Cicero Independiente: Taking a People First Approach in Creating News

Cicero Independiente is a bilingual, independent, people-centered news organization local to the town of Cicero, a Southwest suburb of Chicago.

Cicero Independiente was founded in 2019 by April Alonso, Irene Romulo and Ankur Singh in response to the lack of accessible information focused on the people of Cicero. The trio bonded over a common desire to create local, transparent news for people traditionally neglected by the media, and to give these people the power to decide how their stories are told.

IL Latino News met with Digital Editor April Alonso and Development and Community Engagement Coordinator Irene Romulo to talk about their journey.

ILLN: April and Irene, as two of the founders of Cicero Independiente, tell me about the experience of starting your own publication.

Alonso: I think at the beginning I didn’t know what this would look like, but I’m proud of how it turned out… ‘Cause at the beginning it was just three of us meeting at a local coffee shop, talking about ideas and we’re like ‘let’s do this’ and it was a learning progress as we went. Learning what we should be doing, how to meet community needs and also how to build our internal structure…

Romulo: It’s been challenging to learn a lot of the things that we’ve had to learn, I guess to really launch it and ensure that we can have a presence here in Cicero, not just now but for the future. But it’s definitely been worth it, I think. Just to be able to know that we’re creating something along with other people, like an organization that is making an impact and it’s important and that will hopefully be around for the future… I think I’m just so proud of that.

ILLN: Why was it important to be a bilingual publication?

Alonso: We thought about it by thinking about our parents and thinking about how they think of news and for me, it was like ok during elections my dad’s not going to know what’s going on unless he’s watching Telemundo or something like that, so none of this stuff that’s in English is meant for him. This is my problem with Chicago media, they aren’t taking into consideration Spanish-speakers to be able to give them the information that they need as well, they’re only thinking about English-speakers…

Romulo: Simply, how could we not? Over 85 percent of the population here [in Cicero] is Latinx and mainly speaks Spanish at home or a language other than English at home, so a lot of what we also write about and talk about all the time is how there’s been a lot of barriers that have been placed here in Cicero for people to participate in local government and one of those is language, often excluding people who don’t speak English or understand English, so we couldn’t follow in those same steps.

Alonso: Cicero doesn’t offer programs so that students can have access to so we end up looking outside of Cicero to have access to those, which is another thing of why we started the fellowship that we have. We wanted to be able to bring those resources here, so people can stay local here and not have to go outside of Cicero.

In an effort to fill this void for resources, Cicero Independiente currently runs a paid, multimedia reporting fellowship to equip community members with the tools to lead storytelling and reporting of their own community. Since its origin in 2020, the fellowship has shifted from being youth-based to more age inclusive, which Romulo says has been a positive change to the program. This round focused on environmental justice and included four locals, including two monolingual Spanish-speaking older adults, and two youth.

Romulo: And that’s been a big transformation for us because it’s been a learning experience too from the past sessions because we do want all of our work to be accessible, like April said, to people like our parents, who have had to sacrifice so much to make a place for themselves here and perhaps didn’t have the same opportunities to pursue the things that they wanted, like journalism, or being able to take photos or do interviews.

ILLN: Tell me about Cicero as a neighborhood and a community…

Alonso: There wasn’t that much growing up here, but I wanted to find a way to connect more here and root down here instead of going to Chicago more, and that lead me to see all the people, especially doing this work and being part of Cicero Independiente, all the people that want to create stronger connections and create a community to bond and work together and support each other in anyway that they can. It’s something that we’ve seen other people mention as well when we do interviews, where people feel disconnected but they want to be able to reconnect in Cicero [instead of Chicago] and find their community here.

