Community Conversation: What is Period Poverty? — Recap and Resource Guide

An estimated 300 million people menstruate around the world on any given day. Still, the stigma surrounding this normal bodily function contributes to the cycle of period poverty that leads many without the products and/or knowledge they need to maintain a healthy period.

Illinois Latino News and WBEZ Chicago collaborated on the January 31 virtual event Community Conversation: What is Period Poverty? to explore this issue. Beyond defining period poverty, the event strived to illustrate its effects with video interviews featuring first-hand accounts and expert panelists at both the local and national level. Responses from the Addressing Period Poverty survey shaped the content of this conversation, by catering to the information respondents said they wanted to know.

Panelists included:

Abigail Suleman, Co-founder of Blood Buds and MPH student at UIC

Ida Melbye, Executive director of the Period Collective

Damaris Pereda, National programs director, PERIOD.

Dr. Sameena Rahman, Obstetrics and gynecology specialist at the Center for Gynecology and Cosmetics 
Yesenia Raithel Vargas, Certified Nurse Midwife at Esperanza Health Centers

Menstruating people in Chicago describe what period poverty looked like in their lives.

One key finding of the survey highlighted the misconception of what period poverty is. Of 204 responses, 48 percent of people said that they have struggled to pay for period products, but only 39 percent said that they have experienced poverty. If someone has struggled to pay for period products, then they have in fact experienced period poverty.

“Period poverty for those who live on the street looks very different from period poverty for somebody who has most of the things that they need but, maybe there’s a month here and there where they can’t afford product that they need…� said Ida Melbye, co-founder of The Period Collective.

We asked survey respondents what words or phrases they associated with their periods.

Stigma drives negative associations with menstruation and prevents people from openly discussing it. Pain. Discomfort. Embarrassing. Dirty. Gross. Sad. These are some of the most common words respondents of the Addressing Period Poverty survey said that they associated with their periods. Especially in Black and Latinx communities, who are most affected by period poverty, many menstruators are taught from an early age to keep their periods private.

“My mom would always tell me nobody should know when you have that, no one,â€� said 51-year-old Trinidad Elisa Sanchez, who is originally from Chicago but now lives in Houston, Texas. 

This suppression has lasting effects. Instilling this taboo prevents folks from learning how to best care for their bodies or use menstrual products the recommended way. It also keeps those in need from seeking resources to help and leads to lasting internalized shame.

“I think it started my journey to not liking myself at that age, actually,â€� said 27-year-old Chloe Story from Elk Grove, California.  

This community conversation covered a variety of additional topics from access to products to gender norms and sexual health education. The full Community Conversation: What is Period Poverty? can be viewed on both IL Latino News and WBEZ’s Youtube channels. Follow this link to rewatch the event in Spanish.

IL Latino News has created the list of resources below to continue this conversation and help point those in-need of products to local organizations who are able to help.

Organizations offering period products 

The Bloc (during their food pantry, every first friday of the month): ​​https://theblocchicago.org

Fourth Presbyterian Church Meals Ministry: https://www.fourthchurch.org/meals/index.html

Gyrls in the H.O.O.D Foundation: https://gyrlsinthehood.com

Nourishing Hope (ask for hygiene products): https://www.nourishinghopechi.org/get-food/

Nourishing Hope (free home delivery for seniors and people with disabilities): https://www.nourishinghopechi.org/get-food/home-delivery/

The Period Collective: https://theperiodcollective.org

If you’d like to add an organization to this list, please contact annabel@latinonewsnetwork.com

Learn more about menstruation and period poverty

Glossary for the Global Menstrual Movement: https://period.org/uploads/Global-Glossary-for-the-Menstrual-Movement-v1.3.pdf

It’s a Curse: Menstrual Shaming Needs to End Everywhere by Dr. Sameena Rahman: https://garnetnews.com/2019/01/15/its-a-curse-menstrual-shaming-needs-to-end-everywhere/

Information about menstrual cups: https://www.heygirls.co.uk/education/give-a-cup-a-go/

Locate your local PERIOD chapter: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1cruPkPyZvCo8PBmM8avJoLujqYIuctCP/edit#gid=443025411

Menstrual Hygiene Day: https://menstrualhygieneday.org

National menstrual equity legislation: https://allianceforperiodsupplies.org/period-legislation/ 

She Votes IL Menstrual Equity in IL Toolkit: https://www.shevotesil.org/current-initiatives.html

Tampon Tax Tracker: https://allianceforperiodsupplies.org/tampon-tax/

What is Menstruation?: https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/health-and-wellness/menstruation

Queer period activists: https://www.thefemword.world/the-word/queer-period-activists

Your first period: https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/your-first-period

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Publisher’s Note: This event was supported by the USC-Annenberg Center for Health Journalism. Editor, reporter Annabel Rocha was named a 2022 National Fellow and committed to a series focused on period poverty in Illinois. 

More reporting on period poverty in Illinois by Rocha and Illinois Latino News

Period Poverty in Illinois: Community-Driven Solutions

ILLN Opinion+: Ida Melbye, The Period Collective 

What is the State of Menstrual Equity in Illinois?

Addressing Period Poverty survey

Encuesta Abordando La Pobreza Menstrual

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The Journey for a New Life: A Venezuelan Asylum Seekers Reveal Chicago’s Sanctuary City Integration Limitations

On a cold October night in Chicago, Javier Collina searched for shelter after traveling for six weeks by foot, bus, truck, and train from Colombia to the United States. Collina fled Venezuela earlier in 2022 due to the unlivable situation in Venezuela fueled by an economic crisis. The economic inflation fluctuated and even reached as high as 65,000% in 2018, according to the BTI transformation index

“I couldn’t feed my family when I lived in Venezuela or Colombia,â€� Collina said. 

Collina was initially turned away from the Salvation Army Freedom Center in Humboldt Park, one of nine shelters paid for by the City of Chicago and managed by the Department of Family and Support Services (DFSS). Staff at the shelter told him they were full.

“I will sleep on the floor,� Collina pleaded. So, he did.

