Jorge Valdivia: Telling Authentic Stories

Diversity, equity, and inclusion allow broader perspectives to be integrated when developing new ideas, particularly in the performing arts. They shape public ideas about cultural identity and expose audiences to conflicts and discourses they may not encounter daily.

The Chicago Latino Theater Alliance (CLATA) is a transformative cultural engine helping drive the local Latino theater community to a more prominent level.

CLATA’s signature program, Destinos, the Chicago International Latino Theater Festival, kicks off for a new season this month, showcasing Chicago’s Latino theater artists and companies alongside top Latino artists from the U.S. and Latin America.

Jorge Valdivia, Executive Director of CLATA was a guest on the program “3 Questions With…� hosted by Hugo Balta, publisher of IL Latino News.

Valdivia spoke about CLATA’s work in building a stronger foundation for future Latino theater artists to thrive and grow. “To help build more visibility for Latinos on stages across Chicago,” he said when talking about the need to amplify Latino voices and narratives. “Not just people who look like you and me, but people who identify as Afro-Latinos and gender queer. Our mission is to capture the full diaspora and narrative of what it means to be Latine in the USA.”

Valdivia also shared what theatergoers can expect at this year’s Destinos, which begins its six-week run on September 28. The annual event showcases Chicago’s Latino theater artists and companies alongside top Latino artists from the U.S. and Latin America. “Prieto is an autobiographical story about his (written and performed by Yosimar Reyes) experience as a child trying to accept himself – dark skinned and queer,” Valdivia says about the play from San Jose (one of the many imports) that navigates topics entrenched in struggle, search for truth, clarity, and joy.

“I was surrounded by artists,” remembered Valdivia about his childhood. “My mother was an aspiring singer/song writer. I have always been fascinated by how art can elevate the stories of who we are as Latinos. There’s nothing more powerful than telling your story and being authentic.”

For more information about Destinos, including how to get tickets, click HERE.

“3 Questions With…� is co-produced by the Latino News Network (LNN), an independent, multimedia digital news outlet with local newsrooms in the Northeast and Midwest, including IL Latino News  and CAN TV, Chicago’s hub for community centric news, hyperlocal stories and educational resources.

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Aguas frescas in Chicago: How a family business out of a front yard grows in a Southside neighborhood 

CHICAGO — What brings people to the Southwest Side neighborhood of Chicago Lawn on any given day? Quality aguas fresca, a homemade beverage made of freshly squeezed fruit, is popular in Mexico and other Latin American countries.

Though many street vendors throughout the city may sell agua fresca, few specialize in the unique drink that most recently, in the mainstream, some began to refer to as “spa water.�

But on 71st Street and Homan, right across from Marquette Park, a family-run small business that specializes in selling aguas frescas and other snacks has been operating from their front yard since 2021.

A variety of aguas frescas and snacks is sold in front of Marquette Park in Chicago Lawn. (Citlali Perez )

The business is a family effort; Gloria Diaz and her husband Oscar Michelle, collaborate to make it possible with the support of Diaz’s sister Martina Guerca. And the youngest, Diaz and Michelle’s son and daughter, help to run the stand on weekends throughout the school year – when the family has the most patrons.

Diaz and her family moved to Chicago Lawn from Brighton Park in 2020. When they lived in Brighton Park, Diaz and Michelle would sell “bolis,� frozen flavored water inside a plastic bag. They were a big hit among children in Brighton Park, so they decided to continue selling when they moved to Chicago Lawn.

But they weren’t selling as much because many people in the area aren’t familiar with the bolis.

So the family began to brainstorm. After consulting with each other, they decided to sell aguas frescas instead. The most common flavors include horchata, hibiscus, and tamarind.

A recent TikTok trend popularized the Mexican staple when content creator Gracie Norton posted a video introducing the drink to her following as spa water, sparking a conversation about the re-branding and appropriation of traditional Mexican food by white people.

Diaz explains that customers unfamiliar with aguas frescas may be more open to trying it because they can compare it to something they are more familiar with. But what sets this apart from juice or any other fruity beverage, is its natural ingredients.

The aguas are all prepared from scratch with fresh fruits that the family sources from a warehouse. A good agua fresca should taste like the fruit or other ingredients that it is made with, and have a good water and sugar ratio, she explained.

