Chicago – Miguel del Valle, retired from politics after 20 years in the Illinois state Senate, five years as Chicago city clerk and an unsuccessful bid to be this metropolis' first Hispanic mayor, now works as a volunteer in education while attempting to define the role of progressives in the city's future.
"Anyone who has been a community organizer always returns to his first love," he told Efe in an interview.
The 59-year-old Del Valle recalled his professional debut as an organizer of the Puerto Rican community in Chicago's West Town and Humboldt Park neighborhoods.
His activism began at Northeastern Illinois University, where he joined the Puerto Rican Students' Union and wrote for the student publication Que Ondee Sola, and later continued with the Barreto Boys & Girls Club and as executive director of the Association House, a non-profit social service and educational outfit.
"Those beginnings are what inspire me now to reinvent myself and search for the best way to change life in Chicago," he said.
Del Valle, who was defeated this year by Rahm Emanuel in the election for the new mayor, said that "the political panorama has changed radically in our city" with the retirement of Richard M. Daley and the exit from the political scene of a man who governed Chicago for 22 years.
"This is a time to define who the true progressives are and think about the city's future," he said.
Del Valle, who came to Chicago at the age of 4 with his parents from Vega Baja, Puerto Rico, did not get off to a good start in his first years at public school.
"Because I didn't speak English at 6 or 7 the teacher just let me play in the hall - and then told my mom I had lost the year," he said.
His perseverance and the family's support allowed him to make progress with his studies to become one of the first people from his neighborhood to graduate from college.
During his years in the Senate he promoted bilingual education and improvements to public schools.
Del Valle advises the state government and legislature on projects related to education reform, as well as belonging to commissions that administrate student scholarships and develop after-school activities.
As an organizer, he is preparing for an Oct. 15 meeting of "true progressives" in Chicago with invitations to community organizers and leaders to come and discuss the city's future.
"Those of us who consider ourselves progressives believe the government is obliged to promote a reform agenda that guarantees progress for all," Del Valle says.
In education, he believes it's not enough to simply boost the daily school workload, as Mayor Emanuel is trying to do, "but rather we have to fill the day with the kind of quality programming seen in the more affluent suburbs."
He said the lack of funding for Chicago's public schools - where Latinos make up 40 percent of the student body - has forced the elimination of classes in music, art and physical education.