Association of Latinos/as/xs Motivating Action (ALMA) Chicago held its second annual community reception Nov. 30 at La Celia Latin Kitchen in Chicago's Avondale neighborhood.
This free event introduced the inaugural ALMA del Líder (Soul of a Leader) Award, with its first recipient being Illinois Department of Human Service's (IDHS) Secretary and ALMA Board Member Dulce Quinterothe first non-binary person to lead any Illinois state agency.
According to ALMA's website, this award "recognizes an individual's commitment to advocating for and impacting the lives of others in the LGBTQ+ community. The awardee fully embodies the ideals of a true servant leader in their personal and professional lives."
ALMA Co-Founder and current Board President Julio Rodríguez said in a press release ahead of the event that, "Secretary Quintero is the embodiment of Latine LGBTQ+ leadership that my co-founders and I envisioned when we started ALMA nearly 35 years ago. To have their voice and values leading our state's largest agency is a gift to our community and to the people of Illinois."
In a recorded video to open the event, Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson spoke about ALMA's history and mission and praised Quintero for their "ongoing commitment and dedication to equality, community and empowerment."
Rodríguez spoke about how he and four other people began ALMA in 1989. He added that, since HIV and other pandemics have continued to manifest, especially in the Latine community, ALMA's "work is very much ahead of us, and we are very fortunate to have all of you enlisted in that work."
Additionally, Rodríguez recognized Illinois's "amazing governor who really supports our communities," and said he is honored to work for his administration. He also acknowledged former Deputy Governor Sol Flores, 26th Ward Alderperson Jessie Fuentes and State of Illinois Human Rights Commission Chair and Commissioner Mona Noriega whom he called "a pioneer in our community."
Illinois state Rep. Will Guzzardi said that, as an ally to LGBTQ+ and Latine people, he is "honored and inspired to work" with other elected officials in those communities. He added that the work public officials do would not be possible without the decades of work from organizations like ALMA.
ALMA Executive Director Manuel Hernández-Nuñez started off his remarks by speaking Hiwatahia, the Taino language reconstructed by his Higuayagua Taino tribe of the Caribbean. He reflected on the many strides the LGBTQ+ community has made over the years, including marriage equality and the increasing number of elected officials at many levels of government across the country.
Hernández-Nuñez also reminded attendees that "our celebration of progress should not blind us to the pressing issues that demand our attention. In recent times, we have witnessed the alarming rise of anti-LGBTQ legislation across the country. These legislative measures seek to undermine the rights and protections that have been so hard-won by our community. It is crucial for us to be informed and vigilant in the face of these challenges."
Hernández-Nuñez mentioned the large number of anti-trans bills being introduced in multiple states that specifically target trans youth. He added that, "As of May of this year, over 520 anti-LGBTQ+ bills have been introduced across the US, half of which explicitly target trans and gender non-conforming individuals; 70 have been signed into law. These bills attempt to limit the rights of LGBTQ+ individuals, including the lifesaving access to gender-affirming healthcare and limit their abilities to live freely as their most authentic selves. It is disheartening to see attempts to legislate discrimination, especially against the most vulnerable members of our communities.
"I also want to take time to acknowledge the lives of trans and gender non-conforming and nonbinary individuals who have been stripped from us at alarming rates. This year, more than 26 trans, gender non-conforming and nonbinary have lost their lives through violent means, that we know of; the majority being women of color with a trans experience. We must call out injustices and stand up in protections of all within our communities. We will say their names."
Hernández-Nuñez also spoke about ALMA's history over the past 10 years, including its name change; more diverse board; the ALMA Scholarship and Creating Change Scholarships, both engaging LGBTQ+ youth; new paid positions; new logo; and the organization's first of its kind LGBTQ+ Advocacy and Leadership Institute.
Hernández-Nuñez called on everyone to create "a world where every individual, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, can live authentically and without fear."
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker introduced Quintero via a video recording and also acknowledged all the work ALMA has done to advance LGBTQ+ equality in the state of Illinois.
Quintero started off by thanking their ancestors and the "pioneers in this room" who have "been carrying this work and creating the path for many of us to be here." They also acknowledged their life partner, Cindy Ibarra; niece, Xitlaly Quintero; and their many mentors, some of whom were in the room. They especially praised Flores, for being "a visionary from day one," and Rodríguez.
"I am here humbly and spiritually grateful to my ALMA family, for this incredible honor, for this incredible recognition," said Quintero. "Representation is so important. Like many of you, I have lived in many places throughout my life. My family first moved to Chicago from Mexico when I was nine years old. I come from very humble beginnings. I was a street vendor at one point of my life … I know what it means to be poor, not knowing if I'm going to have a next meal. I've also experienced homelessness."
Quintero also said their work now is primarily focused on helping the asylum-seeking migrants find safety, shelter and self-sufficiency. Quintero their full identity as a Mexican immigrant, LGBTQ+ activist, former street vendor and non-profit leader has been an integral part of the work they do at IDHS.
Legendary Chicago Drag Queen of the Year and Humboldt Park- born-and-raised Serena Fiierce regaled the crowd with a signature performance that garnered sustained cheers from the audience.
ALMA Board Secretary Mary Johnson and ALMA Program Coordinator Alfredo Flores also spoke, focusing on a fundraising call for the organization.
See almachicago.org/ .