The aguas are kept cool throughout the day by pouring in ice and adding more of the agua fresca into the container so as not to dilute the flavor.

When the weather hits at least 55 degrees, Chicago Lawn residents and other loyal customers can count on Diaz and her family to be set up with large transparent containers of aguas frescas.

The colorful row of containers catches the eyes of passers-by. Most days, people line up or drive by the family’s front yard, which is right in front of Tarkington Elementary.

During the school year, children coming out of class and teachers going on their lunch breaks frequent the stand.

Diaz said that she and her family hope to provide this service year-round.

Since September of last year, they have been working to open up a brick-and-mortar location for their business. They began to plan for this a year ago and since then have confirmed the locale, 3115 W. 71st Pl.

Michelle said opening the facility has been a long process because of city requirements and regulations. Though it is a risky investment, it has been a dream and goal of the family, he said.

The couple has been able to subsidize the cost of the project with a side job that has flexible work hours. They plan to name the business “Las Delicias de Michelle,� as it would include the whole family.

Meanwhile, Diaz and Michelle have been working at a different location on 83th St., for three months, aside from selling in front of their house.

“El sol sale para todos,â€� says Michelle who doesn’t view surrounding street vendors as competition and says they all offer something different to the community.

Michelle explains that there are three ways to successfully run a business: quality service, quality products, and loyal customers who help spread the word.

Cover Photo by Citlali Perez 

Publisher’s Notes: You can read Citlali’s Spanish language version of Aguas frescas in Chicago: How a family business out of a front yard grows in a Southside neighborhood by clicking on Aguas frescas forman parte de la comunidad suroeste de Chicago.

Illinois Latino News (ILLN) and La DePaulia are partners in best serving the Hispanic-Latino community.

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Iris Y. Martinez: Making The Justice System Accessible To All

Judicial process refers to the legal proceedings and actions taken in a court of law. It includes all the steps in a legal case, from the initial filing of a lawsuit to the final judgment or determination.

The Clerk of the Circuit Court is the official record keeper for the courts. The circuit clerk is an integral part of the entire county governmental process. The primary duty of the circuit clerk is to assist in preparing and maintaining court records, collecting fees and fines, and processing paperwork.

The Cook County Circuit Court is the most extensive court system in Illinois and the second-largest unified court system in the world. The staff is composed of more than 14 hundred employees. Leading it all is Clerk Iris Y. Martinez, who made history when she was elected as the first Latina Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County in 2020.

Clerk Martinez was a guest on the program â€œ3 Questions With…â€� hosted by Hugo Balta, publisher of IL Latino News.

Madame Clerk explained the work of the Office and highlighted some of the initiatives she has implemented, like the launch of the Customer Service Call Center in June. “We created the Call Center to streamline calls to all of the different parts of our office, to one area,” Martinez said about the challenges people had in reaching the many divisions in the Office. “We’ve seen over 1,200 phone calls on a daily basis, addressed 77,000 people, 200 different languages.”

She also spoke about expungements and the sealing of records. “I met this young man who said to me, “I did something when I was 18 years old,” he’s now thirty-something, it came back to haunt him when he applied for a job,” she recalled about a person who participated in an expungement petition drive that the Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County co-hosts with faith-based organizations. The Office also leads forums to inform and educate the public about the complicated process of expungements. “We are teaming up with pastors that are very in touch with the community that need these services,” Martinez said about the collaboration it takes to help people get their paperwork to file their application.

SUGGESTION: Expungement Event Attracts Community Members Looking To Clear Their Record

Clerk Martinez said that her family is a source of inspiration fueling her passion to serve the public. “One of the things that my father and grandmother were about was helping people,” she recalled. “I used to go around with him (father) to deliver food or help people find jobs.” Martinez credits growing up in a household where caring for the community was a staple for her, leading her to a career in public service.

“I see it up close and personal,” Martinez said about how she and her team engage with residents through Clerk in the Community (CIC), a program that brings services from the seven district offices to where the public lives. “I am hands-on, being part of the decision-making when it comes to what is the best thing we can do to offer these resources and how much more can we expand to make sure that people are getting the very best of government.”

CIC is also a program on CAN-TV. Watch new episodes every month by clicking HERE.

Clerk Martinez’s time as an elected official began in January 2003, when she was sworn in as the first Latina elected to the Illinois State Senate, representing the people of the 20th Legislative District.