Romulo: And just about Cicero itself, Cicero is a suburb on the Southwest Side of Chicago. During the ‘90’s and early 2000’s is when it really started to change racially. It’s always been kind of like an immigrant town but it used to be white immigrants from Chevokia, Italians, white people, but they started moving out and it’s now majority Latinx neighborhood with a small Black community that’s also growing as people are displaced from the City of Chicago. But you know, still a lot of anti-Black racism in this town… there’s a group of people that’s trying to maintain power in a way and they’re the same ones who continue to be on the elected boards, the same who are trying to keep this town the way that it has been for a while and who seem to be not as able to change or want to change to accommodate the different populations and in the last three years, at least since we’ve been around, we’re noticing it more because we’re more involved because of Cicero Independiente… But I’ll say there’s a reinvigorated sense of organizing and of getting locally involved, which is why it’s so important for us to be aware of what is going on in the town and try to connect with the different organizations and people who are pushing for different changes to be made.

ILLN: And you actually have a background in organizing, right? How have you implemented that approach into your journalism work?

Romulo: Yeah so I do, and I think that’s what has helped to make sure that we are prioritizing those relationship building and making sure that we are taking the time to build trust with people, even though it might not necessarily result in a story right away or an actual product right away, knowing that that takes time and that we need to be constantly doing outreach and talking to people and listening to people.

ILLN: What is the culture of your newsroom like?

Alonso: We hold space for people to express their appreciations or things they need support [with]. It is different than most workplaces. We try real hard to not overwork and have learned along the way to make sure no one’s overworking. At least being aware that people might be physically tired or emotionally tired and how that shows up, but being able to give people what they need to recuperate and come back.

ILLN: It sounds like you all have a people first approach. In the community but also amongst yourselves…

Alonso: Yeah, seeing people as human beings instead of workers and I think that’s come across not just in our office space but in what we put out as well, that people need to be humanized and not be exploited for their emotions or for their pain.

ILLN: Your website states “we envision a future where we can all participate in documenting our stories for the generations to come.� Can you explain this quote?

Alonso: I think not everyone needs to go to school for journalism and how do we give people the experience to have access to learn those skills and to report locally here? Because being from here [Cicero] and reporting what’s happening here is different [from] when outside media comes in and reports in a voyeuristic way. 

Romulo: In organizing, we talk alot about power, analyzing power and who has power, who are the targets of a specific campaign. I don’t think we talk about power enough in journalism and how much power there is in being able to determine what issues, what stories and what people are featured and highlighted, and who gets to document what is happening and from whose viewpoint. Often, I’ve gone to the Cicero archives, I‘ve looked at school newspapers here and a lot of it is written from a white perspective for white people and there’s very little historical record of the impact that Latinos, Chicanos have had not just in Cicero but throughout the country. There’s a lot of our history that’s missing and that’s not told and I think that quote specifically is what that speaks to, us being able to have that power and document our lives. We’re leaving that record for others to see that we’re not just taking what’s happening lightly, we’re not just sitting back and suffering… 

Interview has been edited for clarity and length.

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Publisher’s Notes: Cicero Independiente and Illinois Latino News (ILLN), are two of nearly 40 independent Chicago-area media outlets, and members of the Chicago Independent Media Alliance (CIMA), who are joining forces for the third annual fundraising campaign kicking off  this week. Under the slogan #WeAmplifyChicagoVoices, this diverse and eclectic media group will conduct a two-week campaign between October 3 – 17. 

CIMA members serve Black and African American, Latinx, Asian American, immigrant, LGBTQ+, and other Chicago communities. Independent media are particularly vulnerable to the changing media landscape that includes decreased advertising, yet their value as credible information sources continues to rise. Potential donors can learn more about all the CIMA outlets through the promotional campaign video, print, digital and social media assets they’ve produced.  

Please consider making a donation by visiting savechicagomedia.org

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Support Local Chicago Media

CHICAGO — Illinois Latino News (ILLN), one of nearly 40 independent Chicago-area media outlets, members of the Chicago Independent Media Alliance (CIMA), are joining forces for the third annual fundraising campaign kicking off  this week. Under the slogan #WeAmplifyChicagoVoices, this diverse and eclectic media group will conduct a two-week campaign between October 3 – 17. 

More than $70,000 in matching funds have been pledged from CIMA’s contributing partners including The MacArthur Foundation, Square One Foundation, The Joyce Foundation, and the Joseph and Bessie Feinberg Foundation. Additionally, WBEZ and the Chicago Sun-Times are supporting partners. To give, visit savechicagomedia.org October 3 – 17.

