Funding Helps Latino Businesses Hardest Hit By The Pandemic

Without a doubt, the COVID-19 pandemic has created extensive and profound negative impacts on populations across the US. COVID-19 has not only devastated the health landscape in many ways, but at the same time, the pandemic has created a socioeconomic crisis that will likely negatively impact many Latinos for decades to come. In a recent report, the Latino Policy Forum and Brookings find that this toxic constellation of complex COVID-related conditions requires significant attention and resource allocations.

To ensure the Illinois is reaching the businesses hit hardest by the pandemic in
underserved communities, the NCRC Community Development Fund (NCRC CDF) is partnering with Governor J.B. Pritzker’s office to distribute $175 million to small businesses through the Back to Business (B2B) grant program. The program will provide recovery grants to small businesses still grappling with the lingering impacts of the pandemic in the restaurant, hotel, and creative arts industries.

“Since the start of the pandemic, Gov. J.B. Pritzker and DCEO have consistently focused on addressing the impacts small businesses across Illinois are facing. We know the pandemic has been particularly devastating for communities of color and Latinx businesses — and for many industries across the board, including restaurants, retail stores, beauty salons, museums, cultural attractions and event venues,� said, Sylvia I. Garcia, Director of the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO).

NCRC CDF will work directly with the DCEO to help businesses apply, and manage application intake and review. NCRC CDF also coordinates with Community Navigator organizations across the state to provide technical assistance to businesses, focusing on businesses owned by minority, rural, veteran, and women business entrepreneurs. “NCRC CDF is best positioned to support the State of Illinois in distributing these grants. For over two decades, we have worked closely with small businesses nationwide, so we know firsthand the challenges they faced during the pandemic and continue to face in this difficult economy. We lost too many small and micro businesses during the pandemic – especially those owned by women and people of color, while many of the ones that survived still struggle to recover. With these grants, we will shore up these businesses, preserve what they have worked
so hard to build, and save jobs in our communities by ensuring they have access to the capital they need,� said Marisa Calderon, the Executive Director of NCRC CDF.

Latino workers are often the first to suffer the consequences of a crisis, and the
first to step up to fill essential positions, often with low-wages, job security, and protections. A report co-authored by the Metropolitan Planning Council outlined some of the ongoing challenges facing Latino workers. COVID has stymied many of the socio-economic gains Latinos in Illinois were making, the study finds. Without
concrete plans and investments to enable the economic health and growth of the Latino community, we (populous) are at risk of a downward spiral of economic consequences not just for the Latino community but for the metro region, the state of Illinois, and the nation.

“The community continues to not benefit from the prosperity it creates,” said Sylvia Puente, President and CEO of the Latino Policy Forum. “The importance of population growth for economic strength cannot be overstated. And it is Latinos whose numbers are among the most significant for ensuring that growth,” Puente said. She argued that in Illinois, for example, between 2010 and 2018, the Latino population grew annually by about 29,000, while there was an average annual decrease of about 20,000 non-Latinos.

The B2B grant program builds on the success of last year’s Business Interruption Grant (BIG) program, which directed $290 million to 9,000 businesses in 98 communities across Illinois with a focus on businesses owned by people of color in areas disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.

B2B is a key component of the Governor’s $1.5 billion economic recovery plan,
aimed toward a swift and equitable deployment of the COVID-19 funding Illinois received from the American Recovery Plan.

The deadline to apply for the grant is May 10. Applicants can visit the NCRC CDF website to learn more about the B2B grant program and apply online. All applicants will be notified of their award status after reviewing all applications. Multilingual FAQs and application assistance are available from outreach partners in the following languages: Spanish, Polish, Chinese, Korean, Arabic, Hindi, Tagalog, and Vietnamese.

Cover Photo: Liliana Drew

IL Latino News is a proud partner in promoting the the NCRC Community Development Fund (NCRC CDF).

The post Funding Helps Latino Businesses Hardest Hit By The Pandemic appeared first on ILLN.

Supporting Youth of Color in Civic Engagement

RI Latino News covers the social determinants of health and democracy.

Informing and supporting marginalized communities on civic engagement gives underrepresented and underserved individuals the tools to advocate for issues most important and urgent to them.

PROVIDENCE — Andrea Gonzalez Sanchez sat right by the door, greeting students as they shuffled in for Young Voices’ regular Monday and Thursday afternoon programming. Seven years ago, she was one of those students—now, Gonzalez Sanchez helps lead the meetings as one of the organization’s program coordinators. 

At 13 years old, Gonzalez Sanchez immigrated to Providence with her mother and enrolled in Providence Public Schools. Missing all her friends back in the Dominican Republic, Gonzalez Sanchez longed for that sense of community she had back home but her limited English skills seemed to hold her back from connecting with her new classmates. 

On top of that, Gonzalez Sanchez had to prioritize finding a way to make income, even though job opportunities are greatly limited for youth under 18 years old. Fortunately, a distant relative mentioned the Young Voices Summer Workforce Program to Gonzalez Sanchez.

“And that cousin was like, ‘hey, I’m doing this summer program and they’re giving us money for just being there,’ and I was like, ‘bruh, I need money,’� she said in an interview inside the State House.

Gonzalez Sanchez thought she would give the program a shot and learn more about it. However, she quickly learned that her undocumented status might cause issues with payment and she began to worry that she could not participate in the program. 

