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Increasing Latino representation and access to city services are top priorities for Rochelle City council member

Rochelle City Council Member Rosie Arteaga (far left) takes notes during a Rochelle City Council meeting.
Maria Gardner Lara
Rochelle City Council Member Rosie Arteaga (far left) takes notes during Rochelle City Council meeting.

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It’s the end of the school day and a kindergarten teacher heads back to the classroom after all her students have been picked up.

This is Rochelle City Council member Rosie Arteaga’s full-time job.

Arteaga became the first Hispanic ever elected to the city council when she began her term in 2021.

“It started as just to show that we can be on a ballot, like, ‘hey, it's about time people get out there and run and represent,'” she said.

Latinos make up nearly 30 percent of Rochelle’s population. That’s a five percent increase from the previous U.S. Census.

She says the role has involved a lot of learning and helping residents connect to city resources to resolve their issues.

One area where there’s an information gap for the Latino community is knowledge regarding city resources available for launching a business.

To address this need the city is hosting a bilingual program on how to start a small business in Rochelle.

Jenny Thompson, the city’s director of community engagement said this upcoming event is Arteaga’s baby.

“She's an idea person and so, she kind of brought this and everybody ran with it,” she said.

The event will include presentations from the Rochelle Chamber of Commerce, and the city’s public health and community development departments.

“Whether they're an English speaker or Spanish speaker, we want that process to be simple and straightforward for anybody,” Thompson said.

“We don't want any of the government red tape to ever be what would hold somebody back from starting a business.”

Arteaga hopes the event will spur people to move their ideas forward.

“Maybe you want to open your own plumbing business and you want to learn how to learn how to write your own business plan before you open it up,” Arteaga said.

“Maybe you want to learn about any of the buildings that are in the downtown area that are vacant.”

She said events like these help ensure that regardless of background and class, all residents have the same opportunity to learn about city resources.

Arteaga said when her parents immigrated from Mexico, they arrived with little to their name and certainly not an inheritance.

“And thus, for families like mine, information is essential. It’s information that in some cases Latinos are the last to know about."

Arteaga was born and raised in Mendota, nearly thirty miles south of Rochelle. As a kid she oftentimes was the bridge for information for her family.

“When my parents came to conferences, I was the translator,” she said.

She said the need for representation is what helped drive her to be a teacher.

“I wanted more of my own culture. I wanted more of me, and people like me and people like me,” she said.

In Rochelle School District 231, Latinos make up nearly half of the student population, while only eight percent of teachers are Latino.

Colorful banners hang throughout her classroom. A sarape-like cloth with bright reds drapes over her desk. The aesthetics reflect her heritage and the diversity of students in the dual language school.

As a council member at city hall, Arteaga said she pushes for more representation in the city, especially for bilingual folks in the police and fire department.

She says it’s about ensuring that language isn’t a barrier to care.

“What happens if you arrive at somebody's house and they're dying, and you can't communicate because you don't understand what the problem is?” Arteaga said.

Rochelle Fire Department Chief David Sawlsville said increasing the number of bilingual personnel in the department is a priority.

“The applications that come here for people that want to be firefighters, that should absolutely reflect the local population,” he said.

“But when it comes to offering the job, the job should go to the most qualified, like I said Javier, tested first on our list.”

He's referring to Javier Salinas. He along with John Plaza are the first Latinos ever hired for full time positions in the fire department.

At the city council, Latino representation increased since Arteaga began. This year Ben Valdivieso was elected to the council.

How to Start a Small Business presentation
Thursday, Nov. 9.
5-6:30 p.m.
531 S. 7th St.
Rochelle, IL

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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.