CIMA members are for-profit and nonprofit organizations representing a wide cross-section of community media in the city and nearby suburbs. The organization’s 2021 campaign raised more than $160,000 for 43 members, including $60,000 in matching funds from local foundations. More than 1,000 individuals donated, with two-thirds opting to support all outlets. Donors may opt to split their gift evenly among all of the outlets, or they may give a specific amount to one or more outlets. When they give to an individual outlet, those funds will be matched 2-1 during the first two days of the campaign, and 1-1 for the rest of the fundraiser, until matching funds are depleted.

“Another positive consequence of our campaign is the visibility and amplification of the work these outlets are producing,â€� said Yazmin Dominguez, CIMA co-director. “A diversity of reporting is what should be demanded in a vibrant, diverse city like Chicago, and our coalition embodies that.â€� 

CIMA members serve Black and African American, Latinx, Asian American, immigrant, LGBTQ+, and other Chicago communities. Independent media are particularly vulnerable to the changing media landscape that includes decreased advertising, yet their value as credible information sources continues to rise. Potential donors can learn more about all the CIMA outlets through the promotional campaign video, print, digital and social media assets they’ve produced.  

The campaign was organized, and is coordinated by CIMA, a project launched in 2019 by the Chicago Reader. The 61 partners in the alliance include traditional print newspapers, independently produced podcasts, dynamic video production studios, and nonprofit newsrooms focusing on key issues that impact the fabric of the city. CIMA coordinates revenue projects to assist in strengthening the local media landscape. Questions about the campaign may be directed to cima@chicagoreader.com.

A one-minute campaign video was shot and produced by Street Level and narrated in English, Spanish, and Polish by Street Level, Polish Daily News, and Gozamos, all members in the alliance. SoapBox Productions and Organizing assisted with collecting footage for the video and dozens of CIMA members provided photos and video for the campaign. The logo animation was created by Pam Atadero. Amber Huff created the print campaigns and CIMA co-director, Savannah Hugueley, created the digital campaigns. The campaign hashtags are #WeAmplifyChicagoVoices and #ChicagoMedia. Follow the campaign on social media @IndieMediaChi.

Watch CIMA’s 2022 campaign video here in English, Spanish, and Polish

About CIMA

The Chicago Independent Media Alliance (CIMA) is a coalition of over 61 independent, local, and community-driven media entities covering communities throughout the Chicago area. Through regular collaboration and the creation of new revenue streams, we uplift each other in order to amplify the voices of Chicagoans.

About the Fundraiser

From October 3 – 17, 2022, we are hosting our third annual CIMA fundraiser. By donating at SaveChicagoMedia.org, you can support the work of up to 40 of our member outlets who ensure the voices of thousands of Chicagoans are heard. 

Donate today at SaveChicagoMedia.org.

Founded in 2019, CIMA is a project of the Reader Institute for Community Journalism, publisher of the Chicago Reader.

