Be Informed for the Upcoming Judicial Primary Elections

On June 28, 2022, the State of Illinois will be holding primary elections. Primaries are elections that political parties use to select candidates for a general election. Then each party’s candidates run against each other in that general election. Our general election in Illinois will be held on November 8, 2022. 

Most voters are familiar with some of the positions on the ballots such as governor, senators, attorney general and secretary of state. But some of the most important candidates in our elections are the local judges who are running for office.  Judges hold important and powerful roles in our society.  They have the power to put people in jail in a criminal case, they preside over divorces, evictions, a wide range of civil cases and even traffic tickets.  This year, 75 candidates are running for a total of 29 judicial vacancies throughout Cook County alone.  There are also subcircuit races and an appellate court race this year.

Diversifying the Judiciary

Many voters admit that they have no idea who any of the judges are on the ballot, yet we are all likely to be affected by the judicial system at some point in our lives, whether you will go through a divorce, criminal case, or a probate dispute. Moreover, and especially across Cook County, the courts do not reflect the diversity of the communities they serve. With a population of approximately 5 million people, Cook County is the most populous county in Illinois, only second in size to Los Angeles county in California.  According to a Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning report from August 2021, Hispanic or Latinos make up a little over 25 percent of the county, followed closely by the Black community at 23 percent.  The white population stands at about 42 percent in Cook County.

Yet as of 2018, only 7.5 percent of judges in Cook County associated as Hispanic and though Blacks fared better with 19 percent representation in the judiciary, the numbers are still low.  As expected, at 70 percent the overwhelming majority of Cook County judges are white. Why do these numbers matter? Studies show that the more diverse the judiciary the likelihood of an increase in the fairness of outcomes.  This is important in a criminal justice system like Cook County’s where defendants are disproportionately Latino and Black. 

Do your research

So how do you choose who to vote for? Popular ideas include voting for all the women on the ballot, voting for all the Italian last names, voting for all the Latino last names, not voting for someone with the same last name as your mean fourth grade teacher, or voting for all the funny names! Unfortunately, this isn’t the best way to pick a judge. Instead, the Alliance of Bar Associations (different groups of lawyers in Illinois) have devised a great way to inform the voters on a candidate’s qualifications.  Some of the bar associations that participate in this process are the Asian American Bar Association, the Black Women Lawyer’s Association, the Hispanic Lawyer’s Association of Illinois, the Lesbian and Gay Bar Association of Chicago and the Puerto Rican Bar Association of Illinois.  

Judicial candidates and judges who are up for retention can participate in a forum where they are interviewed by the bar association representatives and submit a long application for the screening process.  The Alliance of Bar Associations then rate the judges based on their interview, an investigation report conducted by an anonymous association member, and overall qualifications.  The rating system is based on the assessment of a candidates’ qualifications which include their legal knowledge and ability, sensitivity to diversity and bias, character, impartiality and integrity, judicial temperament, diligence and punctuality and health and age. 

By relying on seasoned attorneys and finding a bar association whose members hold the same values as you, you can make an informed decision on election day. You can go to: www.voteforjudges.org to review the bar association’s findings and then make your final decision for election. Don’t worry, you can bring your own cheat sheets to the booth on election day to help. Just don’t forget to vote in the primaries on June 28.

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Cover photo by Element5 Digital for Unsplash

Claudia Farfan Badillo is an attorney concentrating in consumer bankruptcy and is the owner of her own firm: Badillo Law Group, P.C.  She was born and raised in Chicago, is of Mexican and Colombian descent and is a native Spanish speaker. 

She has been an attorney for over 14 years and is a graduate of Chicago Kent College of Law where she clerked for the Cook County Public Defender’s office in the Felony Trial Unit.

Publisher’s Notes: “Be informed for the upcoming judicial primary elections!� was first published in The Chicago Reporter.

ILLatinoNews partners with The Chicago Reporter in best serving the Hispanic-Latino communities of Illinois.

The post Be Informed for the Upcoming Judicial Primary Elections appeared first on ILLN.

The Misidentified

Publisher’sNote: The Misidentified was first published on palabra.

Illinois Latino News, one of five independent news outlets managed by the Latino News Network, partners with palabra. in best serving the Hispanic-Latino community.


IN A LATINO COMMUNITY NEAR CHICAGO, TOO MANY VICTIMS OF COVID ARE IDENTIFIED AS WHITE, BLACK, OR OTHER. THE MISCLASSIFICATION IS PART OF A NATIONWIDE PROBLEM MADE WORSE BY THE PANDEMIC, AND IT COULD BE COSTING LATINOS URGENTLY NEEDED PUBLIC HEALTH SERVICES.


It started with a casual perusal of COVID death statistics in the summer of 2020. Journalist Ana Arana found that Latinos across the country were routinely misidentified ethnically and racially. The anomalies were easily missed by most media. But Arana’s instincts told her that at stake were significant public health consequences for Latinos. What ensued was a year-and-a-half-long palabra investigation into widespread misclassification of Latino COVID deaths that health officials acknowledge but have done little to correct. This story is a wake-up call. 

—Linda Jue, project editor

This story was produced in collaboration with Cicero Independiente.


Elizabeth Solano, a resident of Cicero, Illinois, was pregnant with her first child when she went to the hospital in March 2020 for a routine ultrasound. There, she was diagnosed with complications from the newly emergent coronavirus and underwent an immediate C-section. Several days later, she was declared well enough to go home with her baby.

However, Solano was soon readmitted and then died of COVID complications.

Her death led local newscasts. She was among the first casualties of the pandemic in this small Chicago suburb where 90% of residents are Latino. Her close-knit family was stunned by the seriousness of COVID-19. So much so that Elizabeth’s brother told a reporter on a Chicago news show that he wanted people to know how deadly the virus was. (The Solano family did not respond to multiple interview requests from palabra.)

Solano’s death would prove to be another significant first, one that would not be discovered until a year later. A review of her death certificate by palabra revealed a serious error that has been repeated on death certificates of Latinos around the country since the beginning of the pandemic: Elizabeth was misidentified as white in hospital records. 

Elizabeth Solano. Courtesy Bormann Funeral Home

When a person dies, the death is supposed to be properly accounted for in hospital and medical examiner records regardless of where it occurred. Around the nation, even the most sparsely populated records tend to include a patient’s name, address, next of kin, and important demographic data such as race and ethnicity. This information has been even more critical during the COVID pandemic, in which serious gaps in healthcare for communities of color have come to light and been alarmingly exacerbated.

We already know that Latinos have been disproportionately impacted by COVID, dying at nearly twice the rate of white Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But the extent and impact of these disparities among Latinos are significantly underestimated when Latino COVID deaths aren’t counted properly.