Collina is one of  3,854 Venezuelan asylum seekers to arrive in Chicago since Aug. 31, as reported by DFSS. Those fleeing Venezuela are part of the second-largest migration crisis in the world, according to the United Nations

Inadequate communication between city and state officials fell on the shoulders of asylum seekers searching for work and a new life. Abrupt and unannounced changes to shelter locations within the Chicago area and unseen indoor shelter conditions reveal a sanctuary city with an unsustainable long-term plan. 

A comprehensive plan is necessary to provide for these migrants, said 25th Ward Alderman Byron Sigcho-Lopez. “[The City and State] are coordinating efforts without disclosing what is really going on in these locations,â€� he said. 

 The Reverberation of No Communication

In late August, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott bussed Venezuelan asylum seekers from Texas to sanctuary cities such as New York City, Washington, D.C., and Chicago. This was without any notice to Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Gov. J.B. Pritzker. 

Lightfoot and Pritzker publicly welcomed the migrants, per Chicago’s Welcoming City Ordinance, and condemned the unannounced and disorderly decision by Abbott.

“The other states may be treating them as pawns; here in Illinois, we are treating them as people,� Pritzker said in a speech he gave on Sept. 14.

Gov. Pritzker’s asylum seeker welcome speech, initiating a disaster proclamation two weeks after they first arrived. Pritzker enlisted the help of the National Guard

During a Committee on Budget and Government Operations meeting on Oct. 15, DFSS Commissioner Brandie Knazze said the department is applying for a $16 million grant to support Chicago’s nonprofits for migrants. This grant would come from a $150 million Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) food and shelter grant. 

The City of Chicago set aside a $5 million contingency fund to cover costs associated with Venezuelan asylum seekers. It’s unclear how much has actually been spent between Aug. 31 and Dec. 1, according to Rose Tibayan, the director of public affairs, at Chicago’s Office of Budget Management.

After the asylum seekers arrived at Chicago Union Station, the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS) coordinated health screenings at intake centers. After a few days at intake centers, the asylum seekers were relocated to either hotels in suburbs under the state’s jurisdiction or shelters in the city managed by DFSS, Marisa Kollias, spokesperson for IDHS, said.

In early September, Burr Ridge Mayor Gary Grasso found that Pritzker sent dozens of asylum seekers to the Hampton Inn hotel in his suburb without any warning.  Similarly, Elk Grove Mayor Craig Johnson was unaware of the decision to house asylum seekers at La Quinta Inn in his village, according to the Elk Grove newsletter, in September.

Letter from Mayor Grasso sent to Gov. Pritzker on Sept. 14.

“We can empathize with these refugees and want to help them, but we cannot do that effectively unless we properly communicate,� wrote Grasso.

The asylum seekers lived in Burr Ridge for 11 days before moving again to another location, according to a Burr Ridge Village press release.  

The La Quinta Hotel in Elk Grove is a two-hour train ride Northwest of downtown Chicago. 

People staying at the hotel are seen exiting the lobby to smoke cigarettes. After entering the hotel, we confirmed Venezuelans were staying there.  Credit: Kala Hunter.

“I directly asked the mayor’s office and state representatives if I could visit the shelters to verify the conditions that the refugees are under. Not once was I given the opportunity to see these facilities,â€� said Sigcho-Lopez.

The Unsustainable Process

The Chicago Mexican American center Little Village Community Council (LVCC) aims to serve the community through social services. The placement of asylum seekers in the suburbs was nonsensical, LVCC President Baltazar Enriquez said.

“The mayor put them as far as possible, [away from] Latinx neighborhoods like Little Village, Back of the Yards, or Pilsen,â€� said Enriquez. 

Caption: Yorvi Rivas, 35, describes his journey from South America at a Subway in Little India. (Credit: Kala Hunter).

Yorvi Rivas, an asylum seeker from Venezuela, was in a shelter in Chicago’s West Ridge neighborhood and accessed free legal assistance and a CityKey. He found these resources through northside city nonprofit Centro Romero. 

CityKey is a government ID that has benefits, including transit passes and discounts from business partners and prescription drugs. Since August, the Chicago City Clerk has printed 9,000 CityKeys that help Chicago residents, including asylum seekers, according to the Office of the City Clerk.  

However, CityKeys are not available to asylum-seekers placed in the ten state-sponsored suburbs.

Hidden Conditions Within 

Rivas resides in a makeshift shelter that was once a public library. The shelter accommodates over 100 asylum seekers and lacks basic necessities, said Rivas.

“We have the option of using a shower at another location, but it can take up to an hour to travel to and from; so I just don’t shower,â€� Rivas said. 

Sigcho-Lopez and Enriquez said they encountered challenges trying to check the conditions within city and state shelters. Sigcho-Lopez visited a shelter in Harvey after not receiving any response from officials. 

“What I saw was shameful,â€� said Sigcho-Lopez. 

The children at this shelter were not able to go outside, he said. Sigcho-Lopez also heard reports of drug use inside the shelter. The asylum seekers at the shelter have since been relocated to Bridgeport. 

City shelter placement is also unreliable. Rivas said he has been moved 15 times. 

The Salvation Army, where Collina stayed, addresses emergency homelessness, drug addiction, rehabilitation and other social welfare programs, according to the organization’s official website.

“They aren’t helping them find jobs, and they are not interested in these people,� Enriquez said. “[It] has become like a little jail.�

The Salvation Army and DFSS declined to be interviewed about the conditions within the shelters. 

The Salvation Army at 825 N Christiana Ave where Collina eventually found refuge. As of Nov. 16, 2022, asylum seekers were no longer being housed in this shelter. (Credit: Kala Hunter).

They Are Here to Work

“They [Venezuelan asylum seekers] want to work,â€� said Immigration Legal Assistant Frank Sandoval with the Spanish Community Center, a United Way nonprofit agency. “That’s why they are here.â€�

An isolated Holiday Inn on Cumberland Avenue has given refuge to family asylum seekers since September. (Credit: Kala Hunter).

