Mayoral Candidates Johnson, Vallas on Chicago’s Black and Brown Future

Chicagoans flocked to the Chicago History Museum on Monday night for a chance to hear from mayoral candidates Brandon Johnson and Paul Vallas before the April 4 Runoff Election. Chicago’s Black and Brown Future: Conversations with the Mayoral Candidates focused on issues impacting Black and Latino communities including housing, crime, education, economic development, equitable representation, and immigration.

The conversation was moderated by veteran journalists, longtime CBS2 Chicago reporter, Dorothy Tucker and publisher of IL Latino News, Hugo Balta. Tucker is the current president of the National Association of Black Journalists. Balta has served twice as president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.

Moderators Dorothy Tucker and Hugo Balta.

“Events like tonight’s conversation with Chicago mayoral candidates Brandon Johnson and Paul Vallas gives voters an opportunity to make side-by-side comparisons,� said Balta. “ The health of our democracy depends on an informed citizenry.�

Unlike a traditional debate with candidates going back and forth, interacting with one another, each candidate had a dedicated space in the program to answer predetermined questions. The two did not appear on stage together. Audience members were given green and red cards to express approval or disapproval, by waving the colored sheets of paper in the air as the opponents spoke. 

Both candidates were met with applause when introduced to the stage. Johnson went first, followed by a short intermission, and then Vallas.

A recent poll by Northwestern’s Center for the Study of Diversity and Democracy showed that crime was top of mind for many voters, rated as the most important issue for 54 percent of Black voters and 46 percent of Latino voters.

Johnson said he would focus on getting to the root of crime by investing in youth programs and hiring 200 more detectives.

“We’re going to double the amount of young people that we hire, not just for summer positions but year-round positions,� he said.

On crime, Vallas stated that he wants to fulfill current Chicago Police Department vacancies, not expand CPD. He added that he wants to add officers to CTA platforms “because people are afraid to take the CTA,� citing another recent poll by WBEZ.

Both Johnson and Vallas said that they would support the Welcome to IL coalition, vowing to support immigrants and migrants arriving in the city. Governor JB Pritzker issued a disaster proclamation to speed up the availability of state money and resources to help deal with the busloads of migrants being sent to Chicago from Texas.

There are now two weeks left before a new mayor is elected. Early Voting is open in all 50 Wards. More information about Early Voting can be found on the Chicago Elections website.

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RI Opinion+: Juan Espinoza & Melissa Cruz

Welcome to another episode of RI Latino News Opinion+ where we talk about major issues the Latinx and other underrepresented communities face in the state of Rhode Island. This week we spoke with Communications & Development Manager Juan Espinoza and Community Programs Manager Melissa Cruz from the RI Coalition To End Homelessness

The RI Coalition to End Homelessness has a variety of responsibilities across the state, such as being the lead agency for the Homeless Management & Information System (HMIS) and the Coordinated Entry System (CES) Call Center. 

The organization’s main areas of focus also include policy and advocacy work, training and support for service providers, along with educating the public on reasons why people experience homelessness to diminish existing stereotypes.

“Our commitment is to ensure that no Rhode Islander experiences homelessness,� Espinoza said. “We promote and preserve the dignity and quality of life for men, women, and children by pursuing comprehensive and cooperative solutions to the problems of housing and homelessness. And this is accomplished through advocacy, education, collaboration, technical assistance, and selective direct services.�

The HMIS is a shared database used by all homeless service providers in Rhode Island that tracks people who are experiencing homelessness across the state. 

“HMIS is basically the data repository for the Continuum of Care (CoC)…so it’s partnered with 47 agencies with over 200 projects that we are serving persons and households that are experiencing homelessness or [who were] formerly homeless,â€� Cruz explained. 

The CES helpline is available 24/7 and connects residents who may be experiencing homelessness to a shelter or other services related to housing and homelessness. 

“You can either call or send an email and that will connect you to an agent who will look at what are the available options to get you into shelter,� Espinoza told RI Latino News. “Now, shelter is not guaranteed as there is limited shelter in the state of Rhode Island, but they can put you on a waiting queue…the waiting queue has grown, unfortunately.�

RICTEH, among other local advocacy groups, has urged the government to declare a state of emergency for homelessness as this would prioritize homelessness as an issue. Although, enacting a state of emergency is a relatively new tactic in addressing homelessness, according to Espinoza. 

