extremely proud of that heritage as well. And I think that's kind of what the United States is made up of is mixed families.”

He said his family is well known in the community since his grandfather was a Spanish teacher and his father owned a local business.

Latinos make up about 30 percent of the population in Rochelle.

That’s a five percent increase from the previous U.S. Census.

The growth in the Hispanic community is reflected on city council where Valdivieso is one of two Latinos elected to oversee the city.

He said while the city has made improvements, it can do better in serving Latinos, especially those speaking primarily Spanish.

“That culture is present,” he said. “We have to understand that it is present. They are hardworking members of our community. So, they need every opportunity to grow their business, to grow socially and economically that everyone else has.”

In the fall the city held a popular bilingual workshop on services available for opening a new business in town.

Valdivieso says he’s proud of his ethnic background, but when it comes to making decisions on the council, he leans on his Christian faith.

“If I'm struggling with a decision that I think needs to be made, I pray about it,” he said. “So, God hasn't let me down yet about giving me the answers when I need them.”

Valdivieso said it’s not frequent that he’s faced with tough choices. He attributes that to the fact city council members seats are nonpartisan and thus less concerned with party politics.

“Every single person on the city council wants to improve the community,” he said. “So we all have the same mindset as far as wanting to make the best decisions to help Rochelle grow.”

On the council, he’s said he’s focused on supporting business development in the downtown area.

Also, he has an eye towards national politics.

He said one of his concerns is the country’s finances as Congress continue to debate whether to approve additional funding for the war in Ukraine and Israel’s war in Gaza.

“Our country is in extraordinary debt and there's only so much money to go certain places,” he said. “And every dollar is accounted for. So, when that goes to areas outside the United States, that means it's not helping areas within the country.”

He said it's possible that federal grants that have helped cities like Rochelle may get cut if there are budget issues at the federal level.

Valdivieso said he identifies as a conservative Republican. He said he’s an avid supporter of gun rights but said limits to individuals who may have mental health challenges to firearms are important.

On immigration, he’s not immune to anti-immigrant rhetoric claiming criminals are flooding the southern border.

“There's news stories all the time,” he said, “that a five-time convicted felon is back in the United States and has committed some type of crime.”

And at the same time, he recognized that like his father’s family who immigrated to the U.S. there needs to be a pathway in place for folks to arrive legally to the U.S.

At the U.S.-Mexico border, he proposes the creation of larger immigration facilities so that more people can be processed at entry points.

“So, then we can give those people at least temporary visas to be in here,” he said. “So, that they are documented, but also that they're starting to have the opportunity to reap the benefits of living the United States -- whether it's [to] get a job or help out the community.”

He said he’s happy serving on the city council in Rochelle, but also would be open to serve in higher office if the opportunity arises.

Leer en español

A Chicago native, Maria earned a Master's Degree in Public Affairs Reporting from the University of Illinois Springfield . Maria is a 2022-2023 corps member for Report for America. RFA is a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues and communities. It is an initiative of The GroundTruth Project, a nonprofit journalism organization. Un residente nativo de Chicago, Maria se graduó de University of Illinois Springfield con una licenciatura superior en periodismo de gobierno.