“There are healthcare resources that are targeted at communities, whether that’s vaccinations or treatment options,â€� said Thomas Saenz, president and general counsel of the Los Angeles-based Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF). “And if you are using inaccurate data, you are going to target those resources improperly. The public health implications are severe, and not just for the Latino community because we all interact.â€� 

Since the start of the pandemic, palabra researchers have tracked Latino death data in various U.S. cities. In a review of 2020 medical examiner data for a number of counties nationwide, the researchers noticed that Latino surnames were being identified as white, Black, or other, although the records allowed for more precise classification of ethnicity such as Latino or Hispanic.

Elizabeth Solano’s redacted 2020 death certificate from the Cook County Medical Examiner.

To dig deeper into this issue, palabra selected Illinois’ Cook County – which includes the city of Chicago – out of dozens of possibilities around the country because its large Latino population lives in historically segregated areas. This segregation, ironically, made it easier to double-check public data. In addition, the Cook County medical examiner provides detailed, up-to-date death records, unlike many other counties across the U.S. during the pandemic. The city of Cicero was then selected as a microcosm of the impact of death certificate miscounting nationally because the town has only one ZIP code and is overwhelmingly Latino.

COOK COUNTY

Between March 2020 and December 2021, the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office handled 27,551 deaths, nearly twice the number before the pandemic. COVID accounted for nearly half, or 12,913 of those deaths. 

Looking at the numbers for a year that is considered the deadliest to date, the county’s medical examiner reported total COVID deaths for 2020 were 8,353. Of those, 1,810 were identified as Latinos, or almost 22%. In 2021, there were 4,560 COVID deaths in Cook County. Some 19%, or 862 people, were identified as Latinos. 

But palabra also found that the number of Latino deaths is actually higher than the medical examiner determined. A review of Cook County death statistics found an additional 372 misclassified Latino deaths in 2020 and another 108 in 2021. These figures raise the yearly percentages of deaths to 26% in 2020 and 21% in 2021. Adding both years, Latinos averaged 24%, or nearly a quarter of all COVID deaths.

Given that Latinos are the second-largest population group in Cook County – nearly 820,000 residents compared to 864,000 white non-Latinos, according to the 2020 U.S. census – correctly documenting Latino mortality is vital to assessing proper access to COVID treatment as well as to other pandemic-related resources.


In one record, the name “Reavis� appears. It was actually a Rivas who had died.


To find Latino misclassifications in medical examiner records, palabra examined Cook County death statistics and sorted out Latino surnames from the people who were identified as white, Black, or other in racial classification. We then took these names and searched for their obituaries online. We also looked at the ZIP code where each person lived to check if it was a known Latino-majority community. Even still, there is an inevitable margin of error in our methodology. We were only able to focus on Latinos with Spanish surnames because we could not identify the percentage of Latinos with other surnames. We were also aware that our count of Latino surnames included people of mixed races such as Black, Asian, and white Latinos.

Our review of death records unveiled other problems in the official accounting of deaths.

Some intake forms misspelled common Latino names. In one record, the name “Reavisâ€� appears. It was actually a Rivas who had died, as palabra researchers confirmed in an online obituary for the same person. Similarly, compounded Latino names were sometimes jumbled. In one case the name López de Ibarra was listed as “Lopezdeibarra.â€� 

The table above, created by palabra researchers, identifies Latinos labeled as white in the Cook County Medical Examiner data and whose compound surnames were collapsed into one. 
Another example of a Latino name misspelled in the Medical Examiner’s data.  Source: Cook County Medical Examiner
Cynthia Duarte. Courtesy Duarte.

According to Cynthia Duarte, director of the Sarah W. Heath Center for Equality and Justice at California Lutheran University, the problem of correctly recognizing race and ethnicity in medical settings stems from procedures not designed to serve diverse populations, especially during emergencies. Too often, patients are checked-in by intake workers with no training in cultural literacy. As a result, they tend to go only by skin color and other visible “racialâ€� traits, which are highly subjective assessments – particularly when dealing with mixed-race populations such as Latinos and Native Americans. 

“This has happened to me in a hospital,â€� said Duarte. “I am Latina and dark-skinned, so a lot of assumptions are made about who I am.â€� 

CICERO AND DAY OF THE DEAD

Most of the 90,000 residents of Cicero live in multi-generational households, and a good number are undocumented. Many extended families – aunts, uncles, and in-laws – also live within a few blocks of each other.

In this cramped, urban community, the pandemic’s rapid onset in March 2020 rang alarm bells. Within seven months, the town reported 5,635 cases. A total of 212 died from COVID between 2020 and 2021, including Elizabeth Solano. 

Day of the Dead observance includes dozens of Cicero’s citizens lost to COVID. Sherlock Elementary School. Photo by Michael Izquierdo for palabra

Reflecting its population, the majority of Cicero deaths were Latinos. And, just as in Solano’s case, at least 10% of those were misidentified as white, Black, Asian or other.

The first sign of this problem appeared in 2020 to Irene Romulo, development and community engagement coordinator at Cicero Independiente. To update the news site’s weekly count of COVID deaths, she followed reports from the local medical examiner’s office. While reviewing the names of the victims, Romulo noticed that family members and neighbors who died of COVID were identified as white – with no ethnicity listed – in official records. 

“I was devastated to find out that in death my grandfather was identified as a race that didn’t match who he was,� she said.

The dramatic impact of COVID on the residents of Cicero was evident during a visit to Sherlock Elementary School in early November 2021. Students, parents, and school staff had erected a Día de Los Muertos altar for the annual ceremony honoring passed loved ones that’s a tradition for many Latinos. The altar had several tiers displaying dozens of photos. School officials said they were overwhelmed with participants, especially as the school community had not observed the holiday in previous years. 

COVID MISREPORTING FROM THE START

From the onset of the pandemic, Chicago officials and community leaders debated whether and how to gather COVID data on Latinos. In April 2020, Latino-elected officials, aware that their constituents were being overlooked in public health assessments, asked government agencies to improve data gathering in Latino communities. At the time, 70% of recorded deaths were Black Chicagoans, according to an early analysis of Cook County Medical Examiner’s data from WBEZ. City officials focused outreach efforts on those residents. Because of the lack of accurate data, the impact on Latinos was not adequately assessed.  

“They were just not asking the right questions of Latinos,â€� said Illinois state Senator Celina Villanueva, who represents part of Cicero. 


 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) researchers have long been aware that the number of Latino deaths from all diseases is continually underreported. 


Once agencies tightened up their data-gathering methodology, officials began to see the real pandemic numbers among Latinos. Low-income municipalities began receiving CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security) Act grants to help offset the disease’s impact. Cicero received over $1 million in 2020. Cook County assigned the funds following a Social Vulnerability Index, which measures poverty levels, ethnic makeup, minority status, housing, and access to healthcare. The funds were to be invested in COVID preparedness for 2021. However, an investigation by the bilingual newsweekly Cicero Independiente found that the local government used the funds to pay police salaries, provoking public outrage.