“Luckily, Young Voices is a place where, regardless of your documentation, they’re willing to support you and provide for you,â€� Gonzalez Sanchez said. “They immediately provided me with resources and even money, regardless of any status that I got.â€� 

After the summer program, Gonzalez Sanchez entered her freshman year of high school with a new sense of reassurance that she had external support moving forward and adjusting to her new home. 

“I became really in love with everything that they were doing,â€� she said. “Mainly because I didn’t really have any other community that was so supportive of me learning English, that was so supportive of me growing into a person.â€� 

Rhode Island’s youth population becomes increasingly diverse each year. 

In 2020, about 47 percent of Rhode Island residents under 18 identified as youth of color—with 27 percent being Hispanic/Latino and six percent being Black or African American. More than half of these students live in urban areas including Providence and Central Falls, according to the 2022 RI KIDS COUNT Factbook.

Inclusive and culturally-informed support can make a significant impact on their lives, Gonzalez Sanchez expressed.   

Photo courtesy of Andrea Gonzalez Sanchez (left).

The annual summer program provides six weeks of intensive workplace readiness training for youth entering 9th to 12th grade. The program also offers a $750 stipend to participating students who engage in a variety of industry projects and educational workshops on skills such as resume writing and interview etiquette. 

“They were so mindful and understanding of the fact that I wanted to have a voice and I might have not had the language for it, I might have not had the skills for it, but I was a very powerful person and all that I needed to do was to get out…of any walls that I had built or that society had built around me.

Andrea Gonzalez Sanchez

By the time she was 15 years old, Gonzalez Sanchez decided that she needed to move out of her living situation at the time. 

“I was like ‘Okay, I really need to leave my home soon, it’s not a happy environment for me or a healthy one’, and [Young Voices Staff] were like ‘Okay, we’re gonna help you build a resume, we’re gonna help you get those jobs, we’re gonna make sure that we still support you,’â€� she shared. “I ended up getting so many jobs thanks to them and I had such good time management thanks to them—that I was in school, working, educating others, advocating, I was doing all of that. And by the time I was 17, I had $10,000 and I was able to go.â€� 

Photo courtesy of Andrea Gonzalez Sanchez.

Classical High School student Wujuudat Balogun also found a welcoming community in Young Voices at 13 years old, one that has inspired her to become more civically engaged.  

“So, with these programs, I took a huge step because I never really did any advocacy work before I got into Young Voices,� Balogun shared that she first got involved because she thought it would look good on her college resume. “My advice is to be impulsive, just do it—let’s see what comes out of it.�

“Because these programs that from the outside wouldn’t look like something that would help you in the future are actually the best thing to help you with achieving your dreams in the future,” she said.

Young Voices program coordinators and a few members (Wujuudat Balogun, bottom left) gather for a photo after a Leadership Transformation Academy (LTA) meeting on Monday, April 17. Photo by Belén Dumont.

March 9th: Youth-Led Call To Action Rally

Balogun was one of several student speakers at a youth-led Call To Action Rally, organized by Young Voices RI, in early March. 

“Out-of-school programs create a space where youth can build community with others and start a path to pave their own future,� she shared with the room of about 30 students. “If not for Young Voices, well, I wouldn’t be right here where I am today…because of spaces like this, I have been given opportunities to be a part of different things, like national panels and conferences where youth voice is the center of decision making.�

At the State House event, students emphasized the need and importance of policies that advocate for a culturally-inclusive school environment, specifically referring to current history curriculums and cafeteria food options.

“If I go to school, I want to learn about my history,� Balogun said, as a few students snapped their fingers in agreement. “I need the cultural difference to be there because the students already have cultural differences, why can’t the curriculum have the same?� 

“We deserve to learn about all types of cultures and learn about our own history,� Mariah Ajiboye said at the event. “I cannot stress this enough…everyone deserves to feel equal in the classroom and not to feel put down in a classroom.� 

Youth speakers also expressed concern about students struggling with mental health, bringing up the lack of counselors but the abundance of police officers in schools.  

“As a kid, I remember feeling misunderstood and not really seen. As a result of this, I would get in fights with my teachers and peers…people would label me as a troublemaker, as a bad kid,� shared Village Green Virtual Charter High School student Jully Myrthil. “I felt really cast out, there were opportunities to practice restorative practice that would have allowed me to break down the walls that I built up.�

Restorative justice practices look to address the root causes of a youth’s actions by centering their voice in an open dialogue between them and community members. Juvenile justice reform advocates like Citizens for Juvenile Justice in Massachusetts continue to push for legislation that will expand these practices. 

“Youth need to feel that our mental health and well-being are not just considered but a priority. Students feel that there’s—one—not enough counselors, social workers, and resources at our schools and—two—not nearly enough resources for restorative practices to support youth that are labeled as having challenging behavior that may just be struggling with mental health and other factors at home.� 

Jully Myrthil

Students nodded and clapped in support as their peers took turns at the podium, sharing their personal experiences that many could relate to. At 5:30 p.m., the event came to a close and the room broke into a buzz of excitement and encouragement. 