“3 Questions With…â€� is co-produced by the Latino News Network (LNN), an independent, multimedia digital news outlet with local newsrooms in the Northeast and Midwest, including IL Latino News  and CAN TV, Chicago’s hub for community centric news, hyperlocal stories and educational resources.

Editor’s Notes: Hugo Balta is the Deputy Public Information Officer in the Office of the Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County.

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New Report: Shocking Low Turnout by Black and Latino Voters in this Year’s Chicago Mayoral Race

Brandon Johnson’s election this past April as Chicago’s new mayor has been hailed across the country as an electrifying victory by progressive Democrats. But a detailed analysis of vote tallies – one that I and Matthew Wilson of the Great Cities Institute at the University of Illinois Chicago conducted – has found a startling gap in voter turnout along racial and ethnic lines in Chicago.

Our review of all 1,291 voting precincts throughout the city revealed that a mere 29 percent of registered Black voters and just 20.5 percent of registered Latinos cast a ballot in the April run-off, a far lower figure than the 61.1 percent of Chicago’s registered white voters who turned out. For Latinos, in particular, these figures become even more disturbing given that a significant percentage of Latinx resident aged 18 and over are either legal permanent residents or undocumented, and thus are ineligible to vote. Our analysis concluded that just 1 of every 10 Latinos over the age of 18 voted in this year’s Chicago mayoral runoff.

We further estimate that 54.4 percent of those Latinos who did participate cast their ballot for Johnson’s opponent Paul Vallas, as did more than 70 percent of Asian voters, but that Johnson achieved his slim victory by capturing 88 percent support from Black voters and a substantial minority – 34 percent – of white voters.

For more details on the racial and ethnic voting patterns in this election, how those trends compare to the historic 1983 victory of Harold Washington, and possible lessons to be learned from the data, see the full report here: New Great Cities Institute Report – “Chicago’s 2023 Mayoral Race: A Progressive Victory Amidst Shocking Low Turnout by Black and Latino Voters.�

Cover Photo by cottonbro studio.

Juan González is a Senior Fellow at the Great Cities Institute at the University of Illinois Chicago and co-host of the radio/TV news show Democracy Now. He is the author of Harvest of Empire: A History of Latinos in America and is a founding member and former president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.

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Latino Population Growing In The Suburbs, Buying More Homes But Continue To Face Hardship

Little Village, Humboldt Park, and Pilsen are just some neighborhoods that exemplify communities known for high-volume of Latinos. When asked to point to where Latinos in Illinois live, one might describe 26th Street, adorned by the famous terracotta arch. But while Chicago is undeniably rich with Latino culture, more than 50% of Illinois’ Latinos reside in the suburbs.

Latinos in the Suburbs: Challenges & Opportunities is a collaborative project by the Latino Policy Forum, Metropolitan Planning Council and UIC Great Cities Institute which studied issues Latinos living outside of the city limits face, their growth compared to non-Latino neighbors and what improvements can be made. The organizations and community members met at Elgin Community College Thursday to present key findings of the report.

1.2 million Latinos currently live in the suburbs, which has happened at a rapid pace. From 2010 to 2020, only 16% of the Latino population growth in the Chicago metropolitan area happened within the city of Chicago, while 84% occurred in the suburbs. According to the report, much of this growth exists in areas with traditionally lower percentages of Latino residents.

The experience of Latinos in the suburbs is referred to throughout the report as paradoxical. They are significantly driving the labor force, homeownership rates, and population growth, though these contributions are not fully reflected in their daily lives. For example, While 47% of Latino suburban households earn more than $75,000, they are still twice as likely to live in poverty as are non-Latinos.

“This project is unique in painting a picture of the successes and contributions Latinos are making to the socio economic fabric of the suburbs while, at the same time, illustrating the challenges Latinos face in securing their own socioeconomic well-being and stability. For example, 6 in 10 Latinos live in high or very hardship suburbs…� said Sylvia Puente, President and CEO of the Latino Policy Forum.

These communities drive economic growth in their areas. In 2019 Illinois’ Latinos had a spending power of $68 billion which is projected to grow between 2021 to 2026 at a rate 50% greater than for white people in the state.