Delmar Janampa and his wife, Nairubi Janampa, were sent to the Holiday Inn near the Chicago O’Hare International Airport on Oct. 4, nearly two months after the family left South America on foot. Nairobi Janampa interviewed to work as a cleaning person at a hair salon a few blocks from the hotel.

Yorvi stood outside a Home Depot near his shelter with a sign that said, “I am looking for a job,â€� and found a painting job that lasted only a few weeks. 

Collina had no legal help in applying to seek asylum since arriving in Chicago. He is working at a restaurant under the table, meaning he receives payment in cash and isn’t registered in the employer’s payroll. 

Janampases, Collina, Yorvi have one year to apply for asylum since entering the United States, according to Sandoval. 

“What usually happens is that asylum seekers come by themselves, and they fend for themselves,� said Helena Olea, a human rights lawyer at Alianza Americas, a network of migrant-led organizations.

Eduardo Caceres translated interviews for Collina and Yorvi, and Johan Gotera translated for the Janampases.

Collina helps hold the Venezuelan flag between two other Venezuelans at an Illinois Venezuelan Alliance (IVA) meeting at the University of Illinois Chicago) Credit: Kala Hunter.

Sidebar

Between 2014 and 2020, the Venezuelan economy shrank by two-thirds due to failed social policy, spurring a humanitarian crisis causing 9.3 million Venezuelans to go hungry, according to Human Rights Watch. 

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro committed human rights violations ranging from the persecution of political opponents, to attacks on demonstrators, and killings in low-income communities, according to Human Rights Watch.  

Maduro rose to power in 2014 and maintained it through censorship, repression, and electoral manipulation. In 2018, Maduro was reelected despite the condemnation of an unfair election. Throughout the last eight years, 7.1 million Venezuelans, 25 percent of the country, have fled to neighboring countries such as Colombia and Peru, according to the United Nations.

In May, Title 42, which prohibited migrants from entering the country out of

concern for the spread of contagious diseases, was terminated. This allowed thousands of Venezuelan and other South American asylum-seekers to enter the country for the first time since the start of the pandemic.

Two ways of obtaining legal work authorization are possible in the U.S. One way is by applying for Temporary Protective Status. The alternative is to apply for asylum. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) decides both asylum and TPS cases. 

According to the data-clearing organization at Syracuse University, only 7.2% of the 3,720 asylum seekers who arrived in Chicago in September and October applied for asylum.

The asylum application process can take anywhere from six to nine months and require a professional to help navigate, said immigration legal assistant Frank Sandoval. 

Temporary Protective Status is available to Venezuelans due to the severe humanitarian crisis in Venezuela. On July 11, USCIS extended TPS for Venezuelans by 18 months. The extension is in effect from Sept. 10, 2022 to March 20, 2024. 

Between January 2021 and Oct. 21, 237,000 Venezuelans attempted to enter the U.S. In September, 34,000 Venezuelans entered Texas, according to the Migration Policy Institute. 

Since December of last year, New York City has received 32,000 migrants from Texas, more than eight times the amount than Chicago. Washington D.C. received a total of 8,400 Venezuelan asylum seekers since September of last year.

New York Mayor Eric Adams declared a state of emergency on Oct. 7. Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul has employed 147 members of the New York National Guard. 

Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser requested help and was rejected twice by the National Guard. The D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine stated $150,000 designated funds as grants to six local groups for expenses related to housing, clothing, and transportation, according to a Sept. 1 press release

Thousands of asylum seekers ended up in the shelter system. NYC opened an 84,000-square-foot tent camp on Randall’s Island, according to the New York Times on Oct. 22. 


Cover Photo: Volunteers help migrants bused from Texas to Washington, D.C. endure their first winter. Credit: Danna Matheus


Kala Hunter is an environmental journalist passionate about climate change mitigation and environmental justice. Kala writes about regenerative food systems, endangered species, and urban forestry. She is currently earning her Masters in Journalism at Northwestern University. 

www.kalahunter.com

Chelsea Zhao is a graduate student of health, science and environment journalism at Northwestern University. Her previous work appeared in Cicero Independiente, Southside Weekly, and the Caregiving magazine. She is passionate about topics of environmental racism, climate change and sustainability. 


Publisher’s Note: Illinois Latino News is dedicated to covering the social determinants of health. A social determinant of health approach has seldom been applied to immigration. A report in Annual Reviews finds that global patterns of morbidity and mortality follow inequities rooted in societal, political, and economic conditions produced and reproduced by social structures, policies, and institutions. The lack of dialogue between these two profoundly related phenomena—social determinants of health and immigration—has resulted in missed opportunities for public health research, practice, and policy work. 

Part of Illinois Latino News’ (ILLN) mission is to provide mentoring and real work experiences to students. ILLN also amplifies the work of others in providing voice and visibility to the Hispanic-Latino community. ILLN is grateful to collaborate with schools of higher education like Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications in fulfilling that commitment.

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Voters will choose District Council to improve public safety and police accountability

IL Latino News produces stories focused on the responses to the social determinants of health and democracy.



120 candidates filed petitions
 for Chicago’s newly-created District Council positions on Nov. 28, a few months ahead of the February 2023 municipal elections. City voters will be able to elect three members in their police district for the first time, along with the next mayor, city clerk, city treasurer, and alderpeople.

These positions form part of a new system for police oversight, accountability, and public safety in the city. Called Empowering Communities for Public Safety (ECPS), this coalition encourages community engagement and input to hold police accountable and create safe neighborhoods. 

ECPS now oversees the Chicago Police Department (CPD), the Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA), and the Police Board.

“We believe that it’s necessary for the community to have not just a voice, but a decisive voice in what happens in their communities around policing and public safety,â€� said Dod McColgan, Co-Chair of Chicago Against Racist and Political Repression (CAARP). 

The ECPS ordinance passed through City Council in July of 2021. It was created by the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability (GAPA) and Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC) with support from thousands of city residents and several churches, labor unions, and community and faith-based organizations.

