3 Questions With…Paula Gean

Chicago has given sanctuary to over 8,000 migrants since August 2022. Hundreds of people, including many young children, have had to find temporary shelter across the city, putting tremendous strain on resources and communities.

A scheduled vote Wednesday to spend $51 million from the Chicago’s 2021 budget surplus to help care for migrants was blocked by the City Council. It’s estimated that $112 million will be spent by the city to care for the new arrivals through the end of June.

Some Northwest Side residents were upset at plans to house up to 400 asylum-seekers at a temporary shelter at Wilbur Wright College. They’re the latest community to argue that resources being considered for migrants should be used to tackle local issues, like homelessness. 

Still, there are volunteers and community organizations stepping up to support migrants as Chicago sees an increase of the newcomers coming into the city. Paula Gean, founder of Chicago4All, is one of them.

She spoke with with Hugo Balta, publisher of Illinois Latino News on the podcast, “3 Questions With…â€� about galvanizing community organizations to produce events aimed at helping immigrants, like herself – who she says want to give more than what they are being given.

Immigrants make significant contributions to the U.S. economy. In addition to ensuring that essential services continue to be provided across the country, no better proof of that than at the height of the COVID pandemic – undocumented immigrants are also consumers whose spending power uplifts our national and local economies.

Indeed, according to some estimates, undocumented immigrants and their households pay nearly 80 billion dollars in federal taxes and more than 40 billion dollars in state and local taxes annually. Moreover, despite being ineligible for social safety net programs, like social security, undocumented workers continue to pay into them. 

If it were not for Latinos, the population, labor force, number of households, and number of homeowners in the Chicago Metro Area, all would have declined from 2010 to 2018, according to a report published by UCLA Health. Strong contributions by Latinos overcame the declines among Non-Latinos and turned all of these economic variables positive Metro-wide.

SUGGESTION: “The Perilous Journey To The American Dreamâ€�

“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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3 Questions With…Cristina Pacione-Zayas

CHICAGO – Days after being elected mayor of Chicago in the April runoff election against Paul Vallas, Brandon Johnson named state Sen. Cristina Pacione-Zayas as his first deputy chief of staff.

Pacione-Zayas, widely recognized for her career-long efforts to promote educational equity, sat down with Hugo Balta, publisher of Illinois Latino News on the podcast, “3 Questions With…”. “I think one of the advantages that we have is that Mayor Johnson is a former education,” Pacione-Zayas said. “What that will translate into is having some significant advocacy efforts around funding for our schools; ensuring more equitable distribution of resources.”

The incoming Deputy also shared her accomplishments in Springfield, as a state senator. Among them, her advocacy created the Early Childhood Access Consortium for Equity, which provides financial and wrap-around support for members of the incumbent early childhood workforce while earning degrees and credentials to improve the quality of early childhood services and programs. She led the Too Young to Test Act, which dismantles harmful testing procedures for young students in the state. Sen. Pacione-Zayas established the floor for economic eligibility for the Child Care Assistance Program to ensure that budgets are not balanced on the backs of families with limited economic resources.

Still, despite the large body of work during her tenure as state senator, Pacione-Zayas admits there is still more (work) left to be done because of institutions not “designed to have folks with my lived experiences, and other lived experiences, particularly people of color, people who grew up with limited economic resources to be at those decision making tables to really make government more humane, more of a system of care, and more people centered.”

The only child of two community organizers, Pacione-Zayas grew up in public housing on Chicago’s northwest side. Experience that helped shape her life’s work. “Community is family; we show up for each other,” she said when sharing how her parents work, including ensuring that families had their basic needs met, instilled in her a sense of social responsibility.

“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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Latino News Network & CAN-TV Present: 3 Questions With…

CHICAGO – The Latino News Network (LNN), an independent, multimedia digital news outlet with local newsrooms in the Northeast and Midwest, including IL Latino News proudly announced its new partnership with CAN TV, Chicago’s hub for community centric news, hyperlocal stories and educational resources.

In the collaboration, CAN TV is supporting the production of “3 Questions With…” (3QW), a public affairs program that focuses on the social determinants of health and democracy. 

Dr. Geraldine Luna, medical director of the Chicago Department of Public Health, and board member of Illinois Unidos was the first guest of the joint venture.

Hosted by Hugo Balta, publisher of LNN, the weekly show will feature thoughtful conversations with community leaders working to solve the most pressing social issues in their spaces. Balta, a veteran journalist whose past experiences include being the executive editor of The Chicago Reporter, news director of WTTW News and editor at WBBM News Radio, is also the twice president and a Hall of Fame member of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.