“It has not been a very common strategy, but…declaring a state of emergency for homelessness [would] reduce bureaucratic barriers, such as bypassing zoning requirements… which allows for a quicker ability to use city-owned property to open and maintain shelters, so it’s not just for housing, but also for shelter,� Espinoza said. “Declaring that would really mean more funding, more collaboration, and less bureaucratic red tape…�

Resources mentioned in this video: 

  • RI Coalition to End Homelessness Website:
  • The CES helpline: 401-277-4316
    • Learn more and/or contact the helpline online at 
    • Available agents speak English, Spanish, Portuguese, & Haitian Creole 
  • Check out local resources available through the U.S. Dept. of Housing & Urban Development at 

WILN Opinion+: Nicole Winters and Tim Schindler

Welcome to another episode of Wisconsin Latino News Opinion+, where we talk about major issues the Latinx and other underrepresented communities face in the state of Wisconsin. This week’s guests include two members of the Milwaukee-based organization Wisconsin Voices: Co-Executive Director of Fundraising & Development Tim Schindler and Managing Director of Operations Nicole Winters.

Wisconsin Voices is a grassroots not-for-profit organization started in 2010 to protect democracy and encourage civic participation, particularly for those in marginalized groups statewide. Historically, Wisconsin is a state with high civic engagement, but stricter voter ID laws and other suppression strategies in recent years have challenged this reputation.

Schindler and Winters explain how their work with Wisconsin Voices aims to counter this trend in their state by “giving a voice to the voiceless.�

“There are individuals that just won’t use their voice for democracy,� Winters said. “It’s important because it makes a difference. It may not look that way in the end result, but when you are out there expressing your voice, using your voice to fight for democracy, it actually does make a difference.�

Schindler said that the organization tries to use education as one method of encouraging this participation.

“A lot of [people] don’t understand what’s the difference between an alderman and a county supervisor,â€� Schindler said. “So really empowering them and educating them on who to go to for what issue… that’s a lot of the impact that we’re trying to make.â€�

These goals from Wisconsin Voices are particularly applicable to the state’s Latino population, who, due to gerrymandering and strict voter ID laws, are underrepresented in local legislatures. According to Princeton University’s gerrymandering project, Wisconsin is one of the most gerrymandered states in the country.

“There’s very minimal representation,� Schindler said. “Even when you look at the redistricting of Milwaukee, [Latinos] really don’t have much representation in every district in Milwaukee and even in the legislature. So that’s why it’s important for them to get their voices heard.�

Wisconsin Voices collaborates with numerous other local organizations to accomplish their broader goals of education and voter outreach. It measures success in a variety of ways, including voter turnout and overall residents reached.�

“If our partners engage with a large number of individuals and they can talk to them and educate them on the importance of using their voice, I think that’s the greatest measurement we could ever use,� Winters said.

Resources mentioned in this video
Wisconsin Voices:

Wisconsin Voices Facebook:

Information on Youth Advocacy:

Information on Voter Education:

Wisconsin Voices current projects:

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Labor of Granite Staters caring for relatives estimated at $2.8 Billion according to AARP report

157 million hours worked. 168,000 New Hampshire caregivers. $0 paid out.

A new report by AARP revealed that the amount of unpaid care Granite Staters provided for loved ones in 2021 carried a value of $2.8 billion dollars.

Compared to the last report in 2019, this number has increased by $500 million.

“Family caregivers play a vital role in New Hampshire’s health care system, whether they care for someone at home, coordinate home health care, or help care for someone who lives in a nursing home,� said Christina FitzPatrick, AARP New Hampshire State Director. “We want to make sure all family caregivers have the financial, emotional and social support they need, because the care they provide is invaluable both to those receiving it and to their community.�

Whether it’s an abuelo, a tia or a parent, Latinos are known for caring for their family members and in many households, it is expected that Latino children will eventually care for their elderly relatives. In 2021, Salud America estimated that 1 in 3 Latino households had at least one family caregiver.

AARP reports that 61% of caregivers are also working a full time or part time job. This leads to lost income, less career opportunities and reduced savings due to their commitment at home. The report also points to the notion of “sandwich generationâ€� caregivers. AARP estimated that 30 percent of caregivers lived in a multigenerational household, including children or grandchildren. This “sandwich generationâ€�, consisting of Gen Z and millennials, are even more likely to be balancing work and tending to elderly relatives. 

26 percent of the Hispanic population in the U.S. lives in multigenerational homes, according to Pew Research.