CIMA JOINT FUNDRAISING PARTNER MEDIA

  1. AirGo Radio: Podcast and media hub showcasing people reshaping Chicago for the more equitable and creative.
  1. Block Club Chicago: Block Club Chicago is a nonprofit news organization dedicated to delivering reliable, nonpartisan and essential coverage of Chicago’s diverse neighborhoods.
  1. Borderless Magazine: Borderless Magazine is a nonprofit news outlet covering immigration issues in the Midwest.
  1. Chicago Music Guide: Your guide to great music in Chicago. Music Promotions, resources and more.
  1. Chicago Public Square: Free daily email news roundup for Chicago. The Reader poll’s pick for Best Blog.
  1. Chicago Reader: The Reader, founded 1971, is Chicago’s in-depth and curated guide to culture, politics, and more. 
  1. CHIRP Radio: CHIRP is your live, local community radio station focused on independent music and culture.
  1. Current Magazines: 
    • South Shore Current Magazine, good news from Chicago’s Cultural Soul Coast—the southeast and southern shore communities.
    • The West Side Current Magazine, good news from Chicago’s west side—focused on pride, honor, and value of community.
    • West of the Ryan Current Magazine, good news from Chicago’s west of the Ryan
  1. E3 Radio: E3 Radio is an online station playing queer and independent music. Queer radio done right. 
  1. Evanston Roundtable: The Evanston RoundTable is the community’s leading source of news about local government, schools, civic and artistic activities, and other important issues facing our city. 
  1. Gazette Chicago: Gazette Chicago is a free, independent newspaper serving ten Chicago neighborhoods, committed to unbiased news coverage that tells all sides since its founding in 1983. 
  1. Gozamos: Gozamos is an independent online magazine and community of journalists, bloggers, and progressive activists covering culture, music, and politics.
  1. Growing Community Media: a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, connects citizens through community journalism. We promote civil discourse, thriving communities and a vibrant democracy across seven communities on the west side of Chicago and its near west suburbs through the Austin Weekly News, Wednesday Journal, Forest Park Review and Riverside Brookfield Landmark.
  1. Harvey World Herald: The Harvey World Herald is your trusted news source for in-depth reporting on education, business, public safety, health, politics, and entertainment in the City of Harvey.
  1. Hyde Park Herald: Hyde Park Herald is a weekly community newspaper rich in a 138 year history and journalistic excellence. 
  1. Illinois Latino News: Award-winning local community journalism. The only English language news outlet dedicated exclusively to Hispanic-Latinos in Illinois.
  1. Inside Publications: Skyline, Inside Booster, News Star Newspapers: Your friendly 110-year-old neighborhood newspapers, serving Chicago’s north side.
  1. Kartemquin Films:  Sparking democracy through documentary since 1966, Kartemquin is a collaborative community that empowers documentary makers who create stories that foster a more engaged and just society.
  1. La Raza: The voice of Chicago ‘s Latino community for 50 years. La voz de la comunidad latina en Chicago por 50 años.
  1. Loop North News: Loop North News serves the Loop and Near North neighborhoods of downtown Chicago.
  1. McKinley Park News: Covers Chicago’s McKinley Park neighborhood and its people, institutions and enterprises by publishing community information and enabling channels of communication. 
  1. Mildsauce: Being the change we want to see, broadcasting youth voice through studio production and media arts.
  2. N’DIGO: Tells stories untold, mis told and that need to be retold about African Americans.
  1. Newcity: The publication of record for Chicago culture.
  1. North Lawndale Community News: Providing news and information on resources and events that improve the lifestyle of individuals and families.
  1. Paseo Podcast: A weekly Puerto Rican podcast dedicated to telling stories by, from, and about the Puerto Rican Community.
  1. Pigment International®:  A Black woman founded and led multi-media art platform reporting on the art, people, issues, trends, and events shaping Black contemporary art
  1. Polish Daily News: Polish Daily News is the largest and the oldest Polish language newspaper in Chicago. Since 1908 it is a destination of choice for tens of thousands of Poles in Chicagoland looking for reliable news.
  1. Rebellious Magazine for Women: Rebellious Magazine for Women is a feminist news and culture website founded in 2012.
  1. Rivet:  Rivet is a smart media production and distribution company. Rivet brings your stories to life and life to your stories.   
  1. SoapBox Productions and Organizing: Film and social activism non-profit specializing in multimedia storytelling for equity and structural change. 
  2. South Side Weekly: Independent, nonprofit newspaper for and about the south side of Chicago.
  1. StreetWise: Empowering those facing homelessness with access to employment to work toward self-sufficiency with dignity.
  1. The Beverly Review: Weekly newspaper covering Beverly Hills, Morgan Park, and Mt. Greenwood. 
  1. The Chicago Defender: Founded in 1905, The Chicago Defender is multimedia content provider of news, information and events that cover the interests of the urban African American community with culturally relevant content not regularly serviced by mainstream media. 
  1. The Daily Line: The Daily Line does critical reporting on policy and politics for professionals.
  1. Third Coast Review: Chicago’s online arts and culture magazine, specializing in quirky, underground aspects of the arts scene.
  2. True Star Foundation: True Star is a non-profit media company and digital agency led by Chicago youth. 
  1. Windy City Times: Windy City Times is an award-winning newspaper serving the Chicagoland LGBTQ community since 1985. 

