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Rosa Escareño, among the highest-ranking Hispanic woman in the City of Chicago, sat down with IHCC to explain her professional ascent. While small in stature, she looms large in City government and has worked hard to forge a successful career.

Her official biography

Rosa Escareño is a dedicated public servant with more than 20 years of government experience. As the Commissioner of the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection (BACP), Ms. Escareño is a key member of Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot’s administration charged with modernizing and bringing equity to Chicago’s marketplace.

Ms. Escareño has made public service her life’s work – she has worked under three Chicago Mayors and managed day-to-day operations and implemented policy reforms across numerous City agencies.

Throughout her career, she has advocated for initiatives to support business growth, benefit low-income residents and working families, and improve health and public safety efforts across Chicago.

She holds a Masters in Communications from Northwestern University and a Bachelor of Arts from Loyola University Chicago.

A story to tell

Ms. Escareño was born in a small town in Zacatecas, Mexico. 50 years ago, her mother was widowed and became head of the household with six children – five girls and a boy.

The outlook was bleak and migrating seemed the only way out of poverty. The family arrived in Chicago and was immediately impressed by the size of the city. From the small town to the big city, everything seemed overwhelming. However, their courage never broke. The family fought against adversity, using it as an engine to achieve a dream.

After all those years, what Ms. Escareño remembers best is her mother’s positive spirit, which instilled in her and her siblings the attitude that the most important thing was to work hard. Her mother would give 100 percent at work and expected her children to do the same at school. This attitude has stuck with Ms. Escareño throughout her professional career.

The following is the first in a series of interviews with Hispanic women who occupy relevant jobs in Illinois. Rosa Escareño answered all IHCC questions.

If you had to highlight any part of your life story for many Latinos to identify themselves, what would you say?

I think I would highlight my mother’s struggle and perseverance. New to this country, she understood many years ago not to sweat the small stuff. Perhaps without knowing it, she was a feminist pioneer. She believed that women had the ability to fight for their rights. There is no better example that a girl can see from such a strong role model. That marked everything that came later in my life.

In what aspects of your professional life do you feel your “Latin blood” stand out the most?

I started working here in City Hall right after high school as a receptionist. At times I felt invisible and some people did not even greet me. I had to study and fight harder to achieve respect. I fought for everything and nothing was handed to me. That is why today I always put myself out there and respect everyone, no matter their background or title.

My background has taught me to see my work as a privilege. I am here to serve the people of my city. My work allows me to be constantly reminded about being of service, as I believe the city of Chicago gave me so much when I was growing up.

 Rosa on 8th grade at Mitchell Elementary School, Chicago. Rosa on 8th grade at Mitchell Elementary School, Chicago.

What values do you feel most proud of pushing forward as an official of Hispanic origin?

I have held many different positions, but throughout my career I have always valued the efforts put forth by others and evaluated people based on their merits. As a Hispanic woman I think this is so important.

My motivation has always been the little people who often have difficulty navigating the complexities of government. In my current role, I work hard to make sure small businesses feel that Chicago gives them all the tools to grow and be successful. I have always been motivated by the fight for equity and working to prevent injustices. Today, a large part of my job is protecting consumer from exploitation

What obstacles do you face in politics being a woman and of Hispanic origin? 

Women have an important role in this society and especially in government. I believe it is essential to give a human face to politics and even more important to ensure that service delivery is reaching everyone in all corners of the city.

Often, women can be overlooked for promotions. In my job, it is so important to step up and be a role model for others. I always stand up and make it clear who I am and how I can contribute to the matter at hand. It is my job to represent others and reach back to bring everyone forward.

What was your experience working with three different Mayors of Chicago?

One word- intense. Each had their own personality and their own ways that I have had to learn in many different roles. Each has contributed to the great city we have today. I am proud to work for Mayor Lightfoot today. She is a strong woman of great personality who is giving more visibility to female empowerment within City Hall and fighting hard for equity.

Throughout my career I have worked hard to prove myself. I have to set an example, and I am always the first to arrive and the last to leave. I have learned a great deal from the three Mayors I have been lucky enough to work for.

With your experience in communications for the city, what is the most important message that Chicago should give to the Hispanic community?

We must continue to fight to maintain our status as a sanctuary city. We have to fight against fear and against the message President Trump wants to send to us from Washington, that the best thing we should do is to hide. We have to fight every day against racism. This Hispanic Community should know that the City officials are on the front line for our people’s defense.

It is so important for us right now to take part in the 2020 Census. We need to send a message that we are united and that we count. The President is trying to scare us, but the government will invest and provide services according to the information obtained from the Census. If we don’t raise our voice, if we don’t take part in the Census, we might see limited resources. It is so important to make sure we are counted. Let’s not be frightened.

In which way has the IHCC helped your work during all these years in public administration?

We need reliable Hispanic organizations to spread the message that the City of Chicago is here to help small businesses so they can operate smoothly. IHCC has earned their respect and a place at the table to represent entrepreneurs and put Hispanic businesses on the map. In politics or in any discipline nobody does anything without help. We need to be united and work together, and I am so proud of our partnership with IHCC.

You represent two important minorities for Chicago, women, and Hispanics. What are the challenges you face for each of these groups in the next decade in our city and our country?

Just as I expressed before, women and Latinos are part of the city’s future and we should not let anything get in our way. I want to emphasize the value and importance of continuing to promote education and taking part in public service.

I like to say, “When there is a will there is a way.” Therefore, we need to make sure the next generation has a good education. We need more Hispanics in college and ready to be our next generation of leaders.

Every day in Chicago we receive new opportunities for high tech jobs and I don’t know if there are enough young Hispanics applying. It’s time to build off the spirit and struggles of our parents and grandparents towards a future that we are qualified to lead.

What paradigms do Latinas need to break for them to work in political positions?

The first thing is to start believing in ourselves. There are many Hispanics, but I don’t think there are enough Hispanic women exercising leadership in companies or in the public sector. I am proud to do my small part.

There are no limits for us women. It’s important to be united and give ourselves courage. Many times, we talk about how to educate our children, to build their strengths and desires to progress. I am convinced that for Chicago to have a Latina Mayor, we must first believe in ourselves.

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