AARP suggests several recommendations to offer support for diverse family caregivers including federal government assistance and an expansion to the Family and Medical Leave Act. To access the full report, click here.
Publisher’s Note: AARP New Hampshire and New Hampshire Latino News are partners in providing greater visibility and voice to local Hispanic-Latino communities. 


Cover photo: Kampus Production for Pixels

The Interpreters Who Pushed For Higher Pay And Won

MA Latino News covers the social determinants of health and democracy. Collaborations like the partnership with Boston University’s Department of Journalism in the College of Communication is integral to the health of news and the health of democracy. 

When her daily pay rate finally increased after 17 years, Gema Schaff bought a new pair of shoes. 

The 75-year-old Spanish language court interpreter, originally from Havana, was able to upgrade her wardrobe with new flats for work. It was part of her goal to replace “some really worn out� warm-weather shoes. 

“The [other shoes] look really old, and the first thing I thought was: I can get new shoes,’’ Schaff, who currently lives in Cambridge, said. 

The new shoes were a small victory for Schaff, who helped successfully advocate for a long overdue wage increase for herself and other Massachusetts court interpreters hired to do daily translation work. It is a battle these interpreters have been waging for years — and earlier in February they staged a walkout highlighting their plight. 

Three of the women who participated in the walkout recently described their long quest for fairer pay and said their efforts are far from over.

Before this year, Massachusetts court per diem interpreters — mostly immigrants, some in their 60s and 70s — had not had a pay raise since 2006. For 17 years, they were paid $200 to $300 per diem for translating court proceedings to defendants in criminal and civil court cases.

“The feeling was of complete helplessness,� Schaff said about the years of advocating for higher pay for per diem workers. “There was nothing we could do to get a fair pay.�

Interpreters are an essential part of court proceedings, often traveling across the state to provide courtroom translation services for people with limited English proficiency. 

They translate predominantly in Spanish, but also in Vietnamese, Portuguese, Haitian, and Chinese languages, such as Mandarin and Cantonese.

“In the trial court … you really have the opportunity to help people,â€� Schaff said. “If you are in a position to help somebody in such a stressful situation, I think you’re very privileged.â€�

Genevieve Howe, a 65-year-old Spanish interpreter of 12 years, said the idea for protesting their low wages had been circulating for many months before the interpreters settled on a date for the five-day walkout.

“We’ve been badgering our office for years to correct the compensation rates,’’ said Howe of Dorchester. “The walkout, clearly, got us the attention that we needed.�

Per diem interpreters alerted court officials about the walkout to ensure that defendants were being serviced, and met with the state’s new trial court administrator, Thomas Ambrosino, on Feb. 1.

Ambrosino approved increasing the pay to $300 for half-day and $450 for full-day certified interpreters along with $200 for half-day and $300 for full-day screened interpreters. This increase is retroactive to Jan. 1. 

“The Trial Court values the work of all of our interpreters and recognizes that they are integral to providing access to justice,’’ Donahue said.

The interpreters welcomed the increase but said it was not all they had hoped for.

“Some people … felt disappointed that $450 was the number that the courts offered,â€� Howe said. “It feels like a victory because we’re getting a 50 percent increase which is a nice bump up.â€� 

But the women had sought an increase of around $560 for a full day of work for certified interpreters after consulting with an economist. 

They also expressed concern that a state plan to hire 50 new staff interpreters would eliminate the per diem workers who have “been loyally working in the courts’’ without receiving a raise for 17 years, according to a Feb. 4 letter addressed to Governor Maura Healey’s office. 

The trial court currently has 65 staff and 90 per diem interpreters, Donahue said. 

“I do fear that being largely a group of immigrants and people of color has played some role in the trial court’s failure to pay us the attention that they should,� Howe said in an interview.

Mercy T. Cevallos, the 77-year-old Spanish interpreter of Newton who sent the letter to Healey, wrote that the $450 figure was “unacceptableâ€� and cited a compensation formula that led to the $560 figure.  

Without fair pay, Cevallos said she had to tap into her savings to pay her rent, utilities, and general living expenses, which was “emotionally painful.�

Going to court is confusing and stressful, and for people who don’t understand English, the feeling is much worse, said Cevallos.

“We’re buttressing this legal system that requires that people have access to a fair trial,� Cevallos said. “And we would like to have that apply to us as well in compensation terms.�

Per diem interpreters are also not fairly compensated for the travel time required to get to and from courthouses, which can sometimes take one to three hours a day, Howe said. 

Ambrosino promised to meet the per diem interpreters again in May to look at the travel time issue, Howe said.