“Advocacy is not something that just comes up on a whim,â€� Balogun had explained. “Advocacy is like that small voice inside your head telling you ‘something is wrong’ and you should go change it because nobody else is changing it. And you could be the first… So, all you have to do is just try.â€�

Learn more about Young Voices RI at

Boston startup YUNG DUMME raises awareness on community violence

ROXBURY—As snow gently fell onto the Roxbury Community College campus, the smell of burger patties and hot dogs wafted into the Student Commons, where booths lined the foyer and people of all ages wore red and black—the official colors for homicide awareness.

In the back corner stood a mother, daughter, and best friend selling a variety of clothing items with the logo YD for YUNG DUMME. Their mission, however, extends far beyond just fashion. It was turning their anger into action.

The trio started YUNG DUMME, a Boston apparel startup, and hosted their first event on Feb. 25, called “Break the Silence, Stop the Violence,�—a pop-up affair that featured local vendors and resources. The aim was to unite the urban community through arts and culture while also educating the public on the enormous impact of homicide and violence of all kinds.

Kidiah Roberts, Stephanie Wilson and Tanaijsa Brutus pictured left to right in front of red and black balloons at Roxbury Community College. Their business acronym, YUNG DUMME, stands for “Your Universe Navigates Greatness. Discipline Undoubtedly Made Me Exceptional.”

As of March 12, 2023, there have been nine recorded homicides, 28 victims of shootings, and 154 cases of domestic aggravated assaults citywide.

“I see a lot of comments like what’s being done about violence,â€� said Tanaijsa Brutus, the 27-year-old director of creation and design at YUNG DUMME who lives in Chelsea, Mass. “This event is a step in the right direction.â€�

Brutus, Stephanie Wilson, and Kidiah Roberts founded YUNG DUMME last year, after losing KeAndre’ Roberts, their best friend, son, and brother, to an unsolved homicide on Aug. 31, 2022. The brand is their homage to KeAndre’ as he had originally wanted to create the urban apparel line himself. 

KeAndre’ also came up with the name YUNG DUMME, which stands for “Your Universe Navigates Greatness. Discipline Undoubtedly Made Me Exceptional.� After facing his own trials and tribulations with the corrections systems and violence, he wanted to create something that showcases how everyone makes mistakes but taking those next steps to learn from them would make one exceptional.  

Stephanie Wilson speaking at the event with Kidiah Roberts to her left, and Tanaijsa Brutus to her right. Here, Wilson spoke about what YUNG DUMME means and how everyone has a YUNG DUMME in them.

Through their personal social media accounts, a business website, and over 60,000 views on Pinterest, Roberts, Brutus, and Wilson have taken KeAndre’s vision and brought it to light via e-commerce. 

While their business is primarily online, the organizers wanted to bring everyone together in person, said Roberts, the 28-year-old director of community outreach and resources from Dorchester. 

“Feeling the energy, support, and emotions… it’s totally different than sitting on the computer screen listening to a seminar talking about the same things,â€� she said.

The “Break the Silence, Stop the Violence� title highlights the need for more openness about issues such as abuse and trauma, said Wilson, the 45-year-old director of operations.

“If you’ve been abused, if you’re a victim… just talk about it, speak about it. We need to break this saga of nobody saying anything.�

Stephanie Wilson

At the event, 20 small businesses sold paintings, jewelry, personalized cups, and other items. The Louis D. Brown Peace Institute and the Boston Neighborhood Trauma team were among the organizations at 13 booths, offering resources to individuals affected by violence and homicide.

A series of resources booths in the foyer of the Roxbury Community College Student Commons. Some of the Organizations at these booths included, Mothers for Justice and Equality, One love Sports Academy and the Massachusetts Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department.

Aretha Maugé, outreach coordinator at Mothers for Justice and Equality for the last 10 years, said after losing her son to violence on the MBTA back in 2008, her mission is to make sure mothers and families get support after traumatic events.

“I was working in corporate and lost my job when it happened because I didn’t know how to turn that pain into purpose,â€� Maugé said.

This idea of transforming pain into purpose is something that inspired Boston City Councilor Julia Mejia.

“So many people are experiencing trauma, especially after COVID,� Mejia said in an interview. “Creating spaces like this where people can build with each other … is one of the most important things that we could do.�

Boston City Councilor at-Large Julia Mejia speaking into a microphone at the event. “This event was so super inspiring,� she said in an interview. 

Wilson recalled negative media reports after her son was killed, adding that she wanted the event to be much more. She wanted to “touch the people being touched’’ in a show of support.

“This is about the camaraderie of people getting together for something positive, especially in the Greater Boston area and urban communities,â€� she said. 

Clifton A. Braithwaite, who is running for Boston City Council at-large, said he is pleased the events’ emphasis was on “great organizations,’’ than on violence. The way YUNG DUMME brought fashion and community together is a “beautiful� thing he said.

“The only way to get to people is through love, education, and events like this,� he said. “There’s more to life than just worrying about being in a body bag.�

This story was published as part of a collaboration between MA Latino News and Boston University’s Department of Journalism in the College of Communication. The student journalist is a member of a Reporting in Depth class taught by former Boston Globe reporter Meghan Irons.

Annika Chaves is 20 years old and from Pittsburgh, PA. She is a sophomore at Boston University, studying Journalism and Anthropology with aspirations of working in the legal field as an attorney. As a first-generation immigrant from Colombia, she is passionate about finding ways to connect with and amplify the Latine voices in local communities.