Under the ordinance plan, District Council positions were created in each of the city’s 22 police districts. Voters will be able to elect three members in their district in the upcoming local election, a total of 66 positions citywide.

District Council members will have several key roles:

â—� Serve as the eyes and ears of the community

â—� Hold monthly public meetings

â—� Collaborate in the development and implementation of new safety initiatives

â—� Get input on police department policies and practices

â—� Ensure that the city-wide Commission gets input from the community

� Nominate members of the Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability

“No, you can’t do that�

Report by Stephania Rodriguez, Depaul University

William Guerrero is a 21-year-old native of the Southwest Pilsen neighborhood and is running for District Council in the 12th District. He is the youngest candidate running for the position and is motivated by the needs of people in his community as well as setting an example for young people.

The 12th Police District includes east parts of Pilsen, parts of the West Loop, Near West Side and Wicker Park. Between 2019 to 2021, the district saw a substantial increase in carjackings and murders, according to Block Club Chicago.

“A lot of events have happened to the point where I see youth getting killed by the police,� Guerrero said. “And I’m like, ‘No, you can’t do that’. You signed an oath to protect and serve the community and by killing the kids … it’s not right.�

ECPS also created a city-wide, seven-member Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability (CCPSA) that will decide CPD policy, establish public safety goals, and play a central role in selecting police leadership. Members on this commission are nominated by District Council members and the mayor, and are confirmed by City Council.

CPD, historically known for police misconduct and abuse, was placed under a federal consent decree in 2019, following a U.S. Department of Justice investigation into the fatal police shooting of Laquan McDonald in 2014. This court-mandated settlement was initially set for five years but was extended out to eight years in March.

The early years of the consent decree were beset by missed deadlines and lagging compliance, according to WTTW.

“Long overdue� and a “step in the right direction�

McColgan said ECPS is the “most democratic police accountability structure that exists anywhere in the country.â€� 

“There are other attempts at civilian oversight in other cities– what makes ours unique is specifically cops being barred from participation,� McColgan said. “Frequently, when cities attempt to implement some form of civilian oversight, they want to bring police together at the table with residents and that is a table that is going to be by its nature tilted toward the police.�

Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th), who supported the passing of the ECPS ordinance, said the new system is “long overdue� and a “step in the right direction.�

“This was something that Mayor Lightfoot campaigned on when she ran for office– civilian oversight of the police,� Sigcho-Lopez said. “In fact, Mayor Lightfoot promised to do this within the first 100 days in office. I mean, we’re barely implementing this towards the end [of her term].�

For the upcoming municipal elections, Sigcho-Lopez stresses the need to not only support progressive police accountability structures but also to demand that candidates running for mayor support police reform. 

“When people are campaigning as a progressive, I think that we have to ask people for a plan: what is the plan when it comes to working with ECPS? Working to hold CPD accountable and actually changing the practices of the department?,� he said. “Not to come and, unfortunately, as we saw in the last three years, to say one thing in public but do a separate, completely different thing when they’re governing.�

ECPS faced many struggles and opposition from city officials in informing the public about its existence before the ordinance passed last year, including obstruction from certain alderpeopleto get the ordinance passed. Now, McColgan says the city is “dragging its feetâ€� on informing the public on the District Council positions. 

“We’re spreading the word as much as we can about their existence,� McColgan said. “But any help that people can provide in spreading that word and letting people know, ‘when you go to vote in February, you’ll have a district council member on your ballot, and that’s the person that’s supposed to represent you and your community on issues of police accountability and public safety’.�

“[These are] really important issues that are relevant to all of us. So, pay attention to that, pay attention to who your district council members are.�


Stephania Rodriguez

Stephania Rodriguez is a Depaul University student majoring in Journalism and minoring in Latinx Media and Communication.

Stephania was one of six fellows in the inaugural Journalism Camp: Covering Race, Ethnicity, and Culture sponsored by the Hortencia Zavala Foundation (HZF).

The annual first-in-class free 12-week program led by the Owner/Publisher of the Latino News Network and twice president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ), Hugo Balta provides practical guidelines for fair and accurate storytelling.

IL Latino News partners with DePaul University and many schools of higher education in providing students mentoring and real work experiences.

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What is the State of Menstrual Equity in Illinois?

Scotland made international headlines in August becoming the first country to provide free period products to its citizens. While the U.S. isn’t there, legislation supporting menstrual equity has been cycling through multiple states increasingly over the last few years. Illinois has been progressive on this issue, becoming the third state to end the “tampon tax� in 2016, and introducing and implementing several bills into law in 2021 and 2022.

States highlighted in red currently implement the “tampon tax” on menstrual hygiene items such as pantyliners, tampons and menstrual pads.

With so many bills being introduced, it can be difficult to keep track of what’s become the law of the land. IL Latino News spoke to legislators and other parties involved to figure out who these laws are designed to support.

Low-income people

16.9 million U.S. menstruators live in poverty, making the price of hygiene products extra costly. Without government aid, some people in need rely on community-driven initiatives for pads, tampons and pantyliners. 

“I’m hoping that the bill HB 155 can close a part of that gap because right now you can get menstrual hygiene products in food pantries or little donation events here and there however, it’s not enough,� said House Representative Barbara Hernandez.

Rep. Hernandez introduced the bill to allow SNAP and WIC recipients to use their benefits to purchase diapers and period products. It is already a public act, effective January 2022. In theory, it would benefit a percentage of the 1,090,161 Illinois households receiving SNAP. In actuality, no one is benefitting right now. 

Because SNAP and WIC are federally funded programs, the state initiative cannot be enacted upon without a waiver approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service. 

“I’ve been trying to contact a few Congress individuals that can push this to increase the funding for SNAP but also include menstrual hygiene products in SNAP in order for us to apply for this waiver and make it legal in Illinois,� said Hernandez.

People experiencing housing insecurity 

House Representative LaToya N. Greenwood sponsored the Feminine Hygiene Products for the Homeless Act in 2021, providing free products in all shelters that serve temporary housing to women or youth.

She said hearing stories of what people used to supplement products prompted her into action.

