Rick Garcia - Transcript

Transcript of Rick Garcia
Interviewer: Dorothy Nygren
Date: 4/20/13
Place: Edgewater Historical Society
Transcriber: Carly Faison
Total Time: 19:44

Copyright © 2013 Edgewater Historical Society

0:00 DN: Today is April 20, 2013. We’re at the Edgewater Historical Society, 5358 N. Ashland. I’m Dorothy Nygren and I’m interviewing Rick Garcia. Welcome to the Edgewater Historical Society Rick, and I want to thank you for all your contributions to the Edgewater community and to the humanity at large I would say and congratulate you on being chosen one of the Living Treasures.

0:30 RG: Thank you so much, it’s really a pleasure to be here. I’m deeply honored by this. So thank you.

DN: I’d like to start the interview by asking you how you came to Edgewater.

RG: I came to Chicago in 1986 to work for Mayor Harold Washington and initially I lived in Lakeview. I fell in love with Chicago in general and decided to stay. Then when it was time to buy a home I looked around and I saw that Edgewater was the place that I wanted to be. I got a bigger bang for my buck in Edgewater than I did in other places and it was a neighborhood and a community that I thought I wanted to be part of. That’s how I came to Edgewater.

1:21 DN: Why do you think Edgewater was such an interesting area to live in?

RG: There were a variety of reasons. One is the diversity of the area. Often times when we talk about diverse areas, sometimes that means that it’s a little seedy here or a little seedy there. Not in Edgewater. In Edgewater, we have great diversity, ethnic diversity, religious diversity, all kinds of people live here as a community. That’s a thing that I was really impressed by, is that we may be from different backgrounds, we may have different lives, but we’re all neighbors and I think we look out for each other. That’s a thing that I was really impressed with in Edgewater.

2:09 DN: So you came to Edgewater, settled down, and you started to become active in community affairs. How did that come about?

RG: Well, it came about through working with Harold Washington and then unfortunately he died. I was here, I was a gay activist working on the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance or as we called it in those days, the gay rights ordinance. One thing led to another. I went from working on passing legislation to working to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender or frankly all citizens from discrimination in the city of Chicago. Then we moved on to the county of Cook and I started going to Springfield, which I continued to do, to work for good, strong, human rights legislation to make sure that everyone, everyone is treated fairly and equitably under the law. In a way, this really brings me back to Edgewater because as I look at my neighbors, we are Asian, we are Catholic, we are Protestant, agnostic, Jew, we are Muslim, and the ethnicity, and we all live together. I mean I just look at my building. Four hundred units, and it is like a United Nations in there, and it’s lovely, and it’s wonderful, and that encourages me. That gives me an enormous amount of strength when you’re beating your head against the wall with those legislators in Springfield, and it is not a pleasant task. Then you come home, just maybe for two or three days before you have to go back, and you’re rejuvenated because I see the work that I’m to do, which is to make sure that everyone is treated fairly and equitably, I live in an area, that’s where the rubber hits the road. Because it is so diverse, and so lovely in that diversity.

4:07 DN: So would I be accurate in saying that the kinds of tolerance and acceptance that we have in Edgewater might be a little bit ahead of the curve of the nation?

RG: Totally. I think so, and you know the thing is I never liked the word “tolerance.” I don’t want to be tolerated and you shouldn’t be tolerated, but accepted and respected. I think that’s where we are in Edgewater is the respect and the acceptance of our neighbors, and we celebrate and cherish that diversity. I think there’s no small, by the way, no small reason for this, is that the elected officials that we have here in Edgewater. I’ve always admired them going from the day I arrived in Edgewater to now. We have some of the best aldermen. We’ve had some of the best state representatives. We’ve had some of best state senators and I find that so encouraging because they set in a way, they help set the tone for the community. On the other hand, the community, because we’re so good, elects good people. That is, so it’s this wonderful symbiotic relationship. We as residents of Edgewater expect a lot in terms of decency and fairness. We expect a lot. Our elected officials give us a lot.

5:47 You know whether it was Kathy Osterman many years ago or Mary Ann Smith or Harry Osterman or you know, Kelly Cassidy, Heather. Go down the list, and Carol Ronen, can’t forget my Carol. But they’ve really I think done a good job here in Edgewater.