THE UNDERCOUNTING CONTINUES

The misidentification of Latinos who died from COVID is not limited to Cook County. Nor is the misidentification limited to COVID deaths. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) researchers have long been aware that, nationally, the number of Latino deaths from all diseases is chronically underreported. The coronavirus forced this reality to the surface.

Elizabeth Arias. Photo Courtesy Arias

CDC researchers have known for 20 years that up to 3% of all Latino deaths in the United States are misclassified as non-Latino whites and not counted accurately in total death data. “They are counted, but as part of the general white population,â€� said Elizabeth Arias, a CDC researcher who has analyzed national death data since 1980. 

Moreover, COVID and its variants complicated reporting for Latinos in ways that didn’t affect the other ethnic and racial groups. Until 2019, Latinos fared relatively well in national health trends because they had maintained a higher life expectancy compared to non-Latino whites. In what researchers call the Hispanic Mortality Paradox, Latinos lived, statistically, two to three years longer.

The reasons for the “paradoxâ€� lie in a number of assumptions not yet definitively proven. The most accepted explanation, according to Arias, is that Latinos fared better because overall they include a healthier population that does not smoke. 

However, this so-called advantage seems to have disappeared with the outbreak of COVID.  


“It is true that deaths are difficult to hide. And that they do tend to be recorded well, but we still fall short when it comes to certain features like race, ethnicity, on death certificates.â€� 


Disparities in healthcare, employment, and housing had their impact during the pandemic. Latinos lost three years of life expectancy between 2019 and 2020, according to Arias, while white non-Latinos lost less than two. The largest decline in life expectancy was among Latino males, down from 79 years in 2019 to 75.3 years in 2020. 

“The pandemic highlighted known issues with the reporting of race and ethnicity in mortality statistics, which we are working on addressing,� said CDC epidemiologist Margaret Warner. “What is now more appreciated is the real-world impact of the statistics.�

Misclassification is a “pervasive problem� throughout all of the government’s data collection efforts, said Dr. Eric Schneider, executive vice president of the NCQA Quality Measurement and Research Group, which focuses on healthcare issues.

A health services specialist, Schneider said health experts know that mortality statistics are not completely reliable. “It is true that deaths are difficult to hide. And that they do tend to be recorded well, but we still fall short when it comes to certain features like race, ethnicity, on death certificates.â€� 

FUNERAL DIRECTORS AND DEATH CERTIFICATES

CDC’s Warner and Arias said it is difficult to correct the misclassification of Latinos because the information comes from death certificates, which are completed by funeral directors and attending physicians, or other medical personnel.


It wasn’t until 1989 that the term “Hispanic originâ€� was added to the official U.S. death certificate.  


The CDC developed training materials to guide funeral directors and medical personnel who fill out the forms, Arias added. These resources are supposed to teach funeral directors how to inquire about the race and ethnic origin of the deceased. But too often, these protocols are ignored.

“They are supposed to ask what did the dead person consider themselves,â€� said Arias. “Were they Hispanic, and what race were they? But many times the funeral directors go by observation only.â€�  

Problems with gathering the correct information arise when the states collect the mortality data and the death certificate is filled out, Arias told palabra. The federal government pays states to provide the information, and the states depend on the information filled out by funeral directors, who are often not properly trained. 

AN ENDEMIC PROBLEM

It wasn’t until 1989 that the term “Hispanic origin� was added to the official U.S. death certificate. Until then, only a handful of states included the Hispanic/Latino tag on their government documentation. The federal government did not include the term and provided “race� as the only identifier.

“Perhaps we all should carry identification that spells out our race and ethnicity to avoid misclassification,� Arias said wryly.

Some government agencies and Latino organizations have tried for some time to get to the bottom of misclassification. But solving the problem isn’t a simple matter of better training of government and healthcare personnel, or of funeral directors, said Cal Lutheran sociologist Duarte. Misclassification also occurs because of how Latinos identify themselves. Many foreign-born Latinos do not identify by the catch-all terms Latino or Hispanic. Instead, they often prefer to say they are Mexican, Salvadoran, or other nationalities. 


“If data is wrong in terms of (COVID), where does this lead us in terms of other diseases?�


In Cook County, Latino elected officials ponder solutions. The Latino undercount in Cook County death records can’t be solved by the government alone, said state Senator Villanueva. The problem requires multiple stakeholders to figure out a solution

Cook County, Villanueva argued, needs to gather the medical establishment, data personnel, and the communities for a long-overdue discussion on proper data gathering. 

Illinois state Senator Celina Villanueva. Photo courtesy Illinois Senate.

“If data is wrong in terms of (COVID) where does this lead us in terms of other diseases?� Villanueva asked.

Indeed, as cases of COVID and its variants ebb, questions remain on whether medical officials will be better prepared for the next pandemic.

“If you are under-measuring the impact of COVID on the Latino community, it can lead to poorly informed decisions about publicity, education, and research. That’s obviously detrimental not only to the Latino community but really to everyone in the country,� said MALDEF’s Thomas Saenz. “Inaccurate data is not helpful, particularly in the public health context.�

Additional reporting by Michael Izquierdo and Ivan Moreno. 

Ana Arana is an award-winning investigative journalist and former foreign correspondent who reported for three decades in Latin America and Africa. She has received multiple journalism awards, including a Peabody Award, two Overseas Press Club Awards, and a Dart Award for Excellence, among others.

Linda Jue is a contributing investigative editor and writer for palabra. She is also editor-at-large for the investigative site 100Reporters as well as a reporting and writing coach for the Fund for Investigative Journalism.

Kyra Senese is a Chicago-based reporter. She has recently reported on the COVID-19 pandemic for the Chicago Sun-Times, WBEZ, and the Pioneer Press in Chicago.


Cover Photo: Día de los Muertos altar honors COVID dead at Sherlock Elementary School, 2021. Photo by Michael Izquierdo for palabra

Click here to read the version in Spanish.

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ILLN Opinion + Joshua Gutierrez

Welcome to another episode of Illinois Latino News Opinion+ where we talk about major issues the Latinx and underrepresented communities face in our state.

This week we spoke with Joshua Gutierrez, the Prevention and Health Education Manager of TPAN.

TPAN, the Test Positive Aware Network, was created in 1987, during the heart of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, to establish a peer-support network at a time where fear and misinformation dominated society’s understanding of the virus. Today TPAN serves those living with or vulnerable to HIV through a variety of services ranging from education to healthcare.