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Vonderlack-Navarro & Mendez: improving access to equitable education

With over 12 percent of the students enrolled in Illinois public schools during the 2020-2021 school year considered English Language Learners, Illinois has the fourth highest concentration of English Learners in the U.S. These students, many of whom are Spanish-speaking Latinos, face a unique set of barriers that research and advocacy groups are looking to solve.

The Latino Policy Forum’s mission is to build equity, justice and economic prosperity for the Latino community through advocacy and analysis, focusing specifically on education, housing, immigration and leadership. The Education team’s vision is for Latinos and English Learners to have access to equitable education, leading to economic prosperity. They believe that a recent study conducted by the University of Chicago illuminates one path towards this goal.

“Illinois has been one of the first states in the country to make robust investments in childcare and preschool starting in the ‘80’s and ‘90’s. We were one of the earliest states to establish a state funded preschool program with infant-toddler embedded into that, and we’re seen as a national leader in home visiting services,� said Erika Mendez, Associate Director of Education of the Latino Policy Forum. “But we have to acknowledge that our current system has some real limitations to how we’re able to do some of this work, and I think this new research out of the University of Chicago presents the state with an opportunity to say we have real tangible research on how we can improve the outcomes and the supports that students receive early on…� she said.

Latino News Network hosted Rebecca Vonderlack-Navarro and Erika Mendez of Latino Policy Forum’s (LPF) education team on the 3 Questions With… podcast to discuss the needs of bilingual and English Learner students in Illinois.

Listen: https://open.spotify.com/episode/0octuboifVdQWpuf4QzLpH?si=iXWLvsfuRzeZNhmhS2UW8g

Vonderlack-Navarro leads a team that focuses on promoting quality bilingual education programming and equitable access to early childhood programming. Her advocacy work concentrates on the shortage of qualified bilingual and bicultural educators in the state, and she is also a state-appointed member of the Illinois Advisory Council on Bilingual Education. She says her passion for her work comes from being the wife of an immigrant, working with immigrants, and living in Latin America for a number of years.

“I felt really tied to the culture and the language and was just really excited about it,� she said. “When I first started working in education I actually started with parents and when I was talking with immigrant parents, they talked about some of the main issues that they worried about in life were the education of their children and they worried about access to early childhood,� she explained, adding that these concerns lead to LPF revamping its agenda.

Erika Mendez promotes LPF’s advocacy work and policy work in education, including family well-being in the current socio-political immigration climate, Latino access to early childhood opportunities and the bilingual workforce shortage. Through her work, she brings awareness to the issues that Latino and English Learner children in Illinois face and works towards policy solutions that promote equity. Mendez says that growing up in a Spanish-speaking household and receiving ESL “pull-out� support in school gave her first-hand experience on how disruptive the bilingual education system was.

“I wasn’t really able to access a lot of the things that my peers in the class were learning and was often coming in in the middle of a lesson where I wasn’t really able to catch up,â€� said Mendez. “But a lot of what I saw growing up as the most critical points of intervention and of attention are in those five first years of life, and so when you are intentional about programming and about the teachers who are in front of the students… then you really are able to support a student when they really need it the most.â€� 

The English Learners in Chicago Public Schools study explored the influence of pre-k and early grade school had on English Learners. 

“About 74% of the current English learner population is Latino, Spanish-speaking. They tend to be concentrated in the pre-k to third grade years and so it’s a critical time of language and literacy development and we were so honored to collaborate with the University of Chicago on a wonderful study that’s showing how important those early years are for English Learners and how we can get these kids on a path to kindergarten readiness and long term success,� said Vonderlack-Navarro.

Some key takeaways from the study show that attending CPS pre-k supported English Learners’ development of the language and early reading skills, attending full-day class versus half-day made a difference in terms of readiness and literacy, and that the benefits of these differences were detectable as far as the third grade.