“It’s just a huge relief because it’s been so long with nothing happening and no one paying any attention to us,â€� Howe said. “It feels really good that we have his ear [and] that we can continue to be in communication with him.â€�

This story was published as part of a collaboration with Boston University’s School 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.

Clare Ong is a Sophomore studying Film & Television and Journalism at Boston University. She is a 20-year-old international student from Singapore who came to the U.S. to pursue her dreams of working in the film and media industry. She hopes to be a filmmaker, photographer, or documentarian in the future and aims to tell powerful stories through her work.

Chicago Fire Youth Soccer Club Coach Christina Murillo sets the role model for young players

The 9- and 10-year-old girls training with Chicago Fire Youth Soccer Club coach Christina Murillo are constantly running after the ball during the training session. They learn how to pass the ball to each other and how to shoot at the goal. They laugh and have fun during Monday afternoon trainings, and that is one of Murillo’s goals as a coach – to make surethe players have a good time practicing soccer.

“It’s so much more important that players enjoy the game than me guaranteeing that they’re going to go pro,â€� said Murillo, head of Pre-Formation Phase (13U-15U) and Community Outreach in Chicago Fire Youth Soccer Club. “We want them to be in competitive environments, but I hope families get the understanding this is supposed to be for fun.â€�

Murillo, 30, is a role model for the girls and boys in the club. She tries to teach them in every session that it doesn’t matter if they make mistakes – the important thing is to overcome them and keep playing.

“Girls are more hesitant to make mistakes, and in sports, that’s very importantâ€� to understand, Murillo said. “I push for the girls to get outside of their comfort zones and be assertive.â€�

Concerning boys, Murillo said she likes to see that “they understand that they can have these emotions and that they should feel comfortable with it.”

Murillo’s coaching philosophy and her impact on and off the field were key to the Illinois Youth Soccer Association’s decision to give her the 2022 Female Coach of the Year award in December.

Christina Murillo played for the for Lithuanian club GintraUniversitetas in 2017 and Chicago Red Stars in 2018.She coaches youth group at the Fire Pitch on NorthTalman Ave. in Chicago. (Diana Giambona/MEDILL)

Christina Murillo played for the for Lithuanian club GintraUniversitetas in 2017 and Chicago Red Stars in 2018.She coaches youth group at the Fire Pitch on NorthTalman Ave. in Chicago. (Diana Giambona/MEDILL)

“Christina brings a lot of passion to the field, she works incredibly hard, she has a good understanding of the game and I think she has high standards because she’s played at a very high level herself,â€� said Nate Boyden, Youth Technical Director for Chicago Fire Youth Soccer Club. “She can connect and relate to the players, and also push them along in their development so that they become better soccer players.â€� 

Murillo’s parents emigrated to the U.S. from Mexico. She was born and raised in California where her passion for soccer began when she was four years old and watched her older brothers playing. She started playing at home before starting school and went on to compete at the highest level. In 2010 she was called up by the Mexico National Soccer Teamand competed in the U-17 World Cup in Trinidad andTobago. Two years later, she played as a defender in the U-20 World Cup in Japan, and in 2015 she represented Mexico in the Women’s World Cup in Canada.

Her experience as a professional player and her competitive spirit are reflected in her training sessions. The girls have fun playing soccer, but also follow their coach’s directions with discipline and try to improve at every opportunity.

Although Murillo never thought of coaching children, she now says it is “amazingâ€� working with them. 

“To see them grow as people has been the most gratifying thing,� Murillo said. “I tell people all the time, I love my job every single day.� 

Christina Murillo coaches girls and boys of different ages. (Diana Giambona/MEDILL)

Christina Murillo coaches girls and boys of different ages. (Diana Giambona/MEDILL)

In addition to physical training, Murillo stresses the importance of psychologically preparing young players. 

“The mental part is of the utmost importance to me and since day one of coaching, that’s been more of my emphasis,â€� she said. “There’s going to be a lot of kids who can play soccer well, but I think the ones that don’t know how to handle adversity, that’s going to be a lot harder for them.â€�

Murillo recalls that, in her experience as a player, the psychological pressure was very hard, and that is why she is concerned that her players always have a good time training. 

“It’s hard when you as a player put the burden of a whole country on yourself thinking that if you don’t do well, you’re letting down millions of people,â€� she said.

Murillo decided to stop playing and focus on coaching. She has been working in the Chicago Fire Youth Soccer Club since 2019 and one of her objectives is to promote the empowerment of girls and women through sports. 