“I care if you pay me $40 an hour, and we all will live well, and the economy will be better. Because the flow of money will go from the bottom up. If I earn $20 an hour, I will buy something, but if I earn $40 an hour, I will buy two things and will provide for the economy, and the businessmen will get paid somehow. I will be a frequent client because I have more money flow,� said one Latina participant in the study.

“This report makes clear that Latinos play a crucial role in our region’s health and vitality,� said Daniel Cooper, Senior Director of Research, Metropolitan Planning Council. “The Latino population is growing faster in the suburbs than anywhere else in the state. We need to ensure that this growth brings health, opportunity, and political voice and representation for the diverse Latino families in our region.�

One issue Latinos face in moving to the suburbs is commuting and transportation.

“We don’t have 24/7 public transportation like in Chicago. A lot of us don’t have any other way to travel. If we need to go someplace, at an hour where there is no transportation available, we have to wait 30 or 50 minutes to catch public transportation,â€� said one participant.

The study found that costs for transportation can account for as much as 30% of moderate-income households’ budgets.

“This report adds to the growing recognition of the importance of Latinos to the Chicagoland economy as employees, homeowners, consumers, and more,� said Teresa Cordova, Director of the Great Cities Institute, UIC. “We learn from applying the Great Cities Institute Hardship Index that the growing opportunities for Latinos in the suburbs are also accompanied by needs that require policy attention.�

Read the full Latinos in the Suburbs: Challenges & Opportunities here.

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Mental Health Challenges for Police Officers Generates New Outlook on Police and Community Relationships

In seeking to understand how to improve community and police relationships, the focus is increasingly turning to officers’ mental health.

In 2018, the Department of Justice estimated that approximately 15% of police officers nationwide wrestle with PTSD, in comparison with 5% of the general public in the year 2020, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. PTSD results in increased rates of sleep disorders, anxiety, and depression. Since 2018, at least 22 Chicago Police officers have died by  suicide, while 7 have died in the line of duty.

In December 2022, there was one week in which three Chicago police officers committed suicide.

In an interview with WTTW, Alisha Warren of the Chicago Department of Health said that the holidays can be a hard time of the year for those dealing with anxiety and depression. She noted, in connection with these three officers, that it is a time of year when many feel nostalgic about their families, and that for some they convince themselves that their role is a burden to their friends and family.

Chicago Police officer Matt Bracken and Chicago-based police and public service psychologist Dr. Carrie Steiner, a former officer, are among those who feel an increase in mental illness amongst police officers is the result of a cultural shift that demonizes officers.

In Chicago, they say, community anger toward officers has pushed many to leave the force and made it difficult for the department to find new recruits.

According to a report by WTTW in March 2023, the Chicago Police Department spent $210.5 million on police overtime in 2022, a 56% increase from 2021, revealing the reality of staffing shortages.

Some also blame rising crime rates for these personnel issues. In a vicious circle, the short-staffing makes work even more grueling, stressful and dangerous for officers on the force.

Since 2018, in Chicago murder rates have increased by 20%, motor vehicle theft has increased by 114%, and theft has increased by 32%, according to Chicago police statistics.

Hence staffing shortages, community opposition and increased crime have generated a police force that is understaffed, less-qualified, and dealing with higher rates of traumatic instances, Dr. Steiner and other experts say.

Resources lacking 

Dr. Steiner notes that many officers have difficulty sharing their trauma with psychologists who do not have experience on the force. She noted one occasion where an officer went to a psychologist to discuss an incident where they discharged their weapon in self-defense. The psychologist asked why they did not shoot the suspect in the leg instead of the chest.

Dr. Steiner said this inquiry reveals the lack of awareness many psychologists have about police training and the use of firearms in self-defense. She also noted that this type of questioning does not help an officer when they are already in distress regarding the incident, and that questions like these belong in the courtroom, not in an environment where officers need to be vulnerable in order to find help. She says instances like this are not rare, and push many officers away from seeking help.

Chicago police have faced particular community animosity in the past decade because of a number of high-profile shootings by officers, including the killing of teenagers Laquan McDonald in 2014 and Adam Toledo in 2021.

Seventeen-year-old Laquan McDonald was fatally shot by Chicago police 16 times. Video recordings of the shooting were not released until 2015 after the police department fought to withhold evidence from the public, resulting in a city-wide outcry for better policing that scarred police and community relationships in Chicago.