Given his role, Gutierrez is very passionate about education and sharing resources with the community. A lot of the misinformation surrounding sexuality and healthcare starts in the household and leads to issues later in life, such as the Black and Latinx communities being disproportionately affected by HIV and STIs.

“I don’t think it’s because parents don’t care, I just think that maybe they don’t know how to approach it, or they don’t know how to talk about it,� said Gutierrez.

He says that he sees education and wellness as self-investment, and he takes pride in TPAN’s ability to help individuals help themselves.

“We give you science-based, research-based information and we hope that we are giving you the tools to make the best health decisions for yourself,� he said.

Gutierrez says that much progress has been made from the 1980’s to now regarding our understanding of HIV/AIDS and how people living with the virus are treated, including Illinois’ decriminalization of those living with HIV in 2021. House Bill 4430, a bill that would allow HIV prevention and post-exposure medications PrEP and PEP to be accessed without a prescription, recently passed in both the Illinois House and Senate.

“This is great news. This is going to be a game changer. As I was saying that people of color, BIPOC folks are disproportionately affected by acquiring HIV, and a lot of the reason is because there’s barriers to acquiring it [PrEP],â€� said Gutierrez. “…we all know that a tool is only effective if you have access to it.â€�

TPAN provides access to a wide range of services including therapy groups, HIV testing, syringe exchange, a youth drop-in program and much more. All of these programs are free for every client.

Resources: 

TPAN’s website: https://www.tpan.com

Ending Criminal Penalties for People Living with HIV in Illinois: https://www.aclu-il.org/en/news/governor-pritzker-signs-hb-1063-ending-criminal-penalties-people-living-hiv-illinois

CDC information on PrEP: https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/basics/prep.html

CDC information on PEP: https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/basics/pep.html

Information on HB 4430: https://www.ilga.gov/legislation/BillStatus.asp?DocNum=4430&GAID=16&DocTypeID=HB&SessionID=110&GA=102

Positively Aware, The HIV Treatment Journal of TPAN: https://www.positivelyaware.com

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Culture Is Key To Treating Mental Health Concerns

Publisher’s Note: Mental health concerns dominate people’s minds, even as the pandemic eases, according to a new survey conducted by the newsroom collaborative, Solving for Chicago.

Illinois Latino News is one of the 23 newsrooms working cooperatively to cover pressing issues facing the public in the Chicago region.

This story is based on your responses to the survey about the long-term effects of the pandemic people face and how to overcome those challenges.

Mental Health wellness was among the social problems you said you want to see more news coverage.



The impact of the coronavirus on Hispanics-Latinos, who have been disproportionately affected, has been discerning.

Due to higher rates of deaths, unemployment, college dropout, homelessness, and access to quality health care, the community is more prone to developing symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress disorder. Systemic barriers to mental health support have worsened for the community — at a time when getting timely help has never been more critical.

Adding to the challenges, the community has been coping with a mental health care system that wasn’t built with them in mind. To adequately move forward in meeting the mental health needs of Hispanics-Latinos, beyond conventional structures and practices, thought leaders say it is critical to focus on culture. Although some aspects of culture contribute to stigmatized views of mental health, it might also be the solution.

“We were comfortable because we just put our heads down, and we’d keep going, and I think that’s what we’d been taught to do. Sigue, sigue, sigue, trabajando, sigue. Go, go, go, go, go, and when we look up again, we find ourselves in chaos because we haven’t looked up in so long.”

Mental health counselor and owner of Advocacy & Education Consulting Pamela Fullerton describes the mentality culturally ingrained into many Hispanics-Latinos: no matter what, keep working. As a result, conversations about self-care, work-life balance, and mental health are much less common, which comes at a price.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration report found that only 34 percent of Hispanic-Latino adults with mental illness receive treatment every year.

As an essential worker who can work from home, Fullerton’s experience differed from those in public-facing industries, as she was less at-risk in terms of physical health. However, adjusting to staying home, running a business, teaching and caring for her two children, and assisting her clients through their new stressors, was challenging to balance.

“I did work with essential workers who had to go into work and so dealing with their anxiety of that, their stress about that. I’ve had clients that lost their jobs during the pandemic, and so a part of them kind of felt relief on the one hand, but then, on the other hand, a loss of income is a big deal, so I was helping many individuals find scholarship monies, grants, anything to kind of help them stay afloat,” she said. “I was doing that, which is very stressful knowing that I got a client who needs to get food on their table.”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention surveys conducted in June 2020 show that overall, working adults reported symptoms of anxiety and depression during the pandemic. Still, numbers were higher for essential workers, with 42 percent saying they experienced these symptoms and 25 percent reporting they started or increased substance use to cope with their emotions.



In the February 2022 episode of ILLN Opinion+, NAMI Illinois Executive Director Andy Wade discussed the organization’s efforts to specifically target minority communities, who traditionally have stigmatized mental health views and who made up most of Chicago’s essential worker population.

Culture Influences How People Deal With Grief

These initiatives, Sharing Hope for the Black community and Compartiendo Esperanza for the Latinx community, consist of three videos that explore mental health from the lens of their respective community through dialogue and storytelling, followed by a guided discussion.

“This is only for them [the Black and Latinx communities] to talk about their community, to talk about their struggles, their challenges, and hopefully, in some cases, their success as well,” said Laura Martinez, Mental Health Equity & Inclusion Director of NAMI Illinois.

She says that culture influences people’s issues and how they cope with things like grief. For example, she recalled a recent event in which her neighbor’s husband died, and after praying, the mourning group began recanting old memories and crying.

“I took the opportunity to turn it into a Compartiendo Esperanza, and I said, you know, there’s this video, and I had my phone,” she explained. The specific video Martinez shared shows a grieving family, with the father explaining the need for him to be “macho” and not allow his children to see him cry.

It sparked a response from the men in the novena group.

“There were males there that said, ‘you know what, I want my children to know it’s not okay. We have a lot of mental health issues on my side of the family, and so I want them to know that if they’re not feeling okay, I want them to get the help that they need, right when they need it because he had lost someone to suicide. He said, ‘I don’t want to go through that again.’”

Fullerton says a significant disconnect between minorities and mental health dates back to its origin, which never considered other cultural experiences.

“If you think about psychology which is the root, psychology and psychiatry, they were started by white men. White, European men and white, older American men and they did all their work on white men and white, middle-class wives. What do they know about everybody else?” she said. “And have we seen mental health in other ethnic cultures? YES! Our indigenous ancestors did ancient healing practices, so mental health has been there; it just looks different than what we see here in the United States.”

She says that mental health providers continue to do a disservice to people of color by not implementing their customs into treatment. It may be a trial and error process to find one’s individualized and preferred method, but doing so creates trust and allows people to feel more comfortable opening up.