“I want every girl in our club to come out feeling like a leader,â€� she said. “Whether they continue with soccer[or not], that’s okay. But it’s more important to me that they develop skills that make them into the best versions of themselves after soccer.â€�

According to EY and espnW report, 94% of women in the C-suite played sports, including 52% at the university level. 

“Soccer and sports, in general, are just like a very good environment to develop leadership skills,â€� Murillo said. 

In Chicago, more and more girls are becoming interested in playing soccer, and role models like coach Murillo can show them that it is possible to become professional players. 

“When it comes to the youth soccer on the girls’ side, I see that it is growing in Chicago,� Boyden said. “Still, there is a gap and work to do in providing opportunities for young female players and to help them fall in love with the game.�

Soccer is becoming an ever more popular sport in the United States. Murillo said that it is a sport that allows everyone to connect culturally and is a space where young people can make friends.

Murillo said Chicago athletic programs have underestimated the population of youth soccer players including Latino players. “There isn’t a huge population of players but there is a Latino market that wants to play and my goal, from who I am and my background, is to make our program more accessible,â€� Murillo said.

Chicago Fire Youth Soccer Club offers programming for ages 5 to 19 years old. Over the past year, the club has been working on new youth soccer development initiatives aimed at increasing access and pathways for players and coaches in the Midwest to engage with Chicago Fire Academy.

“We want to be at the forefront of providing access opportunities, and furthering the knowledge, whether that’s soccer skills, or improving personal kind of developmental skills for players and coaches,â€� said Jamie Lyons, Executive Director for Youth Soccer for the Chicago Fire FC.

The 2023 Women’s World Cup will be held in July and August in Australia and New Zealand, where the U.S. team will be one of the favorites. In 2026, the United States, along with Mexico and Canada, will host the Men’s World Cup. Murillo, Boyden and Lyons agree that these two events will be very important to continue promoting soccer among the young. The girls and boys who now train at the club will watch their idols play and prove that reaching the top of soccer â€“ and a dream or two – is possible.

Cover Photo Credit: Coach Christina Murillo transmits her passion for soccer to girls and boys in training session at Chicago Fire Youth Soccer Club.  (Diana Giambona/MEDILL).

Diana Giambona got a degree in journalism from Universidad de La Laguna (Tenerife, Spain). She is a graduate student at Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University specializing in sports media. She has experience covering topics such as politics, society, sports and culture.

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

The post <strong>Chicago Fire Youth Soccer Club Coach Christina Murillo sets the role model for young players</strong> appeared first on ILLN.

Lawyers For Civil Rights Boston Leader Receives New Honors

MA Latino News covers the social determinants of health and democracy. Collaborations like the partnership with Boston University’s Department of Journalism in the College of Communication is integral to the health of news and the health of democracy. 

Some people grow up with aspirations of becoming a celebrity, an athlete, or even a world-renowned singer. For 43-year-old Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal, choosing a career had nothing to do with dreams and everything to do with a question.

“How do you protect yourself and how do you assert your rights, especially in a context where you don’t know your rights?� Espinoza-Madrigal said.

The answer lies in Espinoza-Madrigal’s career as a  public interest and civil rights lawyer. As the executive director of Lawyers for Civil Rights in Boston, he has been at the center of many of the legal cases that have come through Boston, including filing a lawsuit against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for transporting a myriad of people, most of them Venezuelan seeking asylum, to Martha’s Vineyard.

He’s also been at the forefront of his East Boston neighborhood efforts to locate a Latin-American woman who has been missing since last November.

Espinoza-Madrigal was recently named a 2022 “Lawyers of the Yearâ€� by Massachusetts Lawyer Weekly for his legal advocacy work. 

The organization noted that within hours after the news broke about the two airplanes carrying migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, Espinoza-Madrigal was on the island with a team of lawyers “to ascertain the details of their situation.�

“It is extremely humbling to be able to receive the lawyer of the year recognition and the award reflects the importance of the work that my organization championed,� Espinoza-Madrigal said.

Born in Costa Rica and raised in Chelsea, Mass., Espinoza-Madrigal grew up in a low-income family with a mother who cleaned houses for a living to raise her sons. Growing up, Espinoza-Madrigal said he witnessed “the injustice� in how his family was treated, dealing with immigration authorities, the police, and landlords demanding rent.

After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania in 2001, Espinoza-Madrigal went to New York University School of Law to pursue a career in public interest law. 