Adam Toledo, 13, allegedly was fatally shot by an officer after running away and dropping what appeared to be a weapon. He raised his hands to the officers, and was fatally shot in the chest. Once again, Chicagoans protested and demanded better policing.

In Chicago and many other cities, racial tension is central to fraught community-police relationships and takes a heavy toll on the well-being of officers, especially officers of color who feel caught in the middle between their communities and their department.

Conference Offers Solutions

In May, police officers of all ranks from jurisdictions around the nation gathered in Atlanta for the Professionalizing Law Enforcement-Community Engagement Training (PLECET).

Panelists and speakers discussed officers’ mental health as part of larger efforts at reform and community engagement at the event. Speakers collectively echoed ideas that advocate for a shift in perspective, like Dr. Friedmann, and discussed different approaches to officer wellbeing and growing community relationships as the solution forward.

Many officers and experts at the conference considered the cultural moment of critique towards policing to be a factor in the increased rates of mental illness amongst officers. Hence, they argue there need to be better relationships between police officers and the communities they serve. They say these relationships will help to bring down instances of injustice, promote a healthier work environment for officers, and shift the broader perspective on police officers to one where they are a part of the community, instead of a separate entity serving the community.

The conference sought to integrate these concepts in police departments around the nation.

Chief Anthony Halloway of the St. Petersburg Police Department in Florida spoke in favor of a nuanced perspective during a panel discussion at the conference, stressing the importance of interaction between communities and police departments.

“People fear each other because they don’t know each other,â€� said Halloway. “People do not know each other because they do not properly communicate with one another.â€�

Sheriff Gary McFadden is the current and first Black sheriff of Mecklenburg County which includes the city of Charlotte, North Carolina. He also spoke at a PLECET panel discussion and stressed the importance of treating his officers like family in an effort to improve their work environment, and their willingness to engage with the community. He also called on police bosses to interact more with their officers.

“Every working deputy eats at my house for Thanksgiving… let your staff know that you love them, and treat them with respect,� said Sheriff McFadden.

Sheriff McFadden spoke about thinking outside of the box, and urged officers to connect with one another and the community in ways not seen as normal policing, such as hosting community events and participating in conversations with the community to collectively find better strategies.

He said his department puts on community engagement activities every weekend, and the surrounding community has responded positively. Furthermore, officers now feel a greater sense of camaraderie and connection with one another and the community they serve, he said.

Dr. Robert Friedmann of Georgia State University is a professor emeritus of Criminal Justice and the founding director of the Georgia International Law Enforcement Exchange.

He argues that in order to create better policing strategies, the issue of police officer wellbeing has to be an important part of the conversation.

“If you take police officers for granted, you probably take citizens for granted,� Dr. Friedmann said at the conference. “So before you try to treat your citizens better, you need to also treat your officers better.�

He argues that hostility toward police stems in part from people not understanding what officers are going through.

“To be a police officer in 2023 is probably the most demanding job ever,� Dr. Friedman said in a separate interview. “If I compare what police on the front line have to do and the variety of challenges they have… they deal with anything from a couple in a fight, to somebody barricading themselves in a room. And you have to be able to respond to a whole set of issues that change from minute to minute. The level of training and performance needed for police officers today is much different than it was 20 or 30 years ago.�

Dr. Friedmann advocates for a shift towards a service-centered approach in policing in order to address the trend of officer mental illness and community dissatisfaction with policing. His service-centered approach articulates that in order to create better policing, we need to view policing and crime through a different lens.

He argues that the epidemiology of crime needs to be placed in the hands of the community, and not solely in the hands of officers serving the community. Along with increased community responsibility, he says officers need to be equipped with more training in order to address the wide range of issues they now deal with.

One way to do this, he said, is that if police receive higher education, they can have more social work training, thus improving their ability to interact with a wide range of people and scenarios. Friedmann and other experts say this will help to standardize practices, such as those seen in other professions, like doctors and nurses.

He argues that these shifts in practice and responsibility surrounding policing and crime will not be easy and will be part of a gradual process, but in the end it will generate a system that is better for the wellbeing of both communities and police officers.

Dr. Friedman says that as it currently stands, “all of the responsibility to deal with criminal incidents and public order incidents rests on the shoulders of police.�

A Message of Nuance and Optimism

At the PLECET conference, Sheriff McFadden passionately spoke about his 41 years in law enforcement as a Black police officer, and the obstacles he has faced in translating his experience as a Black man in order to generate change in the departments he has served in.