“That’s what I think is the beauty of mental health; it’s being in a partnership with the client that you’re working with, with the community that you’re working with, getting their input so that they’re comfortable with what you’re doing in the room because if not, they’re gonna do what so many Latinos, so many Black-Americans, what they’ve been doing for years which is coming to counseling for maybe one or two sessions and then leaving because they didn’t connect with the human being in front of them,” said Fullerton.

The lack of resources and services available for minorities was highlighted during the pandemic. However, many local organizations attempted to provide what people needed, whether food security, protective gear, or a sense of community.

Sin Titulo is a cultural and social justice-focused online apparel company founded by Iraís Elizarraraz and her sisters, Diana and Itzel, in August 2020. They opened with phrases like “first generation” and “you love the culture, now support the people” printed onto their t-shirts but have since expanded to hosting a mental health initiative, Fruits of My Labor, after Iraís was inspired by a panel she joined, where she answered questions about self-love and her identity.

“All these people of different backgrounds came up to me and said your story resonates with me so much, and I didn’t know; I thought my story was just a singular bubble, but it wasn’t,” she explained.

Sin Titulo’s mission focuses on uplifting Black and Brown people, but their recent Cinco de Mayo event was designed to elevate Mexican culture, voices, and experiences. Elizarraraz says that being teased by her family as a child by chanting “quiere llorar, quiere llorar” has led to her reluctance to publicly show emotion as an adult. But she couldn’t hold back at the event and noticed audience members also wiping tears away.

“I’m like, wow, people were crying at the event, and a lot of barriers were taken down after the discussion,” She continued. “Those moments I’m like wow, this is working, and it’s going in the right direction, but then also not only do we have to talk about it but how do we heal from it… we need to address it and make sure it doesn’t happen for generational trauma in the future.”

Fullerton points out that only talking about problems won’t be enough for individuals with more severe mental issues or who require medication. Still, narrative therapy, a type of counseling that focuses on a person’s story and treats them as the expert of their own lives, has proven effective for Latinx.

“We’re storytellers as Latinos, too, so I think it really speaks to the heart of who we are, using this type of therapy where we use stories to reauthor a new story that really is about who we are,” she said.

She says that informal settings such as NAMI’s Compartiendo Esperanza and Sin Titulo’s Fruits of My Labor also help ease Latinos with these sometimes severe discussions. She says that rather than calling them therapy groups, she and her patients call them “platicas,” where she approaches them as a friend looking to catch up.

“We’re just gonna sit here and talk and enjoy each other’s company. Let’s bring in coffee; let’s do a coffee cake. We love to eat, we love to drink, we love to talk, so bringing things in that culturally make us comfortable and that we’re familiar with will help to ease some of the anxiety that comes with thinking, ‘I’m working on my mental health,’ which is stigmatized or tabooed in our culture and other cultures as well,” she explained.

These differences in approaching mental health make a difference to groups who’ve been programmed to feel that only “crazy” people seek therapy. But, whether it’s addressed or not, mental health, like physical health, needs to be monitored to prevent crises.

“What I’m trying to do is take us to a point where we don’t only think about our mental health when we’re in chaos. But prior to all of those, when just trying to deal with the daily stressors of life…. That’s what mental health awareness is really all about. It’s preventative,” Fullerton said.


We want to hear from you!

Tell us what you think about this story. What you liked/didn’t like about it? Was it useful/not useful? What do you want to learn more about this topic? Email us at info@LatinoNewsNetwork.com

Also, The Solving for Chicago survey remains open for those who would like to share their own experiences with the Solving for Chicago collaborative: How has working through the pandemic changed your life?


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Illinois Latino News partners with Medill’s Metro Media Lab

“Solutions journalism resets the mindset for journalists from focusing on problems to what’s being done about problems,” said Hugo Balta, Publisher of Illinois Latino News (ILLN), at the Collaborative Journalism Summit 2022 (CJS 2022), hosted at Columbia College, Chicago this month.

Balta was one of the guest speakers at Medill’s social justice and local news partnerships: collaboration, investigation, and education session. Kari Lydersen, lecturer at Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications at Northwestern University, led the discussion on Medill’s Metro Media Lab and the social justice specialization in its master’s degree program. Medill students work with many Chicago media outlets and professional reporters on in-depth investigative and immersive stories on topics ranging from police reform to environmental injustice to the effects of COVID on communities and much more.

ILLN is one of the newsrooms partnering with Medill. “Part of our mission is to provide student journalists with real work experiences in order to help them on the path to success,” said Balta.

Change Agents session at Collaborative Journalism Summit 2022, Columbia College, Chicago

Apoorvaa Mandar Bichu, who goes by “Apps,” a graduate student at Northwestern University, was also a guest speaker at CJS 2022 and has been assigned to work with ILLN and the Chicago Reporter. “I like that I was challenged to think about telling the story differently than the common “what, where, and when,” and consider applying solutions journalism in telling a story differently,” she said.

Solutions Journalism is the rigorous and compelling reporting about responses to social problems, which includes these key elements: responses, insight, evidence, and limitations. Connecticut Latino News (CTLN) and Illinois Latino News newsrooms were introduced to solutions journalism by grants provided by the Solutions Journalism Network (SJN).

CTLN was one of ten news outlets chosen to be a part of the Advancing Democracy six-month project. ILLN is part of the Democracy SOS Fellowship.

Balta is participating in the Solutions Journalism Train-the-Trainer program provided by the SJN in order to develop expertise in teaching solutions journalism. “Solutions journalism builds trust with the public by promoting transparency in every step of the storytelling process,” said Balta. “Due to a lack of equitable representation in newsrooms, there is an urgent need to train journalists to be transparent in news gathering and reporting on the complexity of racial identity, social constructs, and cultural competence. Training journalists on how to produce solutions journalism stories allows me to help them develop ways to engage audiences disillusioned by the onslaught of negative narratives in news coverage.”

Apps is working on a story on how educators are responding to the large number of Hispanic-Latino students who, due to the coronavirus pandemic, were forced to drop out or not apply to schools of higher education. Her piece will be submitted to Solving for Chicago, a collaborative of 20 print, digital, and broadcast newsrooms, including ILLN, working cooperatively to cover pressing issues facing the public.

Another story that will be afforded to Solving for Chicago is by Raphael Hipos, another graduate student at Northwestern University who is working with Illinois Latino News as part of the Metro Media Lab partnership. Hipos is writing a story about how the pandemic is driving the nationwide surge in union organizing.

The Metro Media Lab is designed to help local news organizations better engage with citizens; provide quality, solutions-oriented journalism; and strengthen the sustainability of local news organizations through research, training and student-produced storytelling in partnerships with Chicago outlets.