Statewide Consequences of Restricted Abortion Access

National headlines remain centered on the ongoing case attempting to strip mifepristone’s FDA approval, restricting access to medical abortion in the United States. After a Texas judge ruled earlier this month to suspend its approval, emergency requests were filed by the drug’s manufacturer Danco Laboratories and the U.S. Justice Department to delay it. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito’s extension on the order keeping the drug available ends at 11:59 p.m. today. 

What is mifepristone? 

Mifepristone and misoprostol, when used together, are two medications considered the “gold standard� in medication abortion and are also used in the medical management of miscarriages. Mifepristone was first approved by the FDA in 2000, with the generic version following in 2019.

A 2020 Abortion Provider Census by Guttmacher Institute found that medication abortions accounted for 53 percent of all U.S. abortions. This number jumped from 39 percent in 2017.

Abortion access in Wisconsin 

For Wisconsinites, this case would have little to no effect on abortion access, but could impact how miscarriages are handled. Healthcare providers in the state immediately ceased performing abortions after the June 24 Dobbs decision – even though the overturning of Roe v. Wade and an 1849 abortion law pushed Wisconsin into a state of limbo regarding whether or not abortion is actually legal.

But Jenny Higgins, Director of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Collaborative for Reproductive Equity (CORE), says that accessing abortion care in the state was an issue long before these recent rulings.

“We’re overlooking the fact that many people were living in a post-Roe world for decades,â€� said the UW-Madison Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology. 

24-hour waiting periods, parental consent requirements, and availability of abortion clinics were some of the issues patients faced when abortions were still performed. The Green Bay Press Gazette reported in 2022, that there were only four clinics providing abortions in the state.

“If you live right in Beloit, it might be closer to get to Rockford, IL… even before Roe v. Wade [was overturned], some people were getting care out of state,� said Higgins.

Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin and Illinois announced a partnership immediately after Roe fell to help support the influx of people who would cross state lines for abortion care. NPR reported that 60% of Waukegan’s Planned Parenthood patients derived from out of town, mostly coming from Wisconsin. While many people seek care in neighboring states like Illinois or Minnesota, not everyone has the financial means to do so. 

Cost of care

CORE estimates that on average abortion costs – including medical, travel, hotel, childcare and missed wages – over $1,000. For context, 75 percent of abortion patients have low income.

“If you don’t have a car, if you are having food insecurity, if you are having mental health challenges, even a difference of 300 miles or 200 miles can be the deciding factor between whether you’re able to obtain a desired abortion or carry a pregnancy to term,� Higgins explained.

Besides the financial burden, research suggests that forced pregnancy does impact one’s mental health. Women who are denied abortion report higher stress and anxiety, lower self esteem and lower life satisfaction than women who had an abortion, according to a JAMA Psychiatry study.

With 60 percent of abortion seekers being people of color, abortion bans disproportionately impact minority populations. 

“Women of color face more structural barriers to care to begin with, and those inequities are exacerbated when these policies further diminish their power and bodily autonomy,â€� said Wizdom Powell, Chief Social Impact and Diversity Officer at Headspace Health. 

6,430 abortions took place in Wisconsin in 2020. So on average, about 590 fewer abortions were performed in Wisconsin each month since the Dobbs decision.

“We already know that Wisconsinites have been forced to carry pregnancies to term who otherwise wouldn’t have been, and so given that now all of the clinics in our state don’t offer abortion care, we can say with some certainty that we’ll see increases in birth rates and those will be highly concentrated among people who are financially and structurally oppressed,� said Higgins.

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Chicago’s dirty secret: lead in municipal drinking water remains the greatest threat in communities of color

IL Latino News covers the social determinants of health and democracy. Neighborhood and Built Environment have health impacts for the people who live there. Aspects of neighborhood environments include walkability, land use mix and urbanity, retail, recreational areas, restaurants, fast food outlets, cultural and education institutions, and pollution, such as from traffic or waste sites.

IL Latino News applies the principles of Solutions Journalism in its invesitgative reporting.

Activists across the South Side of Chicago demand transparency from the Department of Water Management as the city attempts to combat lead contamination in drinking water.

While the City has not publicly reported new results since the end of 2021, existing data from the City of Chicago website shows that a significant portion of water tests with elevated lead levels were recorded in Black and Hispanic communities.

Linda Gonzalez, a member of the People’s Council of Southeast Chicago, is advocating for change following her experience with the city-sponsored Equity Lead Service Line Replacement Program.

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Linda Gonzalez, People’s Council of Southeast Chicago shares her battle to combat lead contamination in drinking water

Gonzalez resides in the South Deering neighborhood of Slag Valley. In addition to ongoing concerns over air quality, the far South Side community is characterized by old buildings and a high concentration of lead service lines, which, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health, can be a significant contributor to lead contamination of drinking water.

Gonzalez was found eligible for a free service line replacement by the city and began the process to replace service lines on her property in fall 2021. She worked with two contractors, one assigned by the city and another representing the construction company.

The process took between six and eight months, according to Gonzalez. While the replacement itself came as a relief, Gonzalez identified potential problems for other homeowners looking to take advantage of the program.

“Getting the required documents always makes the process more difficult. But if you have the documents, then do you have access to the Internet? Are you getting notifications? Do you know how to upload documents? There are a lot of limitations,� Gonzalez said.