As the first in his family to go to college, attend graduate school, and become a lawyer, Espinoza-Madrigal said he wanted to highlight the importance of “creating space� for immigrants, Latinos, and minority groups in the legal profession. That includes ensuring not only hiring and promoting Latinos in the legal profession but also amplifying their voices on critical issues, he said.

“It is an extremely segregated profession and it doesn’t reflect the populations we serve. You start seeing a stark difference between what we look like as a community and what we look like as a legal profession.â€�


This process should begin in law school, he said, noting his own experience with having peers and mentors from similar backgrounds—which helped him get through law school. 

After law school, he worked as a public service attorney and became executive director of Lawyers for Civil Rights Boston in April 2015. He has become a voice for people, who would not otherwise have a lawyer to advocate for them in a crisis.

When Espinoza-Madrigal first learned about the Venezuelan migrants being dropped off on Martha’s Vineyard, he said he felt “extreme worry� and “concern� for the well-being of the families and children who were left without any protection or resources.

Grace Moreno, chief executive and executive director of the Massachusetts LGBT Chamber of Commerce, recalled receiving a call from Espinoza-Madrigal that morning. He asked her to “jump in� because other people were not “acting as fast.� Although she does not specialize in immigration issues, she quickly responded to Espinoza-Madrigal’s call.

“I’m a Latina in the Latino community,’’ Moreno said. “He reached out to me … on a personal level and I, of course, jumped in because this was a humanitarian effort.�

When she got to the scene, Espinoza-Madrigal was in the “front-lineâ€�, helping escort the migrants on the ferry to the military base, Moreno recalled. 

“He made sure people understood they were safe,â€� she said. 

While his award champions the work of his organization’s efforts on behalf of the Venezuelan migrants, Espinoza-Madrigal said it is one example of the “day-to-day struggles� the Latino community has faced recently.

He recalled going to another scene in East Boston, where Reina Morales Rojas had been missing for five months. The Everett-based advocacy group, Latinos Unidos en Massachusetts, had called Espinoza-Madrigal and Lawyers for Civil Rights to help ascertain what was going on with the case.

The police would not let the lawyers into the meeting.  

Though Rojas had disappeared for a while, news of her vanishing did not become public until Jan. 25. 

Espinoza-Madrigal said the cases of Rojas and the Venezuelans show how Latinos are often “neglected� and “exploited.�

“These two challenges coexist…Living under the constant fear of exploitation while trying to survive through institutional and structural neglect.â€�


That is why he does this work, said Moreno, who praised the recent honor from Lawyers Weekly.

She said she admires how Espinoza-Madrigal is not scared to be bold and uses the law for the good of the people.

“He’s one of the few lawyers on the left that can actually be just as creative with the law,â€� Moreno said. “He protects the humanitarian and the little guy.â€�

This story was published in collaboration with 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 Chavez is a sophomore majoring in journalism at Boston University.

Sweet Connections: La Michoacana Plus offers Little Village a community commonground

For husband and wife Angelo Villagomez and Edith Galvan, opening up La Michoacana Plus in Little Village brings them a sense of joy because it became a place where youth can laugh with friends, do homework or enjoy some ice cream. 

“Some kids come in here for half an hour, eat one thing and then just hang out…It’s turned into a way of giving back to the community,â€� Villagomez said. 

La Michoacana Plus franchise opened this month and offers a variety of treats such as paletas (ice cream bars), michelaguas (fruit flavored drinks), esquites (a corn dish), and more. 

The history of the franchise stems from California and is separate from other La Michoacana ice cream shops across Chicago, Villagomez said. 

For customer Jose Antonio Reynaga, he said visiting La Michoacana Plus with his family is a tradition and a way to reconnect with his cultural roots.

The California-based franchise opened its first Midwestern branch this month in Little Village on 26 st. Hours are 10 a.m.- 10 p.m., seven days a week. (Una Cleary)

“It’s a way to return to Mexico,â€� Reynaga said. 

Little Village residents are 81% Latino and 75% Mexican and Mexican American according to Enlace Chicago and around 18% of businesses are restaurants according to a 2012 market analysis done by the Little Village Special Service Area.

As the first Michoacana Plus on 26th street, Villagomez said he wanted to create a restaurant that is different from the rest of businesses in Little Village by giving it a “twistâ€� with its bright colors, food and vivid ambiance. 

“It’s important because most of us like to try new things, having something that’s out of the ordinary is definitely something that is really good for us,� said Liz Gonzalez, La Michoacana Plus employee.