“By pairing our research, our faculty, and our students with journalists and future journalists, we can make a difference in helping people understand the importance of local news and establishing successful news organizations to provide this essential service,� said Medill Dean Charles Whitaker.


Cover Photo: Guest speakers at Medill’s Metro Media Lab and the social justice specialization in its master’s degree program, Collaborative Journalism Summit 2022, Columbia College, Chicago

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The Path Forward: Overcoming Mental Health Stigma in the Latino Community

Many Hispanics-Latinos view mental illness as a sign of weakness. Shying away from addressing mental illness for fear of being labeled “loco,� Spanish for “crazy,� only makes matters worse.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and in recognition of that observance, it was the subject of this month’s Latinx Talks (LT).

Hugo Balta, Publisher of Illinois Latino News (ILLN) and moderator for LT, led a panel discussion on the stigma associated with mental illness within the Hispanic-Latino culture.

Hispanic-Latino adolescents’ mental health and academic performance declined during the COVID-19 pandemic as parents’ job loss forced many teenagers’ to take over childcare responsibilities for their younger siblings and for others to get a job to help make ends meet.

Pamela Fullerton, a bilingual and bicultural Latina Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor and professor at Northeastern University, believes most schools do not have the resources to support students adequately.

“Schools, WAKE UP!” Fullerton said. “I was working for a school that had two social workers for the entire school. How are we going to serve our students with that lack of mental help support? We’re not.”

Spanish is the second-most spoken language in the United States, and the number of Hispanics-Latinos who speak Spanish at home has grown from 24.6 million in 2000 to 39.1 million in 2019, according to the Pew Research Center.

Still, between 2014 and 2019, the proportion of facilities offering mental health treatment in Spanish declined by nearly 18 percent, according to a study published last week in the journal Psychiatric Services.

Language is a clear barrier to seeking and delivering appropriate treatment among Hispanic-Latino. Language proficiency is especially important in psychiatric care because the determination of psychiatric diagnoses significantly depends on verbal communication between patients and professionals. 

“Hospitals are required to provide an interpreter for their patients,” said Laura Martinez, Mental Health Equity & Inclusion Director with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). The Joint Commission, the primary accrediting organization of U.S. hospitals, requires institutions to have a language services policy in place. “They also have to have signage throughout the hospital in the top five languages in their area.”

Omar Corro, Senior Director of Operations with Rincon Family Services, says language alone isn’t enough to serve the needs of the Hispanic-Latino community best. “Having that cultural humility is very important as well,” Corro said.

Hispanics-Latinos are not a monolith. With a seemingly endless range of subgroups and individual variations, culture is important because it bears upon what all people bring to the clinical setting. Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General finds It can account for minor variations in how people communicate their symptoms and which ones they report.

As Chicago, like many cities across the country, continue to crawl from the grip of COVID-19, much of the funding that was available at the height of the pandemic has decreased. Grassroots organizations, like Illinois Unidos, which have been on the frontline in helping Hispanics-Latinos through the crisis, fear that the communities who need the most help won’t get the resources they need.

“If they’re getting money, we want to see transparency,” said Dr. Pamela Vergara-Rodriguez, a triple boarded certified physician in psychiatry in the Cook County Health System, says transparency is paramount. “Where is that money going, and who is it serving?” Vergara-Rodriguez said that coalitions need to demand that local and state governments provide data and transparency in allocating resources to the public.

Latinx Talks is a monthly program produced by Imagen Marketing Consultants. The new Latino speakers series aims to bring to the forefront the inequities facing the Hispanic-Latino community.


Cover Photo: Illinois Department of Central Management Services

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ILLN Opinion+: Claudia SIlva-Hernandez

On this week’s episode of Illinois Latino Opinion+, Claudia Silva-Hernandez, who is running for Cook County Circuit Court Judge, joined to discuss her campaign and why she thinks she should be elected.

Silva-Hernandez grew up in the south suburbs of Dalton and Flossmoor, areas which both have low Hispanic-Latino populations. She says that growing up, educators thought she didn’t understand English, because she was bilingual and because she was a shy child. It made her feel invisible during her school years, but she says it now motivates her to try to prevent others from feeling that way while they navigate the legal process.

“So that’s really one of my driving forces for wanting to be a judge is I want to make people feel visible. I know what it’s like to feel marginalized or scared or to feel out of place, and I think a lot of litigants who come to our courtroom these days definitely feel like the cards are stacked up against them,� she said.

Silva-Hernandez’s legal experience includes positions at the Chicago Housing Authority, Will County Public Defender’s, and the Clerk’s Office of the Circuit of Cook County, among others. She says that she’s held each of these roles with the intention of helping others and feels like they’ve all contributed to preparing her for the potential role as Cook County Circuit Court Judge.

She said, “not only am I Latina, but I’m also someone who cares and someone who always makes it a point to connect with other people, to make people feel seen, to make people feel welcomed, and I think that’s an important key takeaway.�

Silva-Hernandez is a candidate in the primary election, which will be held on June 28, 2022. The general election takes place on November 8, 2022.

Resources mentioned in this video:

Silva-Hernandez’s campaign website: Silvahernandezforjudge.org

Circuit Court of Cook County Judge Directory: https://www.cookcountycourt.org/ABOUT-THE-COURT/Judges-Information

Silva-Hernandez for Judge on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/silvahernandezforjudge?_rdr

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Blood and Booze: The history of Cinco de Mayo

The images that come to mind for most United States residents when thinking of Cinco de Mayo are of Mexican flags, sombreros, long mustaches, tequila and, in general, a vibe of celebration and partying. But, where did this celebration come from and how has it changed with the passage of time?

It was late morning of May 5, 1862, when the Mexican soldiers defending the city of Puebla saw the French army marching towards their position. These were dark days for the nation of Mexico. They had lost half their lands to the United States less than two decades ago, the crippling debt to European nations had impoverished the whole country, the division between conservatives and liberals could not get any deeper and now the French army had come to claim Mexico as their own.

These young and inexperienced Mexican soldiers would never have believed that some hours later they would be celebrating as the French army, the one that had at the start of the century started a war with all of Europe and nearly won, was retreating under heavy rain.

“Yes, we celebrate the victory of the Mexican army over the French army that invaded Mexico, it is known as the Battle of Puebla,â€� said Benjamín Villanueva García, a 43-year-old resident of Cancún, Mexico. “In Mexico it is more of a patriotic celebration, in the sense that a foreign invading army was defeated.â€�

The memory of this battle brings pride to most Mexicans. At the time, the idea of Mexico as a sovereign nation was constantly being challenged both by external and internal forces. And the victory at Puebla seemed like a reason to feel pride and hope; like the impossible was possible.

Juan Mora-Torres, an associate professor of Latin American History at DePaul University and author of the book “The Making of the Mexican Border,â€� told  The DePaulia what Cinco De Mayo means to him.