The activist suggested methods to counter the lack of transparency and provide further assistance to concerned homeowners.

“[Water filters] should be offered standard to anybody having this problem. People should be notified on an annual basis that lead pipes need to be replaced and that the City’s trying to do something about it,â€� Gonzalez said, emphasizing the importance of communication.

Gonzalez also recommended increased accessibility, including printing bills in Spanish as well as English. 

Gina Ramirez, a prominent activist and Southeast Chicago resident, strives to raise awareness about lead contamination in her own community.

“Growing up on the Southeast Side with my father working downtown, I really learned, from a young age, the tale of two cities, how different and much cleaner the air was in downtown Chicago,� said Ramirez, who currently serves as the senior advisor of the Southeast Environmental Task Force, a member of Chicago Environmental Justice Network, and Midwest Outreach Manager at the National Resource Defense Council.

While Ramirez fights to direct attention to a variety of climate issues including air pollution, water quality has been an area of increasing focus.

The issue hits close to home for Ramirez.

 â€œMy mom is disabled and low-income, and my sister and my nephew live with her, and she’s very concerned about her lead service lines. It’s an over-100-year-old home,â€� Ramirez said.

“She has been struggling to fill out the Equity Line Replacement Program paperwork. It’s been almost two years of red tape and them coming down, saying that she’s still missing a piece of documentation.�

Requested documents included the deed to the house, utility bills and Ramirez’s nephew’s report card.

“She was like ‘Gina, they basically want to see my underwear.’ I have to keep pressuring her to follow through, but she has really given up hope for this program,� Ramirez said.

One home in Ramirez’s neighborhood reported lead levels of 1,100 parts per billion, according to City of Chicago water test data. This measurement is near 65 times the Environmental Protection Agency action level of 15 parts per billion.

Under the EPA’s Lead and Copper Rule, a city must take steps to control corrosion and possibly replace service lines if lead concentrations exceed 15 ppb in more than 10% of customer taps sampled. The city must also inform the public of ways to protect their health.

In communities like Ramirez’s, residents have adopted measures to safeguard their own health.

“I grew up drinking bottled water. You’ll see, in shopping carts in my neighborhood, cases of water. It’s just something that’s not talked about enough, that a lot of community members don’t trust the tap,� Ramirez said.

Ramirez took steps to monitor water quality in her own home, but was quickly confronted by limitations faced by the community at large.

“I ordered a water testing kit. It took a month for me to get it, so I’m in the process of getting my water tested,� Ramirez said. “But it’s like an extra chore, and when you live in an environmental justice community, you’re struggling to put food on the table, trying to get to work, you have children to raise, you might not even have the Internet to go on the website to order the test…the onus is on the person.�

Ramirez slammed the City of Chicago for deflecting attention from water quality issues through efforts like Chicagwa, a free giveaway of canned Lake Michigan water in summer 2022.

“The City came out with this campaign about how the great the water is, and that it goes through this 10-step purification process. No matter how purified this water is, it goes through a lead straw, which defeats the point of the purification process,� Ramirez said.

“I think they’re trying to put a Band-aid over this issue. I thought it was a huge slap in the face when the mayor spent over $100,000 on this public relations campaign, and that’s a few lead service lines that could’ve been replaced in an [environmental justice] community.�

Spokespeople from the City of Chicago Department of Water Management say that municipal drinking water is safe for consumption.

According to an email from spokeswoman Megan Vidis, Chicago’s drinking water follows all standards including the EPA’s Copper and Lead Rule. A recent test of a small subset of homes yielded results of 5.6 parts per billion, well below the 15 ppb standard set by the EPA.

While the homes tested were a small subset of homes in Chicago, Vidis said, results from the entire testing kit program, in which homeowners tested their own drinking water, showed similar numbers.

These results directly contradict the September 2022 analysis by The Guardian journalists and water engineer Eileen Betanzo. Across four zip codes on Chicago’s South Side alone, eight to 10% of tests fell above the action level of 15 ppb.

Vidis said that the analysis was not conducted by an independent, third-party laboratory.  

Regardless of the action level, the EPA has set the maximum contaminant level goal for lead in drinking water at zero parts per billion. According to a guide on the EPA website, lead is a toxic metal that can have damaging health effects even at low exposure levels.

Ramirez expressed frustration with Vidis’ response.

“Those action levels don’t mean anything to me, as the mom of a son who has autism. We know that there’s no safe level of lead. I’m sure her children are drinking out of a non-lead service line with a filter, unlike my child,� Ramirez said. “It’s crazy, these excuses that these officials make, and it’s just same old, same old.�

The matter of lead contamination of drinking water is not limited to Chicago. Other cities across the United States face the same problems and have addressed them with varying degrees of success.

One notable example is Newark, New Jersey. In under three years, the City’s Lead Service Line Replacement Program completed nearly 24,000 free service line replacements. The effort initially began in March 2019 and was projected to last up to 10 years. By September of the same year, however, a $120 million bond from Essex County eliminated the cost for residents and reduced the program’s timeline to only three years.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot set a goal to replace 650 service lines in 2021 following expansion of the Equity Lead Service Line Replacement Program. However, only 280 homeowners had lines replaced under city programs over the past two years, according to a December 2022 report.