“When we began speaking with CAN TV about 3QW, we knew we wanted to go beyond a look into social issues, ” said Balta. The program is built on a foundation of solutions, said Balta, which he believes is essential to overcoming societal pressures and divides and instead creating a more equitable and sustainable world. “Today, we need community voices and leaders elevated and amplified, and this partnership will perfectly align with that mission.”

“This partnership is a key step in redefining the importance of thoughtful, community-centric journalism,” said Darrious Hilmon, executive director of CAN TV. “We’re thrilled to provide Chicagoans with another way to access LNN’s incredible reporting, and look forward to expanding the partnership in the months to come, shining a spotlight on the stories that matter most.”

3QW will air weekly on Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m. CST, and will also be available on streaming services, including Roku, Fire TV Stick and iOS and Android devices. The program will also be available in podcast form. The first show will air on May 10 and feature Dr. Geraldine Luna, medical director for Chicago’s Department of Public Health.

This announcement is the latest in CAN TV’s continued push to amplify the voices of local reporting and community leaders. As it enters its 40th year, the community television network is launching a new spring lineup of signature programming that will continue to connect Chicagoans to hyperlocal stories and the people who make Chicago such a great place to live, work and play. To stay up to date with new releases and announcements, and for more information on CAN TV, visit www.cantv.org.     


For four decades, CAN TV has unlocked the voices of Chicagoans with community access news, hyperlocal stories and journalistic education and resources. Through signature and public programming, alongside educational opportunities that build media literacy, skill and independence, CAN TV takes community access to the next level, supporting local Chicagoans to hear and tell the stories that matter most. CAN TV’s programming can be viewed on its five local cable channels (CAN TV 19, 21, 27, 36 and 42) or on streaming platforms including Roku, Fire TV Stick and iOS and Android devices. For more information on the organization and upcoming initiatives, events and programming specials, visit www.cantv.org.


The Latino News Network (LNN) was founded in 2012, responding to the gap in news coverage of the Hispanic-Latino community. The LNN launched with CTLatinoNews.com, the first English language news and information outlet dedicated to the community in Connecticut.

In 2019, under Hugo Balta’s leadership, the network expanded its statewide coverage, Hispanic-Latino editorial focus to include independent news outlets in MassachusettsRhode IslandNew HampshireIllinois, and Wisconsin.

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Midtown Athletic Club fires over 30 employees after workers speak out about poor working conditions, employees fight for their jobs back

Since September, housekeepers at Bucktown’s Midtown Athletic Club have been advocating for better working conditions. They claim they were understaffed, overworked, and operating in dangerous conditions, resulting in injuries for some. However, their pleas went unanswered after the luxury fitness center and hotel abruptly fired them on April 13. 

Vanessa Vasquez (right) stands with ex-staffer during a press conference on April 20, 2023. (Photo by Brenda Ordoñez)

Ex-staffer Vanessa Vasquez, 30, says she feels humiliated and useless. Vasquez worked at Midtown Athletic Club for two years and says that she was shocked when she learned she was fired through an email.

According to the email, Midtown decided to “expedite the previously-communicated transition to a third party housekeeping team� meaning workers’ positions were terminated effective immediately.

This email followed another sent on March 23 in which the club first notified housekeeping that their positions would be eliminated on May 1, as the club outsourced the positions to Advanced Cleaning Technologies (ACT).

In both emails, the club stated workers had the option to reapply for their jobs with ACT directly, but that their positions were not guaranteed by the company. 

“We want to be clear that once this transition takes place, the new service provider will be your employer. They will supervise you and be responsible for your terms and conditions of employment including wages and benefits,� Midtown Athletic Club said in the March 23 email.

Workers are now feeling devastated and blindsided as they believed they had until May 1 to try to negotiate with the gym to improve working conditions and retain their jobs. 

The dismissal has fueled ex-staffers to speculate that the club’s decision to fire them just weeks before the May 1 deadline was in retaliation for them speaking out about poor working conditions.

Workers spent the past six months organizing for better working conditions, allegedly filing several complaints.

“There were many complaints, even by email. We said it through texts, we wrote to them, there were many and with the help of Arise Chicago they began to help us,â€� Vasquez says. 

Arise Chicago, an organization that helps non-unionized workers organize, educated the workers on their rights and supported them in filing complaints with the Illinois Department of Labor, Chicago Office of Labor Standards, National Labor Relations Board and Occupational Safety and Health Administration. 

“First talking to these workers, they were raising the concept of a union. They liked the idea of being able to come together and bargain collectively with their employer. But their big focus was around democratizing the work,â€� Jose Uribe, a campaign organizer with Arise Chicago. 

In those complaints, the workers alleged that the club refused to provide them with adequate sick leave and endangered workers by exposing them to unsafe cleaning chemicals without proper protective equipment.