At the core of his message was the idea that change happens when individuals decide to make a change within themselves.

“We have to have the conversation to tell your neighbor that you are actually culturally naive,� said McFadden in regards to his experience communicating with other police officers, and residents who hold different perspectives.

McFadden connected his message to the cultural division in our nation today, arguing that so much tension is caused by a failure to understand one another, and these divisions play out starkly in police community relations and officers’ mental health.

“We have one of the worst cultures I have ever seen right now because certain people want it to be divided. Now the question is will you be that leader to change the culture, or will you stick to the status quo?� McFadden asked police officers and community leaders at the conference.

McFadden’s closing message struck a powerful chord in the room as he closed his speech, a chord of passionate responsibility, voicing the belief that one individual can make a difference, and a chord of hope that there is a pathway for law enforcement and communities of color to work together. A message aimed at rejecting hopelessness and animosity, and replacing it with optimism and a need for action aimed at bringing people together in order to heal.

“Be intentional about saying, ‘We have to change,’� said McFadden. “Once you change, the community starts to change as well.�

Photo by Michael Förtsch on Unsplash

Calvin Krippner is a Chicago based journalist who pursues stories that provide nuance in evaluating different perspectives and lifestyles. He has a passion for learning from others, and uses this curiosity to spark introspective conversations with people from all walks of life.

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Clerk of the Circuit Court Iris Y. Martinez: Transparency To Protect Communities

Jose Alvarez, the Little Village resident accused of fatally shooting his wife and daughter, and wounding his son is expected back in court on July 26.

Below is an opinion editorial by Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County, Iris Y. Martinez.

This week, the Chicago Tribune published an article by Laura Rodriguez Presa that provided the horrific details of the murder of Karina Gonzalez and her daughter in a domestic violence incident with her husband and the father of her children. He also shot their son, who thankfully survived and is reported to be recovering. Ms. Gonzalez’ story is heartbreaking.

Victims will not trust a system that will not protect them. Without the bravery of those who file protective and firearm restraining orders, both law enforcement and the court system do not have the tools to protect victims of abuse, their children, co-workers, neighbors, and communities. Many victims will never have the chance to become survivors.

Domestic violence incidents (as well as the increase in mass shootings) highlight the need for more use of our “red flag� laws, which are orders that allow law enforcement to temporarily remove firearms from an individual that poses a threat to themselves or others. Increased use would also provide situational awareness and increased safety for all criminal justice partners involved in the process. Waiting until a domestic situation escalates to a 911 call endangers everyone involved.

Although my office does not generally serve orders nor can my office arrest perpetrators, I am committed to providing the leadership needed to pursue a proactive approach for increased education and prevention. To begin, we will expand our law enforcement trainings on how to serve protective orders to augment the current system. We will provide information on how to seek these orders and ensure cultural competency and language assistance is available, and we will connect those seeking protective orders to critical support services.

I invite every stakeholder, advocacy group, and community provider to collaborate with us to increase access to housing, job placements, language assistance, mental health care, and other holistic services for victims, survivors, and their families.

During my first term as Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County, my administration has worked tirelessly to automate the two most antiquated, court record systems in the country. The two massive court systems, criminal and civil, required millions upon millions of files to be digitized and filed. This transformed the court systems top to bottom, and I am so proud of the work we have accomplished.

Besides efficiency in government, why is this important to all citizens?

Because the transparency we can now provide to the public will lead to impactful changes and contribute to the improvement of our public safety and health in Cook County.

Those in the legal profession appreciate the ability to file cases online, but the biggest impacts of these efforts are still in progress. Previously, the lack of available information from our court systems impacted everything from research opportunities to the ability of our community providers to acquire grant funding and other financial supports due to the lack of data available. It is now time to leverage these efforts to collaborate, innovate and improve public service to our citizens. This work is imperative, and to begin, we will be focusing on some of our most vulnerable populations: those who are filing protective orders and firearm restraining orders.

In the fall, I will be in Springfield armed with new data, fighting for further reforms to our laws and proposing legislation to safeguard our communities.

My message to those who are struggling today with any form of abuse is one of hope. There are many survivors thriving in our communities, and I am committed to providing a pathway forward for you and your loved ones to be safe.