“Since its independence, [Mexico] had been a divided country, no sense of nationhood, all kinds of political conflicts and military conflicts among themselves,� he said. “They lost half the territory to the U.S. Things were not going well. Right? So [the Battle of Puebla] was like the first sense of something good happening since the independence.�.

Sadly, it was short-lived. France continued its campaign to take control of Mexico and ended up succeeding in installing Maximilian I as Emperor of Mexico. But the Battle of Puebla ended up becoming a powerful symbol for Mexicans living in the United States.

Mora-Torres suggests that the date is still remembered not necessarily because the victory had important implications at the time, but because it resonated with other struggles that Mexicans — and later the whole Latino community — were facing in the U.S. As the years passed, different generations of Latinos in the U.S. could see their own struggles against immensely strong forces as parallels to what happened in Puebla centuries ago.

“Every generation gets a different meaning from the Cinco de Mayo,� he said. “And in my case, the youth of my generation found value in that because that was the moment of the Civil Rights Movement.�

Delia Cosentino, acting chair of Latin American and Latino Studies and associate professor of History of Art and Architecture at DePaul University, had a similar view on the subject.

“For those who do know the history, it makes sense to want to celebrate a David and Goliath sort of fight in which the less powerful player wins the battle (i.e. Mexico vs. France),â€� Cosentino said. “It could be an analogy for marginalized communities in the U.S. feeling empowered in the face of Anglo political and social aggressions toward Latinos and Mexican Americans in particular.â€� 

“Any holiday that brings people of a shared heritage together can serve as a form of social glue, giving an emboldened sense of commonality,� she continued.

East Los Angeles, March 5, 1968. It started with the students at Garfield High School organizing a walkout and it ended up with thousands of Latino students walking out of their own schools all around the city. Not even the police were able to silence the Chicano movement that demanded to be listened to.

These students stood against structural racism in the government that stripped them of their rights and their identities, and against the day-to-day racism that kept them away from opportunities of a better life and from the respect they deserved. They hoped that one day they would beat the odds and wake up in a country that did not treat them as second-class citizens.

Today, Cinco de Mayo is celebrated in the United States with folkloric dances and Mariachis, with sombreros and fireworks, but especially copious amounts of beer and tequila. According to Nielsen, a data and market measurement firm, more than $735 million worth of beer and related malt beverages was bought in the U.S. in 2016’s Cinco de Mayo.

Mora-Torres explains when there’s money to be made, companies will take advantage. Margaritas, tequila, Mexican beers, nachos — all of these have become a part of the celebration of Cinco de Mayo. 

“You have to celebrate,� Mora-Torres said. “Now the celebration has taken over and the politics have been neglected, right? But every generation will find some value in the Cinco de Mayo.�

“In my generation, it was about civil rights,� Mora-Torres said. “And so, the young people got to find their agenda. And I think they will use the Cinco de Mayo as a metaphor, because it is an event that highlights the David against the Goliath struggle […] But I have no problem celebrating. Okay. It has been a very long winter. We have been two years with Covid.�

It is May of 2022, Chicago. While we go through a winter that does not want to end, I write this article in my room as the sun sets. As a Latino student in the U.S., I cannot keep my mind away from the current struggles: how there are still people being treated as illegal for making a hard decision to forge a better future for themselves, or how still the stereotypes around Latinos frame what we are expected to be capable of or how neighborhoods with a majority of Latino population are being neglected even in a city that prides itself of being liberal. In the end, I feel relief, because I know that the reason why David beats Goliath is because he never stops throwing stones.


Cover Graphic by La DePaulia multimedia assistant, Frankie Perez. 

Santiago Posada-Jaramillo is the Opinions Editor of La DePaulia. He enjoys politics, history, psychology, and video game design. He is from Colombia and new to the U.S. Santiago is a graduate student part of the MFA Game Design program at DePaul University. He decided to join La DePaulia because he believes that an informed community can make the world a better place. 

Email him at opinionesladepaulia@depauliaonline.com


Publisher’s Notes: You can read Santiago Posada-Jaramillo’s Spanish language version of Blood and Booze: The history of Cinco de Mayo by clicking on Sangre y alcohol: la historia del Cinco de Mayo.

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

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Illinois Latina leaders pave the way forward for 2022 elections

Delia Ramirez, Illinois’s state representative for the 4th District, is poised to play a pivotal role in the 2022 congressional elections. Not only is she running for the state’s newly drawn 3rd Congressional District, but if elected, she would make history as the first Latina congresswoman from the Midwest.

“It’s about making sure that every woman can see themselves in every space of power,â€� Ramirez said. “Because when we arrive, we are that wild dream realized.â€�

Born and raised in Humboldt Park, the daughter of Guatemalan immigrants, Delia Ramirez comes from a long line of resilient women; her mother crossed the border when she was pregnant with Delia during her first trimester. “This woman wanted to be in this country because she wanted her daughter to have more than she ever had,� Ramirez said.

She started her career volunteering at shelters to help people find housing and jobs and worked her way up to become a state representative. When there was an open seat in the State House, the people she had helped through the years started asking her to run. “And I said, ‘oh, why me?’ Someone should run but not me. And part of the reason was because I hadn’t seen a young Latina in these spaces,� she said.

Ramirez was among several Illinois Latina candidates who discussed the importance of making space for Latino and female voices in the 2022 elections at the Latinas in Politics forum discussion, which took place at the Hubbard Inn on April 27th.

The panel, which was conducted by the Latina Executives and Entrepreneurs Network (LEEN), featured voices from prominent Illinois representatives such as Illinois State Senator Karina Villa, Maria Reyes, the candidate for the DuPage County Commission Board, Leticia Garcia, the candidate for the Cook County Commission Board, and Claudia Silva-Hernandez, who is running as a judge candidate in the Cook County elections.

May be an image of 9 people and text

Latina representation in politics is more important now than ever before, as only about 3 percent of the voting senators and representatives in Congress are Latinas, despite accounting for as much as 16 percent of the female workforce, according to NBC News.

Even though there’s been a 75 percent increase in the number of Latino elected officials in the past two decades, Latinos make up less than 2 percent of all elected officials in the country, according to the National Association of Latino Elected Officials (NALEO). 

In Illinois, 17.5 percent of the total population identify as Hispanic or Latino, highlighting the need for increased Latino representation in leadership. The Illinois Latino Legislative Caucus currently has 15 elected official members, taking up 9 out of the 118 seats in the Illinois House of Representatives and 6 of the 59 seats in the Illinois Senate.

Ramirez isn’t the only Latina who had to work her way to the top from humble beginnings. State Senator Karina Villa (D-West Chicago) was a school social worker for 15 years before she decided to transition into politics.