“They would cancel our sick days and said we needed a note from the doctor. It was impossible knowing we had a right to our sick days,â€� Vasquez says. 

Midtown Athletic Club located on 2444 N Elston Avenue. (Photo by Brenda Ordoñez)

In an interview with Block Club Chicago, Midtown’s President Jon Brady said the cleaning staff had the same amount of sick time as every other club employee. 

Photo by Vanessa Vasquez

Vasquez says that she was one of the workers who suffered injuries while at work, claiming that she suffered an eye infection after chemicals splashed in her eye. The injury left her on a month-long disability leave. She also noted that she began experiencing skin irritations when working inside of the gym.

“We had no protection,� she says.� We were exposed to many illnesses that caused our skin to become irritated.�

Vasquez says coworkers found needles and blood-stained towels but had no place to safely dispose of the materials. According to the United States Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), human blood contains infectious bloodborne pathogens that can cause disease in humans. In order to reduce the hazards of occupational exposure to pathogens, OSHA requires employers to implement an exposure control plan that must include providing personal protective clothing and equipment, employee training, and other provisions required by OSHA’s Bloodborne Pathogens Standard

In response to speculations of retaliatory behavior on the gym’s part, Brady told Block Club Chicago that the long-planned layoffs had nothing to do with retaliation and that staffers were all paid through May 1. 

Workers have filed additional complaints in response to the layoffs in hope their pleas will be heard and that they can return to work.

“I was one who loved it and we liked it because it was already our second home. You start to make friends with the members,â€� Vasquez says. “We love our work and we want to return to our work.â€� 

Katherine Bissell Córdova stands with ex-staffers during press conference. (Photo by Brenda Ordoñez)

Ex-staffers aren’t the only ones concerned about the club’s response and treatment of these workers. Katherine Bissell Córdova, who’s been a member of the gym for over a year, says she and other members were “shocked� and “upset� when they heard how housekeeping was being treated, adding that they were the “backbone of the club.�

Bissell Córdova says she wants the company to hire the workers back or she and other members will find another gym to work out at.

“We really want them to rehire these workers or a lot of people I know are considering no longer being part of the club,� Bissell Córdova says.

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Funding Helps Latino Businesses Hardest Hit By The Pandemic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cover Photo: Liliana Drew

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The issue hits close to home for Ramirez.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ramirez expressed frustration with Vidis’ response.

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

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

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

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

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

Illinois is not listed as a collaborator on this initiative.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cover Photo by Steve Johnson

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

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

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Esperanza Gama: su niña interior sanada

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

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

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

This story originally aired on News Beat, Columbia College Chicago

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

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

Alan De La Torre

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Perilous Journey to the American Dream

A once wealthy, oil-rich country, Venezuela is now in economic ruin. Seven million people have fled from Venezuela since 2015 to escape economic hardship and political repression.

While a majority have migrated to other Latin American countries with neighboring Colombia receiving the most Venezuelan migrants, thousands have made the nearly 3000 mile journey to the United States.

Luis Arguelles stares at an American flag hanging outside of a refugee center in Uptown. (Brenda Ordoñez / MEDILL )

Twenty-nine-year-old Luis Arguelles is one of those individuals. Born and raised in Barinas, Venezuela, Arguelles says it is not the country it used to be.

“Lately in Venezuela it was no longer possible to live, because of the politics there, if you work, you don’t have enough to survive,â€� Arguelles says.

The sharp turnabout can be attributed to the country’s current president, Nicolás Maduro. Maduro was appointed to serve in 2013 following the death of his predecessor Hugo Chavez.

Shortly after Maduro took office, global oil prices crashed sending Venezuela, a heavily oil- dependent nation, into a recession according to BBC News.

The economic strain was amplified following skyrocketing inflation and financial sanctions placed on the country by the U.S. This resulted in food and medicine shortages leaving many Venezuelans, including Arguelles, with no option but to leave the country.

Documentary by Brenda Ordoñez, Northwestern University

In September, Arguelles embarked on a month-long journey to the U.S. by foot in search of a better future, leaving behind his five-year-old daughter and family.

“It’s a risk against your family, against your life and so I made the decision to do it by myself, on my own, and later I’ll bring my family but by other means,â€� Arguelles says.

Arguelles would go on to face many dangers in his journey through South America, Central America until finally arriving to the United States where he was sent to California and slept on the streets. Hearing murmurs about Chicago being a haven for immigrants, Arguelles, along with thousands of other migrants, headed for the windy city.

Since 1985, Chicago has been declared a Sanctuary city meaning that city officials will not ask individuals about their immigration status, disclose that information to authorities, or, most importantly, deny them services based on their immigration status.