On November 3, 2020, Clerk Iris Y. Martinez made history when elected as the first Latina Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County, the largest of the 24 judicial circuits in Illinois as well as one of the largest unified court systems in the world.

Since the Clerk took office on December 1, 2020, she has centered efforts on the statutory duties and responsibilities of the Office while supporting her mission to update and increase the use of technology, transform operations, and increase transparency while providing the proper COVID-19 safeguards at all our locations for our employees and constituents. 

Keep reading…

Do you have an idea for an opinion-editorial? Email us at

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Catalina Ramos Hernandez: Equitable access to organ transplants

There are over 100 thousand people waiting for transplants in the U.S., and 60 percent are from marginalized communities, according to the Health Resources and Service Administration.

Donate Life America seven finds that seventeen people in the United States die each day waiting for an organ, and a new person is added to the national transplant waiting list every nine minutes.

When it comes to kidney donations; the wait from a deceased donor is three to five years, or longer. There are almost 90,000 people on the national transplant waiting list in need of a kidney.

Hispanic Latinos are among the groups that most need transplants, but often don’t get the life saving operation because they lack the resources to obtain post-transplant medications needed to maintain the transplanted organ and their life. 

The Illinois Transplant Fund, founded in 2015, aims to increase access to organ transplants by targeting the inequity of health insurance access.

Catalina Ramos Hernandez, Program Coordinator with ITF was a guest on the podcast, “3 Questions With…�, hosted by Hugo Balta, publisher of IL Latino News.

In Illinois, 16 percent of adults with incomes below 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Level are uninsured. This impacts low-income individuals, the working poor, and people of color. The ITF focuses on increasing access to health insurance for qualified Illinois residents listed for organ transplants. “The transplant center(s) said, “We are willing to do the surgery for free”, but the problem is the medications that they (patients) need to take for life and they are extremely expensive,” recalled Ramos Hernandez in outlining the social problem. “Sometimes three, four thousand dollars a month.”

For eligible patients, ITF assistance covers 100% of the monthly health insurance premium for the insurance plan selected by the patient. After three years, ITF works with each transplant recipient family to transition the responsibility for their insurance needs to the patient by reducing ITF support gradually, unless a patient remains unable to contribute due to financial hardship. To date, no patient has been removed from ITF support who could not afford his/her own insurance.

 Although the Hispanic-Latino population is among the groups that most need transplants, they are among the most reluctant to register to become donors. “We (Latinos) need to donate more,” said Ramos Hernandez. “Whether it is a lack of education or lack of willingness is still in debate.” Ramos Hernandez believes one of the main barriers to Latinos becoming organ donors is a need for more diversity in the medical field. She considers a culturally sensitive approach to engaging with potential Latino organ donors is needed.

Balta is an organ donor. Last year, he donated one of his kidneys to his wife, Adriana. The transplantation was the second one for her as she underwent a liver transplant nearly 20 years ago.

SUGGESTION: Organ Donation: A Birthday Story

Balta is also a board member of the Illinois Transplant Fund.

“3 Questions With…� is co-produced by the Latino News Network (LNN), an independent, multimedia digital news outlet with local newsrooms in the Northeast and Midwest, including IL Latino News  and CAN TV, Chicago’s hub for community centric news, hyperlocal stories and educational resources.

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Antonio Santos: Culturally Reflective Action

Black and Latino residents are three to four times more likely to be financially vulnerable than their white counterparts, according to a study by the Financial Health Network earlier this year. For many, that means they are unable to pay all of their bills on time, and about 4 in 10 reported that they experienced food insecurity because of it, in the last year.

Government at all levels looks to improve food access, advancing racial justice and equity for low-income, underserved communities. Still, barriers like immigration status, language, and transportation prevent Latinos from tapping into resources. Adding to the dismay, pandemic-era benefit programs have lapsed. Many of the food pantry pop-ups that sprang up for a couple of months, stopped when government funding ran out. But they had already become a food source community members below the poverty level relied upon.

In response to the need, the Gage Park Latinx Council, a queer, femme, DACA, and Latinx-led grassroots organization based on Chicago’s Southwest Side, launched the year-round initiative El Mercadito – a free community market that provides culturally reflective food to families in our community.