“The reusing feminine napkins, makeshift napkins, paper towels and newspapers, it was like where are we living? We’re living in the United States, why is this happening? I couldn’t comprehend it but I knew that it was something that needed to change.�

This law states that shelters are only required to comply if they have availability of funds in their general budget for products. Rep. Greenwood expressed her desire to follow up and hold institutions accountable.

“I think sometimes we pass legislation and we just think everything is going the way we intended it to go and then you find out it’s absolutely not going the way you intended it to go, so we need to have some real conversations about that with directors of departments to find out where we are at,� she said.

Public schools students

2017’s Learn with Dignity Act mandated public schools (grades 6-12) to provide free “feminine hygieneâ€� products in restrooms. 2021’s House Bill 156, led by Rep. Hernandez, switched the original gendered language to “menstrual hygieneâ€�, expanded coverage to fourth grade, and required boys and gender-neutral bathrooms to contain free products as well.  

“That one got the most pushback because the concept of the whole ‘what is a woman’ and ‘men don’t have periods.’ That was a big effort to create awareness, educate the public and really get people to get on board,� said Maureen Keane, Co-founder of She Votes IL.

Chicago Public Schools (CPS) introduced girls+ and boys+ restrooms in 2021 as a gender-affirming initiative for students, despite backlash from some parents.

“The reality is that in a few years we might see more transgender youth and I want to make sure that we’re taking those steps ahead now to make sure that they feel comfortable going to those restrooms whenever they need,” said Hernandez.

“Our goal is really [to have products] in all buildings, all bathrooms,� said CPS Executive Director of the Office of Student Health and Wellness (OSHW) Tarrah DeClemente.

The products are stored in metal dispensers traditionally found in public restrooms. According to DeClemente, a supply chain issue of these dispensers has slowed the integration of free products in all required restrooms.

“All schools have product, it’s just a matter of getting it into the boys+ restrooms, but all schools have dispensers and products in girls+,â€� she explained. 

Anecdotal research by NPR Illinois suggested that products were not available in all public Illinois schools in 2020. IL Latino News is investigating the current status of implementation in CPS.       

Incarcerated Illinoisians

Rep. Hernandez’s HB 4218 passed in December, requiring all Illinois Department of Corrections facilities to provide menstrual hygiene products for free and as needed, for all incarcerated people who menstruate. 

She Votes IL worked heavily on drafts of this bill and Keene says they were adamant about including underwear as period supplies – an item that usually isn’t included on these lists and an essential that isn’t accessible to all committed people. 

“If you need new underwear you need to buy them at the commissary. If you need more than six pads you need to buy them at the commissary,� she said. Under the new policy, free underwear must be given free of charge, and upon request, including multiple requests.

“It’s a denial of basic human rights to expect incarcerated Illinoisans to manage on a limited supply, said Rep. Hernandez

The future of menstrual equity 

2022 closed with initiatives produced by Illinois legislators at the federal level.

“It’s picking up. People are being open minded about this and I know here in the state some people looked at me like ‘why are we talking about this? Why are we legislating about it?… But I realized that it is a big issue, not only in Illinois but across the country,â€� said Rep. Hernandez.

IL Congressman Sean Casten and NY Congresswoman introduced the Period PROUD Act of 2022 to make menstruation more affordable for all Americans. 

In the press release, Rep. Casten stated “The Period PROUD Act removes that cost-barrier for the 22 million women living in poverty and ensures that a period will never have to prevent someone from going to school or showing up to work. Menstruation is a natural process and the products it requires should be freely accessible.�

_________________________________________________________________________________

Publisher’s Note: “What is the State of Menstrual Equity in Illinois?â€� is part of a series of stories on period poverty in Illinois supported by the USC-Annenberg Center for Health Journalism. ILLN Editor, Reporter Annabel Rocha was selected as a 2022 National Fellow to explore challenges impacting child, youth and family health and well-being in the U.S. 

Please consider participating in the Addressing Period Poverty or Abordando La Pobreza Menstrual surveys. We want to know your experiences dealing with menstruation and/or period poverty. In collecting this information, we hope to gain insight on how this issue affects those in our communities. 

We hope to use the data collected from this survey to shape our storytelling and provide the answers you most want to hear during our upcoming event with WBEZ “Community Conversation: What is Period Poverty?� on Tuesday, Jan. 31.

For more information please contact annabel@latinonewsnetwork.com.

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Community Conversation: What is Period Poverty?

About 26 percent of the world population menstruates. Shame and stigma inhibits education and access to essential hygiene products for people who menstruate, and it happens everywhere. In the U.S., nearly two-thirds of low-income women couldn’t afford tampons or pads in 2018. Period poverty particularly impacts low income and unhoused communities, as well as people in Black and Brown communities.

Join Illinois Latino News and WBEZ for a free virtual conversation defining period poverty and exploring its covert effects on people across Chicago and around the world. During the program, we’ll hear from panelists like Ida Melbye, the executive director of the Period Collective, and Abigail Suleman, co-founder of the Blood Buds UIC initiative, plus more. Reporter and editor of ILLN Annabel Rocha will host the event.

You can participate by sharing your experiences with menstruation through this survey.


SUGGESTION: Period Poverty In Illinois: Community-Driven Solutions


Publisher’s note: “Period Poverty in Illinois: Community-Driven Solutions� is part of a series of stories on period poverty in Illinois supported by the USC-Annenberg Center for Health Journalism. IL Latino News Editor, Reporter Annabel Rocha was selected as a 2022 National Fellow to explore challenges impacting child, youth and family health and well-being in the U.S. 

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El Mercado Navideño

The National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago’s Lower West Side is home to one of the country’s largest Mexican art collections, including more than 18,000 seminal pieces from ancient Mexico to the present.

The museum hosted its annual Mercado Navideño highlighting hand-crafted holiday gift ideas from Mexico including ornaments, nativity scenes, art, jewelry, apparel and toys.

