AVONDALE — Some people call Puerto Rican Ald. Ariel Reboyras (30th) the "Polo-Rican" alderman, while others joke that his last name should be "Reboyrowski."
That's because Reboyras is known for going out of his way to reach out to the Polish community in his ward, which includes parts of Avondale, Irving Park, Kilbourn Park and Belmont Craigin.
About two-thirds of the ward is Latino and one-third is white — mostly Polish — so when Reboyras was elected in 2003, he felt he had to connect with all of his constituents equally.
"They have the same needs as everyone else," the 59-year-old alderman said of his Polish constituents. "The only difference is the language."
Born in New York City to Puerto Rican parents, Reboyras already spoke Spanish and English. So he took the logical next step and learned Polish.
"I can read Polish. I can knock on somebody's door, and I can start a conversation and I can understand a few words," he said.
Reboyras also attends countless Polish events, parades and conferences in the city, and frequently attends mass at the Polish-Catholic church Saint Hyacinth Basilica in Avondale, as well as the predominantly Polish St. Ferdinand Church in Belmont Central.
This year in April he visited Poland for the first time, presenting a commemorative "Lech Kaczynski Way" Chicago street sign to Kaczynski's identical twin brother, Jaroslaw Kaczynski.
Lech Kaczynski was the Polish president killed in a plane crash in 2010.
"We have a special place in our heart for Mr. Reboyras," said Anna Wojtowicz, daughter of the well-known Polish artist Wojciech Seweryn, who was also killed in the plane crash.
Seweryn, a sculptor who relocated to Chicago in 1976, was instrumental in having a monument built in suburban Niles to commemorate the Katyn massacre, the mass execution of some 22,000 Polish citizens — including Seweryn's father — by Soviet secret police in 1940.
"Mr. Reboyras is among those special people who comes and prays with us and goes to the monument," Wojtowicz said. "Mr. Reboyras is always there."
"He's an excellent alderman," said Rev. Michal Osuch of Saint Hyacinth Basilica. "I'm glad that he's in our area because he cares about the [Polish] community.
"If anything happens, I'm not calling the city, I'm not calling the police, I'm calling him," he said.
Osuch, who has been pastor at Saint Hyacinth Basilica for 17 years, said Reboyras was instrumental in securing permits and funding a warming center at the church, which now gets some 80 visitors a day looking to take a shower or just warm up a bit.
Osuch also noted that Reboyras never fails to attend a Thanksgiving or Christmas Eve dinner at the Basilica, with this year being no exception.
"I think the Polish community — they love him," he said.