Vonderlack-Navarro touched on the assimilation culture many immigrant and Latino families experience- a push to adopt American culture and speak English as quickly as possible, in fear that speaking Spanish will be a barrier. She says this study and its predecessor from 2019 prove that this isn’t the case.

“I think there’s been strong assimilationist philosophies that have always existed: the more English the better, the quicker you forget that home language and culture, the better you’re gonna succeed in school. And there’s been a counter narrative that’s been saying no, no, no, no, actually that home language is an asset to learning.� she said.

Vonderlack-Navarro added, “This gives us fuel as an organization to say how do we make sure we strengthen bilingual education throughout the state and we can get into details about this, but I think it’s access to early childhood that honors language and culture, it’s bilingual preschool, it’s making sure we have strong bilingual educators and we need more educators that reflect the kids they’re serving.â€�


Publisher’s Notes: Illinois Latino News (ILLN) partners with the Latino Policy Forum in best serving the diverse Latino communities of Illinois.

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Chicago Alderman Collecting Donations for Texas Migrants

At least 650 asylum-seeking migrants have arrived in Chicago since August 31. With busloads of immigrants being transported from Texas, the city’s officials are seeking volunteers and donations to help the influx of people seeking sanctuary in the city.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot stated that the city is coordinating with local organizations, but that they will need help to support the migrants.

Chicago has set up a website for those who want to volunteer their time or donate items such as clothing, toiletries and other necessities.

“As a welcoming city, we know Chicagoans are ready to show their generosity and are looking for ways to support these individuals,” the city’s website states.

Many Chicagoans began collecting donations for the migrants, with some aldermanic offices designated as drop-off locations for donations.

Ald. Michael D. Rodriguez, 22nd Ward, has been collecting donations and transferring them to the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) and other community organizations.

Carlos Gamboa, the 22nd Ward’s Chief of Staff, said that as soon as they learned that the Governor of Texas was sending migrants to Chicago, they needed to act quickly to provide resources to their people.

“It’s unfair and unjust that the Governor of Texas is shipping them to multiple cities across the United States with absolutely no resources or a plan,� Gamboa said. “We will always help someone, regardless of their immigration status. We will treat everyone equally.�

“I think that many second, third, and even fourth generation Mexican-Americans are more aware of what is going on and want to make a difference by making it easier for immigrants to go through the process because they have family who have gone through the same suffering,� Gamboa added.

Rodriguez’s ward office is accessible from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday at 2500 S. St. Louis Ave in Little Village. 

Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez, 25th Ward, added that when people donate to their ward, they are making a bigger difference in the community than they realize.

“It’s the most vulnerable communities doing the government’s job, which is a shame,â€� Sigcho-Lopez said. “It’s those who do not have much who help those who do not have anything, and we need support, and this needs to be the talk of Chicago, because not a single person who arrived on a bus deserves this.â€�

Local non-profits and community groups that focus on immigrant communities, such as The Resurrection Project, have also stepped in to help with donations.

Laura Mendoza, Immigration Organizer at The Resurrection Project, said they are there to help with anything from language interpretation to handing out essentials.

“We put together hygiene kits, which include items such as deodorant, shampoo, and hand sanitizer, as well as other basic necessities that people would require for themselves,â€� Mendoza said.  

“Helping them is important because they will become contributing members of our community,” Mendoza said. “We just need to give them that little push with donations to help them be steady and stable. Then they’ll be able to thrive as many other immigrants have in the past.â€�

While some organizations are accepting clothing and other essential items, The Resurrection Project only accepts monetary donations.

“We have a large team of volunteers working with the migrants to provide resources because we care,� Mendoza said. “We want to give them resources because they are important to the city of Chicago. They are human beings.�

A list of needed items can be found here.