Story by Citlalli Magali Sotelo, Columbia College Chicago

In 1982, Carlos Tortolero organized a group of fellow educators and founded the Mexican Fine Arts Center Museum, which opened its doors in 1987. The goal was to establish an arts and cultural organization committed to accessibility, education and social justice.

In 2001, the museum expanded to a 48,000 square-foot, state-of-the-art facility in the heart of Pilsen and in 2006 we unveiled a new name, the National Museum of Mexican Art.

National Museum of Mexican Art,
1852 W 19th Street, Chicago, IL 60608

The National Museum of Mexican Art also hosts cultural programs — including symposia, theater, dance, music, authors and performance companies — that share the rich diversity of the Mexican culture.

For more information click HERE.


Citlalli Magali Sotelo, is a 21-year-old Mexican-American and a first-generation college student. She is currently a junior at Columbia College Chicago and aspire to be a bilingual or trilingual journalist.

Sotelo is one of the students in the Creating the TV News Package class taught by Hugo Balta. Balta is the Publisher of Illinois Latino News, part of the Latino News Network.

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Gentrifying Latino neighborhoods see taxes jump dramatically

IL Latino News produces stories focused on the responses to the social determinants of health. Economic stability means that people have the resources essential to a healthy life. Factors affecting economic stability include affordable housing; employment that provides a living wage; things that support employment, like worker protections, paid sick leave, and child care; and access to reliable transportation.


CHICAGO | Property taxes are up in Cook County; on average, homeowners saw an increase of 8 percent this year.

According to an analysis from Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas’ office, taxes levied on real estate rose by 3.8 percent, to $16.7 billion, in 2021. The total amount billed countywide increased by $614 million over the previous tax year. As a result, homeowners are picking up $330 million.

Some gentrifying working-class Latino neighborhoods in Chicago saw their taxes jump dramatically. On the primarily Latino Lower West Side, homeowner’s median tax bill rose to $7,239 from $2,275 in 2020.

“The system is broken,â€� said Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez, whose 25th Ward covers much of the Lower West Side that saw the biggest hikes. â€œThis is simply unethical.â€� Sigcho-Lopez blamed corrupt politicians and called for reforms to the property tax system.

“‘My property tax is too damn high’ – they have to pass it on to the renters,â€� said Moises Moreno, who runs The Pilsen Alliance, a social justice organization. Moreno said homeowners will feel the effects of the spike first, and renters will feel it on their next lease.


Pilsen neighborhood (Pictures by Hugo Balta)


“There are still inequities in our property tax system and we need to straighten it out,â€� Pappas said. The increased tax burden is not shared equally. Homeowners will pay 54 percent of the rise, while businesses will pay 46 percent, the treasurer said.

Not all taxes are going up. Relief is coming to owners in predominantly Black neighborhoods. In West Garfield Park, homeowner taxes dropped by almost 45 percent. Decreases of $1,000 or more in commercial median taxes occurred on the South Side, including the Pullman, Burnside, Chatham, Calumet and South Chicago areas, reports The Real Deal.

Purple shows the parts of Chicago seeing the sharpest spikes in property taxes.
The areas in pink saw the sharpest drops. 
(Cook County Treasurer)

Pappas pointed to several reasons behind the hikes:

  • Tax increment financing districts
  • Rising property assessments
  • New state law allowing local governments to recoup losses from reassessed property taxes

The Cook County Treasurer called the law, known as a recapture provision, an “automatic tax increaseâ€� with “no oversight whatsoever.â€� That provision alone added $131 million to the county tax bill and accounted for one-fifth of the increase.

Pappas said the majority of property tax money goes to funding schools. To save homeowners from being priced out, she said county residents need to consider funding schools in other ways.

Property taxes also go toward infrastructure, public works projects, first responders, and more. Bills are calculated after several steps:

  • Local governments, including school and park districts, set their property tax levy to help pay for operations
  • The assessor sets the values of properties, then makes adjustments for exemptions or other incentives. 
  • The clerk then determines tax rates based on various levies and overall assessed values for each unit of government. 
  • The treasurer then sends out the bills, collects payments and distributes the money to local governments.

“The lack of political willingness to address this issue has cost us,â€� said 25th Ward Alderman Byron Sigcho-Lopez, who represents the Lower West Side. “Thousands of residents have been displaced, and when is it going to be enough? 


Editor’s Notes: Homeowners can find their property tax bill by clicking HERE.

IL Latino News sees the public as more than just the audience; you are contributors. To that end, please take our brief survey to help shape our coverage in producing stories on the social determinants of health: healthcare and quality, neighborhood and built environment, education access and quality, social and community context, and economic stability.

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This story was first published as “Neighborhoods Gentrifying Fastest See Property Tax Skyrocket� in The Chicago Reporter (TCR).

ILLN and TCR, partners in best serving the Latino community.

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Sazón De IL: Los Hermanos Sotelo

IL Latino News produces stories focused on the responses to the social determinants of health. Economic stability means that people have the resources essential to a healthy life. Factors affecting economic stability include affordable housing; employment that provides a living wage; things that support employment, like worker protections, paid sick leave, and child care; and access to reliable transportation.


Bordering the Chicago River on the Lower West Side is Pilsen, a neighborhood rich in Latino culture and decorated with dozens of ornate murals and as many award-winning restaurants.

One of the many Mexican-inspired eateries is “5 Rabanitos” in the historic district’s West 18th Street. It’s there that Alfonso Sotelo, the first part of the story of two brothers, immigrants achieving their “American dream,” begins.

Citlalli Magali Sotelo, Columbia College Chicago

It is at the Pilsen restaurant that you will find Alfonso plating his favorite dish, Puerco Al Rancho: slow roasted pork with Mole Estilo Guerrero, Mexican rice, and green beans. A few minutes south, you will find brother Jaime Sotelo doing the same at “Chile Toreado” in McKinley Park.

Puerco Al Rancho (Photo Courtesy: 5 Rabanitos)

Both men honor the cuisine that they grew up with in Mexico by offering hand-made and hand-pressed tortillas to regional dishes like tlayudas from Oaxaca.