6:08 DN: I would wonder if you would have any comments even if at the grassroots local level if you’ve had any involvement for example with block clubs or local businesses because many block clubs and local businesses are extremely accepting of all kinds of diversity and even way back before the nation was accepting of, accepted gender diversity, especially in leadership positions?

6:37 RG: Absolutely. This is one of, there are some reasons why I think Edgewater is such a strong community, and that is because of our block clubs and our neighborhood organizations and the businesses and the churches. We have people who are looking out for their neighbors. I remember when some of these streets when I first got here. Some of these streets were not as nice, if you will, as they are now. That’s because people banded together, formed a block club, and they watch their street. They watched their neighbors. That’s a thing that I was very impressed with twenty years ago. That our block clubs are strong, our churches. We have a variety of churches and synagogues here in the area and they are like a foundation for our neighborhoods. So you know the strong block clubs, the strong churches, the businesses.

7:39 You know when we look at the businesses just up and down Broadway and/or Clark, those, the other thing that I like about it is that they’re not all chains. Yeah there are some chains over there, but they’re independent businesses and I think that makes for a really strong community and isn’t just some multinational corporation coming in and setting up their shop on the corner. These are real flesh and blood people who live here, who work here, who want to make sure that everything is perfect here.

8:10 DN: Let me ask you if you see, since you’ve lived here for so long, have you seen block clubs or local. You talked about at the aldermanic and political level of human rights acceptance and encouragement for legislation. Have you seen that at the block club level or local business level?

8:36 RG: Absolutely.

DN: Because I misplaced myself on this, maybe you could go back and talk about it?

8:42 RG: So we’re going to talk about the block clubs and the local–

DN: The human rights issue.

RG: The human rights issue. Here’s one of the things that I was very excited by in Edgewater. That is we have our block clubs and other neighborhood organizations, but mostly the block clubs, that are extremely diverse, that you have welcoming of who our neighbors are and how are we going to make, how are we going to make our neighborhood better. They all work together and I’ve seen them work together beautifully now of course you know. There’s always those little internal carryings on and fights and the personalities, but the reality is is that here in Edgewater these block clubs are the foundation, as our churches are, as our businesses are a foundation and they set the tone. Here it is a very welcoming tone and it is a tone that all are welcome and everyone will be treated fairly and equitably because that makes for a strong community. It makes for a safe community, and if you know your neighbors and they know you, you look out for each other. That happens right here in Edgewater in a way that I haven’t seen in other areas of the city. I think it’s very exciting.

10:03 DN: Moving on from Edgewater and going back and talking about human rights legislation and Springfield and other things like that, would you like to comment on what your struggle is right now and what you see going forward to the future?

RG: I’m working on the equal marriage bill right now and Edgewater plays an extremely important role in this. We have many lesbian and gay couples who live in Edgewater. We have lesbian and gay couples who have kids who live in Edgewater. The other excellent thing is that legislators from Edgewater are all leaders in the equal marriage movement in our state. And so this is a great place to be because we’re right on the cutting edge of fairness and decency for the whole state of Illinois and it’s springing up, as so often it has, it’s springing up from Edgewater. I mean I go back to the gay rights bill in the city of Chicago. The late alderman Kathy Osterman was one of the leaders. It was Edgewater and the legislators from Edgewater who led that effort.

11:21 In Springfield the civil union bill passed a couple of years ago. It was Edgewater’s senator Carol Ronen who passed it and recently the Illinois Senate passed an equal marriage bill and it was Edgewater’s Senator [Heather] Steans who was the leader of that. In the house, we have Kelly Cassidy and just down the block a little bit, Representative Greg Harris who are leaders on these issues. So in terms of, I think Edgewater in a way is a perfect package. Edgewater in a way is a perfect package. We have our block clubs, our neighborhoods, our neighbors, the roots, and then you go up to businesses, and then churches, and excellent schools. Then you have our legislators who make sure that all of us are protected and all of us are taken care of. I think Edgewater is a perfect package and that’s why I’m thrilled to live here and to be part of this wonderful community.

12:23 DN: You had told me earlier that every bill that you introduced, not that you introduced, but every bill that you’ve supported has had success. Can you tell us that in your own words?

RG: Yes. [laughs] Well I usually don’t like to talk about this because one person can’t do anything. You have to have a good team. But I’ve always had a very very good team and in the late 1980s I worked to pass legislation in city council that prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Then from there, with that success and you’re kind of feeling “well, we can do it” we went to Cook County and passed a nondiscrimination ordinance for Cook County. Then went to Springfield and passed a nondiscrimination bill for the whole state of Illinois, one of only twenty states. We also did civil unions for Illinois, which was a stopgap measure until we got to full marriage.