This declaration has inspired over 5,000 Venezuelan migrants to seek refuge in Chicago since August. These refugees have been offered various resources such as housing options, food, clothes, transportation, medical services and legal help.

However, due to the sudden wave of migrants flooding to the city all at once, these resources have been severely depleted prompting Mayor Lori Lightfoot to request $53.5 million in state aid in order to continue offering refugees critical resources.

This request was partially fulfilled with the state offering $20 million in funding to support the migrants. While the city received less money than it was hoping to get, for Arguelles, it is more than enough.

“California is not the same as Chicago,� Arguelles says. “In Chicago they treat you like a person. I am grateful 100% grateful 100% more than anything to the city, because everything is a support, everything.�

Cover Photo: Luis Arguelles stares down North Broadway Street in Uptown. (Brenda Ordoñez / MEDILL)

Brenda Ordoñez attends Northwestern University as a first-generation graduate student at the Medill School of Journalism, specializing in Video and Broadcast.

She has extensively covered topics such as immigration, health, and politics. Recently, Ordoñez traveled to Buenos Aires, Argentina where she created a documentary highlighting the hardships Venezuelan migrants face.

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

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Concerns of Voters 50+ Addressed in AARP Illinois Community Forum

With over 50 percent of votes cast in the February election deriving from voters 55 or older, this demographic holds significant weight in deciding which mayoral runoff candidate will take office. 

In an effort to ensure all Chicagoans’ concerns were addressed in the final week before Election Day, AARP Illinois hosted Voters 50+ Spoke Up and We Listened, a virtual community forum highlighting the concerns of older constituents. 

“AARP Illinois is a non-profit, nonpartisan organization that doesn’t endorse candidates, but we have a long history of providing our members and voters 50+ with accurate information to make informed decisions in their local elections,� said �lvaro Obregón, Associate State Director of AARP Illinois.

Obregón was joined by Edgar Ramírez, President and CEO of Chicago Commons; Claude Robinson, President of Onyx Strategic Partners, LLC; and Abe Scarr, State Director of Illinois PIRG as panelists for the Tuesday evening event. The group took turns answering questions submitted by video from local AARP members. Publisher of IL Latino News, Hugo Balta, moderated the conversation.

“Throughout this election cycle, we’ve heard from hundreds of our members in Chicago about what matters most to them – things like affordability, and being able to age in place in their communities, access to essential services and improvements that foster the ability of our older adults to participate in community life. Community organizations like Chicago Commons, Illinois PIRG and Onyx Strategic Solutions, LLC. live and breathe these issues every day and so it was very important to bring them together to address the issues experienced by voters 50+, and weigh in on possible solutions for the next mayor to prioritize,� said Obregón.

For Chicagoans 50 and over, crime is the number one issue determining their vote in the runoff election. According to a poll by AARP Illinois, 89 percent said a candidate’s stance on crime and violence is “very important,� and 88% percent that they have considered leaving the city to move to a safer community with a lower crime rate in the past year.

The most recent findings from other organizations also highlight crime as the number one issue for all Chicagoans, including 52 percent of participants of an Emerson College poll and 50 percent of a Northwestern University poll. The latter broke down results to show that 49 percent of Latino, 53 percent of Black and 50 percent of white voters reported crime as the most important issue. 

Essential services were vocalized as a concern in both the poll and during the community forum, with seven in ten 50+ voters saying that a candidate’s stance on essential services for older adults, people with disabilities and low-income families would impact their vote. This includes mental health services, community-based services and access to quality healthcare.

AARP member and Avalon Park resident Karen Price asked the panel about providing services for older adults and supporting caregivers who juggle tending to their families and working.

The conversation hit close to home for many of the panelists who are caregivers themselves.

“As a Latino, it’s embedded in our culture. We take care of our own,� said Balta.

“This is what we do,� agreed Ramírez.

He said that these services are essential for not only seniors, but the city itself. 

“It’s time that we invest and invest critically in these services, make known the services that are available currently for seniors in the city, but also look to policy change…� he said.

For just over 30 minutes, the group addressed and discussed other issues like neighborhood safety and accessibility for aging Chicagoans and intergenerational collaboration and understanding. 

“Candidates seeking office must listen to the needs of the people; all of the people. Voters 50+ Spoke Up and We Listened and events like it ensure constituents are heard on issues seldom covered by mass media,” said Balta, on the event. “Older voters determined the outcome of the last election and will do so again on April 4.”


Editor’s Notes: To assist constituents in this election, AARP Illinois has prepared a Chicago Voter Hub, including a voter guide available in English and Spanish.  Run-off Election Day for Chicago’s 2023 Municipal Election is April 4th, 2023.

Cover photo: Connor Betts for Unsplash

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