The Sotelo brothers are two of the 1.7 million immigrants who call Chicago home. Many, like the Sotelo’s small businesses, keep Main Street vibrant, regardless of the economy, including when COVID-19 basically shut down the City.

Alfonso Sotelo (Photo by Citlalli Magali Sotelo)
Jaime Sotelo (Photo by Citlalli Magali Sotelo)

“We have seen 4,700 new businesses get new licenses since the beginning of … the pandemic,â€� said Isabel Velez-Diez, in an interview with WTTW’s Latino Voices. “We’ve also seen the license renewal stay at the same percentage as it was pre pandemic. So we are very hopeful, optimistic that things are looking up and things are getting slowly but surely back to normal,â€� said the director of economic recovery at the Chicago Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection.

Still, inflation has been squeezing small businesses that made gains from the economic strain caused by the pandemic.

“I think one of the things that we’re seeing right now is the cost of rent, utilities, payroll, it’s going to continue going up and we’re looking at different types of businesses that are creating different business models that have adapted since the pandemic,� Pilsen Chamber of Commerce secretary Jackson Flores said.

Inflation has especially hit hard the restaurant industry. In August, the cost for consumers to purchase food away from home rose by 8.3 percent compared to the same period in 2021, according to a report by Modern Restaurant Management. Additionally, menu prices at casual dining establishments rose by an average of 9 percent year over year from 2021. This inflation at the customer–facing end of the restaurant business has primarily been driven by rapidly increasing operating costs – by as much as 11.7 percent. Worse, inflation isn’t forecast to ease until late next year. It is predicted to fall to 3-to-4 percent by the end of 2023, according to economic projections by Kiplinger

For the Sotelo Brothers, one of 80,000 Latino business owners in Chicago, authenticity is on the menu and key to weathering any economic storm.


Citlalli Magali Sotelo, is a 21-year-old Mexican-American and a first-generation college student. She is currently a junior at Columbia College Chicago and aspire to be a bilingual or trilingual journalist.

Sotelo is one of the students in the Creating the TV News Package class taught by Hugo Balta. Balta is the Publisher of Illinois Latino News, part of the Latino News Network.

Cover Photo courtesy of Chile Toreado

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Chicago Latinos receive migrants with open arms

IL Latino News produces stories focused on the responses to the social determinants of health. Social and Community Context is the connection between characteristics of the contexts within which people live, learn, work, and play, and their health and well-being. This includes topics like cohesion within a community, civic participation, discrimination, conditions in the workplace, and incarceration.


Yumary Briseño looked at her 12-year-old daughter. Her tender eyes gazing up at her, filled with worry. 

“Mom, I’m hungry.�

Briseño gave her daughter the only food she had in her home—a few flour arepas and a can of tomato sauce. 

“Mom, that’s not food.�

Holding back tears, Briseño realized it was time to flee Venezuela. 

Briseño said she did not want to come to the United States, but with the rising economic crisis in her home country, she left in hopes to provide a better life for her daughter and mother. 

Her restaurant business in Venezuela was declining and had no success finding another job that paid her enough to support her family. 

“I had to do it,� she said.

A bed where one of the migrants sleep next to a collection of donated items inside Adalberto Memorial United Methodist Church. (Stephania Rodriguez)

Briseño’s journey to the United States was not easy. She saw women and men raped with her own eyes. She saw migrants being robbed and shot at. She encountered fear, hunger and fatigue. 

She witnessed frustration grow among other migrants during her month-long travel, many of them picking fights with each other over water. 

 â€œIf I could turn back time, I’d reconsider a million times about taking on the journey,â€� Briseño said. 

Oftentimes, she went to sleep on the streets fearful that she would be killed.

“It’s an experience I don’t wish upon anyone,â€� she said.  

Jacqueline Cardenas reports on efforts to assist migrants bused from Texas with resources like shelter, clothing, and food.

Since late August, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has bussed around 3,700 migrants to Chicago from the U.S. and Mexico border in Texas. At least 425 are school-aged children according to ChalkBeat. Most of the migrants are seeking asylum, yet some are unaware they have arrived in Chicago in the first place. 

The influx of undocumented migrants is part of Abbott’s plan to send them to Democratic ‘sanctuary’ cities. 

Abbott has openly criticized on social media the Biden administration’s attempt to lift Title 42, a federal act which authorizes denying asylum seekers in the U.S. during the Covid-19 pandemic prior to the shipment of migrants. 

Yumary Briseño and her daughter in their Venezuela home prior to fleeing the country. (Courtesy of Yumary Briseño)

Despite her experiences, Briseño said she was one of the lucky ones. 

Her journey led her to spend three days at the Migrant Resource Center in San Antonio, Texas where a woman at the center gave Briseño airplane tickets to Chicago. 

When she arrived in the city, she met pastors Jacobita Cortes and Elvira who did not want to disclose her last name. 

Elvira and Cortes turned the Adalberto Memorial United Methodist Church in Humboldt Park into a sanctuary for arriving migrants. They provide them with shelter, clothes, food and education on how to navigate public transportation.

Cortes said the church has received around 150 migrants. Their goal has been helping them find jobs, apartments, but most of all, help restore their faith and human rights.

During a church mass, Elvira told her experience as someone who was once undocumented to the newly arrived.

She turned her head, acknowledging the eyes of everyone in the small room and said, “Today, you all are arriving in paradise. But a paradise, why? Because others before us, even way before me, people fought so that in that time, I could have rights.â€� 

Elvira was deported from the United States in 2007 and was not allowed to enter the country for twenty years. Despite her undocumented status, she would travel to the U.S. Mexico border and help people cross over. 

There were moments she looked up at the sky and thought, “Lord but what am I doing here?�

Elvira said even though there were days she was filled with doubt and fear that she would be penalized again, she wanted to help people create a better life in the U.S.

“I wanted for no other mother and father to be separated from their children. For no other father and mother to be shamed. That no other worker be shamed for the simple act of wanting to work.â€� 

Migrants and parishioners attend mass inside Adalberto Memorial United Methodist Church in Humboldt Park. (Stephania Rodriguez)

She reminded the migrants that their path will not be an easy one but to continue fighting. 