Born and raised in DuPage County, Senator Villa only saw white male Republican representation growing up, everywhere from Congress to the State Senate. “I said, why not?” she said when asked what inspired her to run for politics. “Our students need it, our students are suffering, and I didn’t know what to do. Where are the leaders? Why aren’t they here? Why aren’t they listening to the needs of my students?”

Villa said she had never aspired to run for politics, but the need for change led her to go door-to-door, talking to voters, and eventually become a member of the Illinois State Senate for the 25th District.

Cook County Judge candidate Claudia Silva-Hernandez who is running for election in June, said, “I remember sitting in my classes when I was in grade school and feeling kind of invisible and wanting desperately for the teacher to call on me so I can read the paragraph and so they can see that I was smart too, just like everybody else.�

Silva-Hernandez felt the need to run for election because she wanted to prove to others that just because she spoke Spanish didn’t mean that she was any less capable than her peers. “So I want to provide for people who come before us for judge[ship] so that they don’t feel invisible like I did when I was a child,” she said.

The Latina leaders in the panel talked about the need to stop expecting others to step up for them and be the change they want to see in Illinois politics.

Rep. Dagmara Avelar, D-Bolingbrook discussed the tendency among Latina women to “support whoever wants to run� but shy away from running in the elections themselves and said that it was important to change that narrative.
“We never really look back and say like, why not us?� she pointed out.
This reluctance among Latina women to run for elections could be because the lack of Latina representation in state and national politics leads to feelings of uncertainty regarding their political ambitions.

“As Latinas, we can have all the master’s degrees in the world, we can pass 17 pieces of legislation, we can be the ones moving things first in the nation…and we still ask ourselves: are we good enough?â€� Ramirez said.

She looked at the crowd of people present at the panel, some of whom were journalists, some of whom were there because of an interest in Illinois politics, and many of whom were Latina women themselves, and said, “So, what I want to say to all of you here is you are more than good enough­– as entrepreneurs, as nonprofit leaders, and as women who are lifting other women, you are more than good enough.�

Cover photo: Latinas in Politics forum, Hubbard Inn, April 27 (Courtesy of Apps Mandar Bichu).


Apps Mandar Bichu is a graduate student journalist pursuing a Masters of Science in Journalism at Northwestern University.

She is currently interning at The Chicago Reporter and Illinois Latino News (ILLN).

She specializes in multimedia journalism and is passionate about social justice reporting, travel journalism, and all forms of content creation.

You can follow her on Twitter at @ApoorvaaBichu and on LinkedIn: Apoorvaa “Apps” Bichu, or check out her website to learn more about her work: CallMe-Apps.com

Publisher’s Notes: ILLN is collaborating with Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications in providing students with mentoring and real work experiences. As such ILLN is part of the professional partnerships within the Social Justice Specialization and as part of Medill’s Metro Media Lab.

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Organ Donation: A Birthday Story

“Cumpleaños feliz, te deseamos a ti,” our family sang “Happy Birthday,” to my wife, Adriana. “Cumpleaños felices,” we raised our voices as she celebrated another year with her new liver. Adriana had suffered from polycystic liver disease, a rare condition that causes cysts (fluid-filled sacs) to grow throughout the liver until the selflessness of a young woman saved her life.

Soon after the birth of our first child in 2003, my wife’s aggressive form of the disease became even more severe, deforming her organ further. A healthy liver has a smooth appearance weighing between three and three and a half pounds. Adriana’s polycystic liver looking like a cluster of large grapes, weighed just over 20 pounds when it was removed.

The enlarged liver displaced her other organs, complicating her overall health; Adriana would surely die without a transplant. Her medical miracle happened in her native Colombia. An organ donor, a woman who unfortunately died in an accident, was a match with Adriana.

In general, about 75 percent of people who undergo liver transplants live for at least five years, according to the Mayo Clinic That means that for every 100 people who receive a liver transplant for any reason, about 75 will live for five years and 25 will die within five years. Adriana celebrated 17 years with her new liver last November.

Adriana celebrates her birthday in April 2022

April is National Donate Life Month. Doctors and advocates say it’s more important than ever to bring attention to the need for organ donors. Approximately every 10 minutes, another person is added to the national waiting list.

I became an organ donor soon after Adriana’s liver transplant. Before then, I was like many Hispanics-Latinos, who are less likely to donate organs than Americans as a whole, according to organ donation experts. Hispanics-Latinos are disproportionately in need of donor organs and are less likely to consent to donation than their non-Hispanic counterparts, reports the National Library of Medicine.

“We have transformed the way that they’re thinking and looking at … organ transplantation,” said Dr. Juan Carlos Caicedo, organ transplant surgeon and the director of the Hispanic Transplant Program at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. In an interview on WTTW’s Latino Voices, Dr. Caicedo told me that his team of 50 medical professionals at Northwestern Medicine’s Hispanic Transplant Program helps break down language and cultural barriers in the Hispanic-Latino community. “To be able to do it in their own language – knowing their culture, because our team is bilingual and bicultural — and removing all the language barriers and cultural barriers, we have been able to engage them in a positive way,” he said.

Last year, nephrologists at Loyola University Medical Center told Adriana that her kidneys, which suffer from polycystic kidney disease (PKD), were giving out. PKD is another inherited disorder in which clusters of cysts develop primarily within one’s kidneys, causing them to enlarge and lose function over time. As a result, Adriana is quickly reaching the point of needing dialysis. 

I quickly volunteered to be tested to see if I could be a living donor for my wife.

Transplant patients are often reluctant to consider an organ from their spouses because the organs may not be a good match in blood and tissue type. Poor matching can cause the recipient’s immune system to reject the organ.

But a report in the journal Dialysis and Transplantation found that kidney transplantation from spousal donors “has comparable outcomes to those of other living-unrelated donors, and shortens the time spent on the waiting list.�

Adriana and I on the town

Adriana is on that list, and the wait could be as long as three years. Happily, Adriana and I learned that I am a solid match to donate my kidney to her. We will have the surgery in June.

There are more than 100,000 people currently on the national transplant waiting list.

Current statistics show that Americans belonging to minority groups make up nearly 60 percent of those waiting for an organ transplant.  Although a transplant can be successful regardless of the race or ethnicity of the donor and recipient, there is a greater chance of longer-term survival for the recipient if the genetic background of the donor and recipient are closely matched.  

Please consider becoming an organ donor. Americans from every community are needed to help make a life-saving difference. Persons who register as organ donors can save up to eight lives and enhance the lives of 75 others.

Some of those donations can take place while you’re living. For example, living donors can give a lung, kidney, or part of their liver, which can almost regrow to its original size.

Next year, my family hopes to add a June birthday for Adriana, the first of many celebrating her new kidney, our family’s love, and the gift of life.

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