La Michoacana Plus offers a variety of sweet and savory snacks and treats including michelaguas a fruity drink, nieves de agua, a sorbet ice cream and dorilocos chips topped with pork rinds and hot sauce. (Jacqueline Cardenas)

With a mix of younger and older employees, Gonzales said she enjoys the environment and the people she works with.  

“Most of us are pretty young and we get along pretty well,� Gonzalez said. “The elder people treat us like their own kids.�

The Little Village Academy, a local elementary school on 26th street, brings to the restaurant people from all ages, from students showing them their report cards to 30-year-old parents who want to get something to drink, Villagomez said. 

Una Cleary

Villagomez and his wife started planning their grand opening around two years ago, though it hasn’t been easy.

Villagomez said he balances general contracting, construction, the franchise and being a father to his 18 month old daughter.  

Since opening up the franchise, Villagomez said younger clientele have asked him for business advice through social media. 

He said he is always happy to help because growing up, he didn’t have anyone to guide him on how to run a business and believes it’s easier said than done. 

“I wish I had someone when I was younger,â€� he said. 

Hispanic-owned businesses grew about 8.2%, from 346,836 in 2019 to 375,256 in 202, and made up about 6.5% of all businesses, according to 2020 U.S. Census data

“Don’t be afraid to ask questions and show up…put yourself out there,â€� Villagomez said to advise young Latino entrepreneurs. 

Beyond a business opportunity Villagomez gets excited and finds joy in seeing kids come into the restaurant. 

“My heart was like damn this makes me happy,â€� Villagomez said. 

The couple plans to open up three more locations in the Chicago area in the future. 

Cover Photo: La Michoacana employee Liz Gonzalez enjoys the unique atmosphere that the store provides for the community. The store is something out of the ordinary for Gonzalez. (Una Cleary)

Jacqueline is the editor-in-chief of La DePaulia, DePaul University’s Spanish language newspaper. She is a multimedia journalist and the event coordinator for the university’s National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ) student chapter. Jacqueline is a first-generation Mexican-American who aspires to diversify the broadcast news industry. 

She is an Hortencia Zavala Foundation (HZF) fellow in the 2022 class, Journalism Camp: covering race, ethnicity, and culture.

Una Cleary is the Focus Editor for The DePaulia, DePaul University’s newspaper. She is a multimedia journalist majoring in Political Science who is passionate about local and national politics.


Publisher’s Notes: Illinois Latino News (ILLN) and La DePaulia are partners in best serving the Hispanic-Latino community.

You can read the Spanish language version of Sweet Connections: La Michoacana Plus offers Little Village A Community Commonground by clicking on La Michoacana Plus ofrece dulces conexiones en La Villita: ‘Es una manera de regresar a México’.

The post Sweet Connections: La Michoacana Plus offers Little Village a community commonground appeared first on ILLN.

Home Inspection Business Owner Benefited From Early Days at SCOW

WALLINGFORD — Growing up in Wallingford in the late-1990s through the early 2000s, there weren’t a lot of Latinos like Octavio Dominguez, who’s of Mexican origin.

However, it wasn’t until Dominguez started attending the Spanish Community of Wallingford’s programs that he was able to find his community and build a foundation for his future career endeavors such as his own home inspection business, Grizzly Home Inspections, and his record label, Resalta Records, at only 25 years old.

“Growing up in Wallingford as a Latino, there weren’t a lot of Latinos there,� Domingez said. “All the Latinos that were there, we were pretty united … SCOW helped form the big part of that because there were a lot of people from our same town (in Mexico) that we wouldn’t know and wouldn’t hang out with until SCOW. We started building friendships through them.�

Read the full story by the Record-Journal’s Latino Communities Lab at:

Publisher’s Note: CTLatinoNews partners with the Latino Communities Reporting Lab in best serving the Hispanic-Latino communities of Connecticut.

Community Advocates Call for Expanded Multilingual Learner Support

Through decades of academic and professional achievements, memories of being penalized for speaking Spanish at school have stayed with Delia Arellano-Weddleton of the Nellie Mae Education Foundation. 

“I know that we can do better for our bilingual children,� Director of Engagement & Partnerships Arellano-Weddleton stated. “To do so will take intentional steps, including passing and implementing policies, allocating financial resources, nurturing mindsets and environments that value multilingual children and their families.�

About 11% of Rhode Island students from Pre-K to grade 12 were multilingual/English learners (MLL/EL) during the 2020-2021 school year—nearly double from a decade ago.  