Other states including Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin are collaborating with the EPA through its Lead Service Line Replacement Accelerator initiative. The program will support these states in directing funding from President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law towards the replacement of service lines.

Illinois is not listed as a collaborator on this initiative.

To combat inaction by the City of Chicago, Gonzalez and Ramirez work with local activist groups to campaign for transparency.

Through her work with the Southeast Environmental Council, a group that has since expanded from its humble beginnings on Facebook, Gonzalez fights for policy changes through cooperation with local government.

“I’m glad to be in conversation with all the candidates who are excited about this community,â€� Gonzalez said. “The idea is that [the Southeast Environmental Council] is going to be around no matter who the candidate is, but things need to change in terms of how decisions are made. That can be uncomfortable work, but I’m excited to get this message out.â€�

Ramirez spoke further to the impact of community-based advocacy groups.

“I think people want to believe that the city has their best interest in mind. People I talk to day in and out say, ‘That’s why we have the EPA, right? They’re the ones who are supposed to be protecting us.’ And I’m like, ‘That’s why organizations like NRDC exist, because they’re not always doing the best job, and are underfunded and under-resourced,� Ramirez said.

“I think [environmental justice] groups are really great at having peer-to-peer interaction about what is needed in our communities. I distrust the government because I’m in it. But if I’m thinking about it from an outside perspective, I don’t think they realize.�

According to Ramirez, progress in environmental justice communities has a long way to go.

“You want to believe that your city is protecting your health, but then you see issues like General Iron,â€� Ramirez said, referencing former administrations’ cooperation with the planned move of a metal-shredding facility to the Southeast Side.

“I think the distrust of the city government is really on the rise, especially after you see the perpetual disinvestment on the South and West Sides of Chicago.�

Cover Photo by Steve Johnson

Mackenzie Tatananni is a graduate student at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. Her reporting focuses on public health and environmental justice.

IL Latino News partners with Medill School of Journalism in providing students mentoring and real work experiences.

The post Chicago’s dirty secret: lead in municipal drinking water remains the greatest threat in communities of color appeared first on ILLN.

New TheaterWorks Hartford Play Celebrates Art

HARTFORD—A tribute to the power and influence of preserved art, THE REMBRANDT, premieres Friday, April 21, at TheaterWorks Hartford in partnership with the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art. 

“When I was putting together the 22/23 season, this play presented an exciting opportunity to tell an unexpected and moving story – it also created space to partner again with our friends at the Wadsworth,� shared Artistic Director Rob Ruggiero. “Together, we’ve collaborated on some terrific programming that not only brings our audiences together but celebrates a powerful theme: connecting through art.�

THE REMBRANDT—written by award-winning playwright Jessica Dickey— is set in a modern-day art museum, following a journey that explores centuries of human experience when a museum guard decides to touch a famous Rembrandt painting. 

“At its core, I’m looking at this play through the lens of an art maker. A theater maker. And so the idea that one can be provoked, inspired and compelled by a work of art in a meaningful, challenging and life affirming way speaks to me,� Director Maria Mileaf commented. “These characters are all seeking or avoiding something. They are forced to discern what their journey is going to be and they are, by interacting with art, given the chance to make purposeful choices.�

Director Mileaf also shared her excitement working with TheaterWorks Hartford and its talented cast and crew for the first time.

“I am also really buoyed by the opportunity to be in a rehearsal room with this astonishing and bold group of actors and designers,� she said.

The cast includes Ephraim Birney as Dodger/Titus, Bill Buell as Simon/Homer, Michael Chenevert as Henry/Rembrandt, Brandon Espinoza as Jonny/Martin, and Amber Reauchean Williams as Madeline/Henny.

The performance will run from April 21 to May 14 and stream on demand from May 7 to May 14. In-person tickets are priced from $25 to $65 and can be purchased online at or by calling (860)527-7838.  

The show runs for 90 minutes with no intermission. TheaterWorks Hartford no longer requires proof of vaccination, learn more on its COVID policy at

“In this visually stunning tour-de-force, THE REMBRANDT explores the power of creative expression and the sacrifices we make in the pursuit of love and beauty,� reads the TheaterWorks Hartford website.

Publisher’s Notes: CT Latino News is proud to partner with TheaterWorks Hartford in supporting the state’s Arts and Culture. 

Esperanza Gama: su niña interior sanada

Brushes and papel amate (which she uses as a canvas) are what Mexican visual-artist, Esperanza Gama, uses to transport her dreams into reality. Gama was born in Guadalajara, Jalisco and to pay homage to her hometown, in the cover of her
book, Raíces, fibras magicas – the Catedral de Guadalajara is seen in the iris of the eye. Having grown up in Mexico, Gama remembers that she did not have much as a child, material-wise but a lot of love, from her father who raised her.

Her last series, Niñas de las jacarandas, derives from her childhood imagination and a dream she had in Mexico City. Not only is it dedicated to the jacaranda flowers but it has two other major components, immigration and her inner child. These flowers were brought to Mexico City by an imperial Japanese gardener. “I mixed the healing of the little girl, misunderstood and hurt that I could have been at the time because I was missing the other part of my life, my mother,” recalls Gama. “I did not
have a mother. Although I had a great father, you still always need that [other part]. And I think that was an important part of my inner child that was not completely healed.�

You might be wondering, so what helped heal Gama’s inner child? Well, she says art is therapeutic so that helped heal her. Coming from a very humble family of five, Gama remembers that her sister was always getting sick so all of the attention and dolls would go to her. In Gama’s case, she only ever had one doll and oftentimes she would wonder, why would she not get sick in order to receive more of them. Years later, Gama still finds it incredible how much she really likes dolls and now through
her art and sculptures, she creates a lot of girls. “I don’t know if those are my dolls now,� she asks.

