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Mexican Immigrants, Mexican-Americans Moving To Central Illinois For Jobs

Reyna Torres.jpg
Hannah Alani
Ambassador Reyna Torres Mendivil discussed U.S.-Mexico relations in Peoria on Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2021.

Coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, Illinois remains an important trading partner for Mexico — and vice-versa.

Mexico is Illinois' third-largest trade partner, with 2020 imports worth more than $12 billion. Illinois is the fourth largest U.S. trade partner of Mexico, trailing Michigan, California and Texas.

Caterpillar, 4L Technologies, Inc., John Deere, Mondelez International and Medline are the top Illinois companies with employment in Mexico.

Corn from central Illinois accounts for nearly 5 percent of all Illinois exports to Mexico. Illinois' top export to Mexico is auto parts, accounting for 6.9 percent of all exports.

Mexico's top exports to Illinois include televisions and auto parts, but the most exported good — at 29.4 percent of all exports — is Mexican beer.

Ambassador Reyna Torres Mendivil is the Consul General of Mexico in Chicago. She visited Bradley University on Wednesday to discuss U.S.-Mexico relations in the post-pandemic era.

Torres said there are likely many people living in central Illinois who have traveled to Mexico for work or vacation, or who regularly eat out at Mexican-owned restaurants in town.

And yet, Torres said, Illinoisans often are surprised when Torres shares trade statistics highlighting how connected the state is to Mexico.

"Every time that I say Illinois is our fourth trading partner...people are surprised," she said. "We need to catch up with what the intensity of the relationship is."

In other words, Torres explained, sometimes local connections matter more than what's happening between Washington, D.C., and Mexico City.

"Neighbors often take each other for granted," she said.

Torres has previously worked in California and Texas. She said she's noticed a lot of movement among Mexican nationals within the United States.

Many families are resettling in the Peoria area thanks to ample economic opportunities.

She's seeing people of Mexican origin hold administrative positions in large companies while also opening mom-and-pop businesses, such as restaurants and shops.

The Hispanic Chamber of Commerce has a Peoria chapter, Torres noted.

“We have a very diverse, dynamic community here,” Torres said. “They are opening businesses, creating jobs. But our community also is in the arts, a lot of students. So you can find Mexicans doing well, in many activities.”

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Mexico has 50 active consulates in America, with many located in Texas and California. The largest Midwestern consulate is in Chicago; additional consulates are based in Indianapolis, Detroit, St. Louis and St. Paul, Minnesota.

The COVID-19 pandemic hit Latinos hard. Research from earlier this year found patients who primarily spoke Spanish had a 35 percent greater risk of death from COVID.

Before the pandemic, the Chicago consulate was mostly concerned with helping Mexican nationals with passports, visas, legal aid, identity documents, power of attorney and similar issues.

But the consulate's staff pivoted in March 2020. After being closed for non-emergency services for three months, the consulate shifted its primary focus is helping people navigate the pandemic.

Today, daily testing is available and Tuesdays are vaccination days. And things are looking up; while vaccination rates have stalled across the U.S., they're rising among Latinos.

"They are resilient," Torres said. "Now that things are changing, and the businesses are reopening. They are very creative, figuring out how to survive and flourish, now that the economy is getting better."

Learn more about the consulate online.

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