Antonio Santos, Executive Director and Founder of the GPLXC was a guest on the podcast, “3 Questions With…�, hosted by Hugo Balta, publisher of IL Latino News.

Santos said that it is important for El Mercadito to distribute culturally reflective food. “The families that we are serving are not going to know what to do with quinoa or powdered milk,” he said. “So, we give out tortillas and tomatoes, jalapenos and whatever the people who are coming to us are asking.”

Santos also shared how the GPLXC creates youth spaces; especially for those with few resources who find it difficult to be inspired, creative, and socialize. “When we opened the GPLXC Cultural Center, we wanted to make it a welcoming, warm, comfortable environment,” Santos said. Services include mentoring for young people who are often the first members of their family to pursue a higher education. In addition to educational and creative programs, Santos says the GPLXC provides an opportunity for young people to relax. “I think there’s not a lot of emphasis in letting people in our communities have spaces to just be,” he said. “School can be stressful. Many of the young people in our community are also helping their families financially. They’re raising their siblings. If a teenager can come into our space and play video games for a while, or read a book, or talk with friends – that’s really transformational.”

“3 Questions With…� is co-produced by the Latino News Network (LNN), an independent, multimedia digital news outlet with local newsrooms in the Northeast and Midwest, including IL Latino News  and CAN TV, Chicago’s hub for community centric news, hyperlocal stories and educational resources.

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Angelina Romero: The Importance of Shelter & Housing

With multi-unit dwellings giving way to single-unit homes, neighborhoods like Logan Square, Humboldt Park, Pilsen, La Villita, with a historic high number of Latino residents, are seeing their numbers dwindle.

Gentrification is driving out Latino residents and with them the ethnic and cultural identities of neighborhoods that were once major gateways for new immigrants, primarily from Mexico and Latin American countries. Now those neighborhoods are attracting wealthy, and often white, residents.

As property taxes spike and community members remain on fixed incomes, many homeowners feel they’re being pushed out of the neighborhood they’ve lived in their whole life.

The Cook County Assessor’s Office wants the public to understand what programs are out there to help them. Angelina Romero, Chief Communications Officer at the Cook County Assessor’s Office, was a guest on the podcast, “3 Questions With…�, hosted by Hugo Balta, publisher of IL Latino News.

There are over 130 different municipalities in Cook County, Chicago. The state of Illinois is known to have some of the highest property taxes in the U.S, and Cook County is no different with an average effective rate of 2.19%, more than double the national average, according to smartasset.

It’s an issue that Romero says the Assessor’s Office works with the community by providing information and education. “We use an algorithmic model with these (property) values,” she said that takes into account sales data over the last three years. Romero says there’s a misconception that the Assessor’s Office goes out into the communities and appraises every single property.

The Office uses a market model that includes property characteristics such as the square footage and age of a home in determining what it would sell for in today’s market. “If you see homes go up in your neighborhood, it’s very likely your home (is also) valued as more.” For residential properties, per Cook County, a property’s assessed value equals 10% of its fair market value.

Romero says there’s a flip side to property values going up, “Your equity power increases, but it also increases your property taxes.” It’s those increases that are often the root cause of gentrification. “There’s definitely been a lot of gentrification going on in Mexican American neighborhoods, Latino neighborhoods across Chicago.” She says Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi and his staff have been heavily involved in think tank initiatives like the one in Pilsen where community leaders invited the Office to provide feedback and help with any policy changes; including accompanying them to advocate in Springfield.

“It’s hard to hear those stories,” said Romero about public testimonials at town halls from home owners on the effects of gentrification. “They are people who look just like you, your grandmother, your parents. I feel for them and their neighborhoods.”

Romero also shared how her “Nana” (what she affectionately calls her grandmother) instilled the importance of homeownership and how it provides “safety, shelter, and security – something that you can pass down to your family.” That lived experience inspired a career in public service with a focus on housing. “She was the type that always took in anyone who needed a place to stay, or that maybe was going through a difficult time.”

“3 Questions With…� is co-produced by the Latino News Network (LNN), an independent, multimedia digital news outlet with local newsrooms in the Northeast and Midwest, including IL Latino News  and CAN TV, Chicago’s hub for community centric news, hyperlocal stories and educational resources.

The post Angelina Romero: The Importance of Shelter & Housing appeared first on ILLN.