This story originally aired on News Beat, Columbia College Chicago

Eventually, motherhood came to the life of this artist, when her son Alan De la Torre was born. Now 24, De la Torre, remembers that when he was growing up, his mother would always take him to her art shows and he would be the only kid there. “Looking back on having to sit through as a kid, through a boring art show, you know?” he remembers. “Whereas now, I’m recording my mom, super proud and happy to see what’s going on and actually understanding it.â€�

During Gama’s book presentation at the National Museum of Mexican Art – the crowd gasped in awe when she shared that the last image of Raíces, fibras magicas was dedicated to her son. She painted him when he was a child, out of memory, of him sleeping and surrounding him with little drawings. As a surprise, she shared that those [animal] drawings were her son’s from when he was a child. Gama mentioned she asked him for permission to use them in her painting. “It made me feel very
special how she involved me and how throughout the years she has involved me in different projects making it a point for people to know who I am, and how much she cares about me,� affirms De la Torre.

Alan De La Torre

Being the proud son that he is, De la Torre shares, “she dedicated so much time to me growing up and I was a terrible kid. Throughout all of that she did her best to guide me in the right direction. She always remained calm and collected and did her best for what she had. If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t be in the position I’m in, in any regard.�

To everyone she is the artist, but to him, she is his mother. “I love her, I’m the result of her hard work, for sure,” he says.

Publisher’s Notes: The portion of Gama’s quotes were translated from Spanish to English.

The post Esperanza Gama: su niña interior sanada appeared first on ILLN.

Sazon De MA: Yely’s Restaurant

JAMAICA PLAIN—It was a busy day in Yely’s Restaurant. The lunch rush had just started and the long line of customers was growing fast. 

Customers shook off the rain from their umbrellas and peered over the foggy glass, lifting a finger to point at the food selection available that day.

Edwin Anderson Medina, the 45-year-old owner, worked the register, moving seamlessly around his coworkers as he collected payment from customers. 

Despite the long line, Medina paused to greet and shake hands with longtime patrons and friends. 

“Getting a taste of our food no matter who you are or where you’re from is the most important thing for me,� said Medina in an interview after the lunch rush.

Yely’s Coffee Shop—a Dominican eatery commonly known as Yely’s Restaurant—is a staple in Jamaica Plain, offering home-cooked Dominican food and an authentic feel of the homeland. 

The kitchen prepares food from its 6 a.m. opening to its 9 p.m. closing. Located one block from the Jackson Square station on the Orange Line, the restaurant is a huge draw for commuters.

The family-owned restaurant first opened in 1995 by Medina’s father, Juan, who specialized in street-style Dominican cuisine, known as fritura

Due to its popularity, Yely’s has expanded with another restaurant in Dorchester, where about 24 percent of the Dominican population in the Greater Boston area lives, according to the Boston Planning and Development Agency.

Medina, originally from Bani, Dominican Republic, came to the United States in 1989 and grew to love cooking and running a restaurant as he worked alongside his father. 

“It was the profession I enjoyed the most,â€� he said. “Being taught by my father and my family growing up definitely influenced it.â€� 

Medina is running the Dorchester location while his father remains the owner of the original Jamaica Plain location. The food and prices remain the same.

“Being able to grow the business has always been something I’ve wanted to do since we started,’’ Medina shared. “Now that I’ve expanded it feels amazing being able to show others my culture.�

Medina said the restaurant has become a large part of his life—he hopes it will continue and grow with the next generation of his family.  

“I’d love to see more Yely’s pop up around the city so everyone can enjoy,â€� he said. 

Medina smiled warmly at his customers as he rang them up during the lunch rush. When he saw someone he knew, he moved from behind the counter to greet them. It’s the kind of service his customers expect, he said.  

“This is a legacy for me,â€� he said. “I see this and I know that my children [and] grandchildren … have this to keep going.â€� 

This story was published as part of a collaboration between MA Latino News and Boston University’s Department of Journalism in the College of Communication. The student journalist is a member of a Reporting in Depth class taught by former Boston Globe reporter Meghan Irons.

Esmeralda Moran is a sophomore studying Journalism at Boston University. She is a first-generation Dominican-American and the first in her family to attend a university. She aspires to spread her love for writing through pursuing magazine writing. 

Fiesta de Hockey brings together the Puerto Rican community in Chicago and attracts future talent

Fiesta de Hockey gathered more than 120 participants at Fifth Third Arena — the Chicago Blackhawks’ practice facility — last weekend. Children, teenagers and adults enjoyed sixty-two hours of programming, including training sessions and exhibition matches, of this debut event that will be held again in New York in June.

Gisselle de Rojas traveled to Chicago from Miami with her 16-year-old son. While he played, she got to know other parents who traveled here to support their children from the stands.

“I already met a lot of people from different areas, so it’s really nice because the community feeling is really good,â€� de Rojas said.  

