Chicago – As a boy, U.S. Rep. Luis Vicente Gutíerrez was considered "too American to be Puerto Rican" and he also suffered discrimination and rejection and was considered an immigrant in the land of his parents' birth.
Perhaps that is where the rebellious nature arose that transformed little "Louis" into the Luis of today, a Democratic congressman in his 10th term representing Illinois' 4th District, which comprises several Chicago neighborhoods.
At 57, Gutíerrez has served in the House of Representatives in Washington since 1993, when he became the first Latino from the Midwest to be elected to Congress, where his work on behalf of immigrants made him a national leader of the immigration reform movement.
"Many people see a contradiction between my emphasis on immigrants and my 'Puerto Rican-ness,'" Gutíerrez said in an interview with Efe.
"But it's precisely because I feel Puerto Rican, and understand what it is to live as a Latino in the United States, that I can understand the needs of immigrants and feel solidarity with them," he added.
Gutíerrez recently held in Chicago a public meeting to provide information about the Department of Homeland Security's new rules for deportation, a gathering attended by hundreds of mainly Mexican immigrants.
"I see all these people together and I dream that someday they will be standing in line to receive their Green Cards," he said.
"We all have yearnings and dreams that are a little exaggerated, and mine is to welcome these people to give them the 'mica' (a slang word for Green Card) which is the medicine they need to achieve legality and so that they aren't exploited any more," he said.
Gutíerrez was born in Chicago and grew up in Lincoln Park, which then was a community of immigrant workers.
His mother worked in a factory and his father drove a taxi, "sweating blood to give me a future," he said.
When Gutíerrez finished his first year of high school, his parents decided to return to their hometown of San Sebastian, Puerto Rico.
"My parents told me they were going to return to 'our land,' and I imagined that it was also mine, but upon arriving (people considered me) a gringo and mistreated me," he recalled.
"In Lincoln Park they called me 'spic,' and in Puerto Rico I was gringo or 'americanito.' I didn't speak Spanish, I became 'Louis' and didn't even know how to pronounce my last name. I felt I was the butt of all the jokes and the scorn they gave me made me feel alone and isolated," he said.
That experience, he said, caused him to realize that this was the suffering faced by everyone who leaves his own land to find a better future, including his parents who "even though they are citizens with passports, they suffer from prejudice."
"That's why I can't see abuse and keep quiet. I have to speak up and denounce it, it's part of my nature," he said.
Luis returned to Chicago in 1974 to enroll in Northeastern Illinois University, where he became involved in student activism and in social justice issues.
He wrote for the student publication "Que ondee sola" and became president of the Union for Puerto Rican Students.
In 1977, the recent graduate returned to Puerto Rico to marry his girlfriend Soraida but the next year he was back in Chicago again looking for a job.
Gutíerrez worked as a taxi driver, like his father, as a public school teacher and as a caseworker for the Illinois Department of Children & Family Services.
He entered politics in 1983, working as an assistant for Chicago's first African American mayor, Harold Washington, and in 1986 he was elected alderman for the 26th ward.