13:32 Slowly but surely, incrementally we’ve introduced legislation to protect everyone on the basis of their sexual orientation or their gender identity to make sure everyone’s treated fairly and equitably under the law. We work hard to make sure that those laws are implemented. So that is the path that I’ve taken here and I’m going back to the whole thing is that Edgewater has been the community that has sustained and encouraged me in the work that I do. So that’s another reason why I love Edgewater so much.

14:11 DN: What remains to be done in terms of your goals?

RG: Well we want to have, here’s the thing. When we have victories, like good nondiscrimination legislation for instance or equal marriage, we have to make sure that those laws are implemented. We have to make sure in just living here, we have to make sure that our neighbors are looked after and taken care of, we’re looked after and taken care of, to keep an eye out for the safety of our neighborhood. We see this all over the country now. Everywhere and especially in Chicago. The outrageous murder rate, the violence that we see, and the way that I believe we can fight that or stop that is to have strong neighborhood associations, strong block clubs, strong churches in our communities, and keeping an eye out for our neighbors. I think that’s what the challenge is. I think the challenge we have in Edgewater is to continue to make Edgewater the excellent it is to live, so there’s no back sliding, there’s no going back. It’s just being forward. And that’s how we do it. Strong families, strong block clubs, strong churches, then we’ll have a strong community and that’s the way we stop the violence and stop the problems that we have in some other areas of the city.

15:49 DN: Excellent comments. Excellent. I was going to ask you what makes Edgewater special place to live but I don’t think I need to. [laughs]

RG: Almost everything I say is how this is a special place to live. I have friends who are coming from, going to be moving up here. They’re looking for a place. They want to come to Chicago, and my friends from St. Louis want to come to Chicago and where do I send them? Edgewater. Come! Look at my building, look at the building across the way. Look at the building on the corner.

16:20 DN: So I’d like to ask you what do you feel is your most significant personal achievement so far because I’m sure there will be more?

16:29 RG: I think being one of the key people in passing strong gay rights legislation in the state of Illinois. When you look at the states all around us, Illinois stands out as a beacon. We have civil unions, we’re soon to have marriage, we have nondiscrimination legislation, and the states around us except for Iowa isn’t anywhere near any of those protections. So, you know, I sleep well at night because I know that the work that I’ve done has protected hundreds of thousands of individuals in the great state of Illinois. That makes me very very happy and proud.

17:11 DN: And you have every right to feel that way, every right. I’d like to ask you what advice you would give to future generations?

17:20 RG: This is what I, I talk a lot to colleges and high schools, and I say this to my nieces and nephew: “Do what you love. Find out what your passion is and do it, and do it to the best of your ability. Know your role and play it to the hilt. Know what you love. Don’t just because your mother wants you to do this or your father wants you to do that or everybody in your family goes into this business or that. Forget about it. What do you want? What makes you want to get up in the morning? What puts that spark in your heart and light step? That is, that is what we want and that’s what you need to do. Be happy, and do what you love.”

18:09 DN: This is your story, Rick, so are there any additional things you would like to talk about or share with us while we’re doing this interview?

RG: Well, you know, I do. And I think this is my story, and I have this honor not because frankly of anything that I’ve done, but I look at my parents and giving me an excellent, excellent education. I look at the Catholic Sisters who taught me in grade school, high school, and college, how many of us do you see, that instilled in me what I needed to do. So my family has always been very supportive and have given me the tools to do the work that I do and it’s work that I love and work that I’m proud of. So I think that that’s, I have to acknowledge of myself I can do nothing, but with strong family, strong friends, strong neighborhood I’m able to do the work that I do. It’s difficult work, it is, but it’s very fulfilling. But it isn’t just me, it’s the team. It’s the people that you surround yourself with.

19:22 DN: Are there anything else, is there anything else that you would like to share with us?

RG: I don’t, did we cover everything?

DN: We covered all of my questions but you know I’d like to reserve the right to interview you at a future point if you think of some more.

RG: Absolutely! I love talking.

DN: Great. It’s been a real pleasure Rick, thank you for your time.

RG: Thank you, thank you so much. I appreciate this.

DN: I’ll conclude the interview now.