Players from across the country traveled to Chicago to enjoy the games or try out to join the Puerto Rico Ice Hockey Association (PRIHA). The coaches evaluated the performance of each participant and classified them into different teams depending on their age and proficiency. 

“This is so much fun and it’s more than just ice hockey,� said Jake Mullahy, 19, a player from Boston who competed in his first tryouts. “Seeing all the families wearing the Puerto Rico jerseys it’s pretty cool.�

Evelyn Bayo traveled from Puerto Rico to watch her grandson play. She often accompanied him to ice hockey practices when he was younger, and she gained interest in the sport through that bond. Bayo now lives in Viejo San Juan and is a member of the Puerto Rico Island Committee of PRIHA.

“We are organizing groups of children and some adults that live on the island and teaching them in-line hockey with the hope that in the future we can have an ice-skating rink and teach them to ice skate,â€� Bayo said. 

Puerto Rico joined the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) as an associate member in 2022. However, the island does not have an ice-skating rink, which is a requirement for being a full member of the IIHF.  There was one shield of ice on the island in the Aguadilla region, but it was damaged by Hurricane Maria in 2017.

“We hope to have one or maybe two or more shields of ice in Puerto Rico,� said Luis Vargas, vice president of PRIHA.

During the weekend, Puerto Rico teams played friendly exhibition matches. (Diana Giambona)

PRIHA, founded in 2020, has national men’s and women’s teams, as well as men’s U20, U18, U16 teams and adult and youth developmental programs, totaling over 300 players. 

“We can continue growing the game and using it as a vehicle to help people enjoy life, help young people grow, be part of a team and be proud of our island,� Luis Vargas said.

PRIHA’s objective is to promote Puerto Rican ice hockey and compete at the highest level. To accomplish this goal, the association seeks talent among the Puerto Ricans living in the United States.

“There’s quite a few Puerto Ricans that play ice hockey. As we know, the diaspora community goes to cities like New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Orlando and Boston, and those cities have rich hockey cultures and they also have a rich Puerto Rican culture,â€� said Scott Vargas, president of PRIHA. 

The association follows the National Olympic Committee guidelines, which establish that players can compete internationally if they were born in Puerto Rico, if they have Puerto Rican parents or grandparents, or if they are residents of the island.

“The love for the sport keeps growing and we’ll get many more Puerto Ricans that will be playing ice hockey soon,� Luis Vargas said.

Families and fans supported the Puerto Rico team with loud cheering and flags. (Diana Giambona)

Although ice hockey is gaining popularity in the Puerto Rican community, many still aren’t aware of the island’s national teams. 

“When I tell my friends that Puerto Rico has an ice hockey team, all of them are astonished,� said Noah Rosado, 16, who has been playing for PRIHA for two years. “It’s really amazing to see people of our culture come together and play in a sport that we are not typically found.�

Passion for this sport is also growing among women. In 2021, the Puerto Rico women’s national team won the gold medal at the LATAM Cup.

“We had a great group of girls that had a really strong passion for hockey, and we were all really proud of being able to wear Puerto Rico on our jersey,â€� said Sofia Alvarez, 20, a player on the Puerto Rico women’s national team. “That drove us to play as well as we could and come out with the gold medal.â€� 

The men’s teams have also achieved victories in international tournaments. The Puerto Rico men’s national team and the U20 team won gold medals at the 2022 LATAM Cup. 

“When Puerto Ricans put their mind to something, they succeed as we can see with baseball, basketball and sports that are typically played at warm islands,� said Julia Kramer, mother of one of the players. “If they are able to have an ice rink, I don’t have any doubt that Puerto Ricans will become successful at ice hockey.�

PRIHA hopes to continue growing and eventually compete against the best teams in the world.

“The ultimate goal is that we play in the world championship,� Scott Vargas said.

The post Fiesta de Hockey brings together the Puerto Rican community in Chicago and attracts future talent appeared first on ILLN.

The Latino News Network (LNN) is accepting applications for the Hortencia Zavala Foundation Summer Internship Program.

The eight week paid opportunity will be considered in all LNN newsrooms in the Northeast and Midwest.

We are looking for students in all fields of Communications with a demonstrated interest in journalism. Successful applicants will be assigned meaningful work in the production of local news, including, but not limited to graphics, content development (photo/video/audio), social media, writing and copy editing suitable for their background.

The program advisors and mentors will meet with students regularly to identify and develop their summer goals.

We will be accepting all applications until May 12th, 2023. The internship is open to both undergraduate and graduate students. Applications should include at least three examples of the student’s work. Please send inquiries, resumes and cover letters to

The internship runs from June 5 to July 28.

As part of their internship, students have the opportunity to be one of the attendees in this year’s journalism camp, Covering race, ethnicity, and culture: a guideline for fair and accurate storytelling.

SUGGESTION: Ignacio Dominguez-Coronado, Recipient of the Hortencia Zavala Foundation Scholarship

The Hortencia Zavala Foundation was created in 2016 by Hugo Balta, Owner/Publisher of LNN, and twice president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ), as a way to help students while honoring the legacy of his abuelita, Hortencia Zavala.

Since its inception, HZF has worked with NAHJ national and local professional chapters in identifying worthy candidates.

In 2021, HZF expanded its support of young journalists to include a journalism camp.

The post appeared first on WILN.