Cortes said she reminds them that despite their country’s crisis, they should not let go of their roots.

“Like I tell our Venezuelan brothers, never forget or feel embarrassed of your village, of your country,â€� Cortes said. 

Cortes was also once a migrant herself, she came to the United States at 17-years-old from Michoacán, Mexico. She said it is now the duty of people who share similar migration experiences to help them. 

Her message transcents through the walls of the church with two green signs, one in Spanish and the other in English that read, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.â€� 

“Just as they arrived, they can have that heart to keep helping the rest. To not forget those who were left behind,â€� Cortes said.  

Through similar migration experience or their own sense of calling, many Latinos across Chicago have found their own ways to help those seeking asylum.

Baltazar Enriquez, president of the Little Village Community Council (LVCC) was at Union Station on Aug. 31, the night the first bus of migrants arrived in Chicago.

He received a call from Univision cameraman Enrique García Fuentes, asking him if they could use the LVCC hall space to house the migrants. Although Enriquez agreed, he did not realize the ‘massive’ amounts of people that were seeking asylum.

LVCC volunteers quickly gathered supplies such as clothes, blankets, food and transportation. Enriquez called for help from city officials including Congressman Chuy Garcia, Illinois Latino Caucus Leader Aaron Ortiz and Cook County Commissioner Alma Anaya. Enrique said none of them answered his phone calls nor called him back at a later time. 

A green sign inside Adalberto Memorial United Methodist Church reads “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.� (Stephania Rodriguez)

“The city has helped us with nothing. The state has helped us with nothing. The county has helped us but nothing. The federal government has not helped us with anything.�

In October, Mayor Lightfoot gave $5 million for the city to support the incoming migrants, according to Bloomberg Magazine. However, the LVCC did not have any financial support from the city according to Enriquez.

Enriquez said the Little Village neighborhood always welcomes immigrants. As part of one of the city’s largest Mexican communities, he says they always, “lend a helping hand.�

Whether on the front lines or not, the mobilization of many Latinos across the city to support those arriving come in various forms. 

Emily Vallejo, daughter of Peruvian immigrants and student at DePaul, started a clothing drive for migrants through the Latinx cultural group known as MESA.

She said her parents and grandparents immigration story has fueled her activism. 

“It’s always kinda been a big part of why I felt like I need to do things is because I see my family in other people,â€� Vallejo said. 

Vallejo said she wants to give back to her community such as the incoming migrants because her family paved the way for her to do so. 

“I feel like it would almost be doing a disservice to my family if I weren’t saying this is messed up or we should be mobilizing.�

Vallejo said many of the older generation of Latinos focused on ‘surviving’ in the United States, rather than engaging in forms of activism.

These acts of survival were often sending money back to their families or simply ensuring there was food on the table.

As migrants continue to arrive, Briseño said all she wants is to be granted permission by the U.S. government to work. She wishes to provide for her family, especially her daughter. 

“She is my strength to keep fighting.�


Publisher’s Notes: This story was written by DePaul University students, Stephania Rodriguez, Nadia Carolina Hernandez, and Jacqueline Cardenas.

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.

You can read the Spanish language version of Chicago Latinos receive migrants with open arms by clicking on Latinos en Chicago reciben con brazos abiertos a migrantes después de un camino difícil.

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

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Can you see me?

IL Latino News produces stories focused on the responses to the social determinants of health. Social and Community Context is the connection between characteristics of the contexts within which people live, learn, work, and play, and their health and well-being. This includes topics like cohesion within a community, civic participation, discrimination, conditions in the workplace, and incarceration.


Fallen angels, birds, shackles, and small handprints. These paintings are far more than just pictures. Children made this art in Illinois jails.

“Can you see me?”, the exhibition, at the Weinberg/Newton Gallery in the River West neighborhood of Chicago, presents artwork by incarcerated young people, contemporary artists, and arts-justice organizations exploring themes of ascendance, innocence, and freedom.

“Can You See Me?” – Aubriella Jackson, Columbia College Chicago, reporting.

“These are kids and not criminals,� said Devon VanHouten-Maldonado, SkyART Director of Programs. “We over criminalize our Black and Brown communities.� VanHouten-Maldonado believes some youth from poverty stricken communities are never given the chance to be innocent.

Black youth are more than four times as likely to be detained or committed in juvenile facilities as their white peers, according to The Sentencing Project. Forty-one percent of youths in placement are Black, even though Black Americans comprise only 15 percent of all youth across the United States.

The three-part presentation is a partnership with South Side youth arts non-profit SkyART; inspired by its Just-Us program, which provides weekly open studio-style art therapy sessions for incarcerated youth.

“I think they’re doing a really great job (SkyART) because it’s giving these kids a way to express themselves,” said, Raven Quintero. A visitor at the River West exhibit, Quintero agreed that healing through art is a positive channel.

VanHouten-Maldonado said art therapy gives youth the platform to explore their challenging circumstances and express themselves in a creative and productive manner. “Art programs that address social emotional learning are more effective than incarceration.�

The “Can you see me?” exhibition, Weinberg/Newton Gallery, River West

The three exhibitions include:

• The primary Can you see me? exhibition at Weinberg/Newton Gallery runs until Dec. 17, 2022

• Arts + Public Life presenting FREEDOM SPACE, runs through Dec. 16, 2022.

• SkyART presenting Can you see me? Envisioning the future at their flagship studio space in South Chicago (3026 E 91st St.) runs through Dec. 17, 2022.


Aubriella Jackson from is a junior at Columbia College Chicago.

Jackson is one of the students in the Creating the TV News Package class taught by Hugo Balta. Balta is the Publisher of Illinois Latino News, part of the Latino News Network.


ILLN sees the public as more than just the audience; you are contributors. To that end, please take our brief survey to help shape our coverage in producing stories on the social determinants of health: healthcare and quality, neighborhood and built environment, education access and quality, social and community context, and economic stability.

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