Multilingual/English learners that school year spoke 92 different languages, although 81% spoke Spanish. Around 70% of these students attended school in Central Falls (45%), Providence (33%), Pawtucket (16%), and Woonsocket (11%), according to a new publication.

RI Kids Count released Multilingual Learners in Rhode Island Monday afternoon in a virtual event. Watch the full presentation HERE.   

The publication explores common challenges that multilingual and English learners face across Rhode Island along with state-wide recommendations to effectively support these students and address educational disparities. 

Community leaders at the event discussed the alarming gaps in high school graduation and college enrollment rates between multilingual/English learners and their peers. 

In the Rhode Island Class of 2021, 84% of all students had graduated high school in four years while 69% of MLL/ELs had graduated in four years, according to the publication. 

About 59% of the entire Class of 2021 were immediately enrolled in college, while 33% of MLL/ELs were immediately enrolled in college. The majority of MLL/EL students enrolled in college two-year college programs rather than four-year programs. 

“I think, overall, our programs need to think about centering multilingual learners as the norm across all of our education programs,� Rhode Island College Assistant Professor Erin Papa said.

Papa pointed to partnerships between the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE), the Office of Postsecondary Education, and all higher education institutions to continue addressing barriers that prevent or discourage multilingual students from entering undergraduate and graduate programs.

In 2020-2021, dropout rates were the highest among Multilingual/English Learners at 18% dropping out—compared to 8% of all students—according to the publication. 

High School students who are chronically absent have higher chances of dropping out, emphasized University of Rhode Island Associate Professor Rabia Hos. Around 44% of MLL/ELs were chronically absent, the highest of any subgroup in the 2020-2021 school year.

The new publication also highlighted that multilingual/English learners are more likely to live in low-income households and attend high-poverty schools than their peers. 

“Studies show that it is not the home language, it’s not the fact that you’re a multilingual learner—it’s the poverty rate associated when you are a multilingual learner that is a more significant predictor of your academic achievement than anything else. So, it’s poverty levels,â€� explained Senior Policy Analyst Jessica Vega of RI Kids Count. 

The Blueprint for Multilingual Learner Success

Wednesday morning, March 1, state leaders announced that $322,899 in Multilingual Learner Success Grants would be awarded to ten local education agencies—kicking off the second phase of the Blueprint for Multilingual Learner Success

In 2001, RIDE first partnered with community-based organizations to develop the Blueprint for MLL Success, according to RI Kids Count. The final version was released in 2021.

As a part of the Blueprint, RIDE planned to spend 2021-2023 focused on engagement, expanding dual-language programs, revising regulations and policies, along with strengthening parent and community partnerships. Starting this year, RIDE looks to fully implement these policies by 2026.

Governor Dan McKee has also proposed to increase funding for multilingual learner support by $7.8 million in his #RIReady FY24 budget proposal.

Dual Language Programs 

Across the country, dual language programs have expanded as new initiatives to support the nation’s growing bilingual and multilingual student population. 

“Dual language programs…have so much potential,� Vega said. “Dual language programs are a way to teach students that will honor and celebrate their home language.�

In these programs, students learn and engage in two different languages: students will spend half of the day communicating in one particular language and then, for the second half of the day, continue with the same material in a second language. 

Schools in Central Falls, Pawtucket, and Providence currently offer dual-language programs—all involving either Spanish or Portuguese and English. 

“The goal is, if we have an increased pipeline of dual language teachers who are certified and world language teachers, then we’re able to open up more dual language programs throughout the state,� Vega explained. “And it’s really important that students who come from low-income communities have access to these programs because studies show, if you support a student’s proficiency in their home language, it actually improves their English proficiency as well.�

In 2020-2021, 5% of all Rhode Island public school teachers and instructional coordinators held an active Bilingual, Dual Language, or English to Speakers of Other Languages certification, according to RI Kids Count. 

One proposed policy, the Multilingual Educator Investment Act, looks to increase the number of multilingual educators in urban communities through an annual two-million dollar scholarship fund for teacher employment. 

Other recommendations in the Multilingual Learners in Rhode Island publication include improving data collection to identify MLL/EL students, providing high-quality early childhood care to MLL/EL students with developmental delays or disabilities, proactively responding to the challenges and needs of Newcomers, and enhancing assessment tools to effectively support Newcomers.

Available at, the Multilingual Learners in Rhode Island publication includes further context and recommendations on resources for multilingual/English learners and Newcomer students across the state.
Hear more about RI Kids Count’s work in RI Latino News’ Opinion+ Interview with Deputy Director Stephanie Geller below.