“Chicagoans should donate because they [migrants] have nothing,â€� Gamboa said. “They didn’t ask to come here. All they want is a better life.â€�

Donations are also being collected by other members of City Council’s Latino Caucus

Donations can be dropped off at these Aldermanic Offices:

  • Ald. Susan Sadlowski Garza (10th) – Ward Office, 10500 S. Ewing Ave.
  • Ald. George Cardenas (12th) – City Hall, 121 N. LaSalle St.
  • Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) – Ward Office, 2242 S. Damen Ave.
  • Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26th) – Ward Office, 2511 W. Division St.
  • Ald. Ariel Reboyras (30th) – Ward Office, 3559 N. Milwaukee Ave.
  • Ald. Felix Cardona, Jr. (31st) – Ward Office, 4606 W. Diversey Ave.
  • Ald. Rossana Rodriguez Sanchez (33rd) – Ward Office, 3001 W. Irving Park Rd.
  • Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) – Ward Office, 2934 N. Milwaukee Ave., Unit C
  • Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th) – Ward Office, 6560 N. Fullerton Ave., Suite 118-A
  • Ald. Andre Vasquez (40th) – Ward Office, 5620 N. Western Ave.
  • City Clerk Anna Valencia – City Hall, 121 N. LaSalle St., 1st Floor

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Cover Photo by Kiersten Reidford

Vanessa Lopez, Assistant News Editor of The DePaulia

Vanessa Lopez is an undergraduate journalism student with a minor in media and communication at DePaul University. She is The DePaulia’s Assistant News Wditor and NAHJ DePaul’s Membership Coordinator. Twitter: @v_lopez__

Publisher’s Note: You can read Lopez’s Spanish language version of Chicago Alderman Collecting Donations for Texas Migrants by clicking on Donde puedes ayudar a los inmigrantes llegando a Chicago.

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

The post Chicago Alderman Collecting Donations for Texas Migrants appeared first on ILLN.

Latinos Don’t Benefit From The Economic Prosperity They Create

Latinos make solid and consistent contributions to Illinois’ population and labor force.

Were it not for Latinos, the state’s population and workforce would have contracted. The group contributed more than $97 billion to Chicago’s economy from 2010-2018, according to the recently released 2022 Chicago Metro Latino GDP Report.

The Forum is thrilled with the author’s details in outlining the Latino communities’ wealth-making success, driven by swift gains in human capital and a strong work ethic.

However, missing from the narrative is the Latino wealth paradox. The community continues to not benefit from the prosperity it creates.

To amplify, the data published by California Lutheran University and UCLA Health and funded by Bank of America are consistent with the Forum’s analysis of the U.S. Latino GDP.

The total economic output of Latinos in the United States was $2.6 trillion in 2018. If Latinos living in the U.S. were an independent country, the report finds that their GDP would be the eighth largest in the world. In addition, Illinois’ 2018 Latino GDP is $100.1 billion, larger than the entire economic output of the state of Hawaii. 

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. 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. Moreover, 2020 census data shows continual Latino population growth nationally and in individual states, including Illinois. 

According to the 2022 Chicago Metro Latino GDP report, between 2010 and 2018, the number of Latinos in the Chicagoland area with higher education grew 2.5 times faster than non-Latinos. In addition, the Latino labor force rate averaged 4.6 percentage points higher than non-Latinos. 

All of that changed once the pandemic hit. Latinos, the racial/ethnic group most disproportionately impacted, shouldered the most COVID-caused disruptions to their socioeconomic conditions.

According to a July 2021 Pew Research report, almost half of Latinos said they or someone in their household had lost a job or wages since February 2020. The employment situation was complicated for Latinos, who were—and still are—overrepresented in jobs deemed essential (e.g., maintenance, retail, construction, and manufacturing) while simultaneously designated as high risk. 

At the same time, pandemic-induced job losses were most significant in labor sectors where Latinos are also disproportionately represented (e.g., personal care, childcare, and leisure and hospitality). As an early analysis by Latino Decisions showed, Latinos were the most likely not to have the required economic cushion to weather job loss. They found the average Latinos household has only about $600 in cash reserves. 

When it comes to housing, Latinos are overburdened with costs, and many are just one small emergency away from losing it all, as noted in last year’s Latino Policy Forum publication. 

 While the Forum joins others in celebrating the outcome of the 2022 Chicago Metro Latino GDP report, validating Latino economic empowerment, we raise concerns about a view that, while accurate, does not highlight the fact that the community is not getting their fair share of earnings from their contributions to the overall economic prosperity of cities, states, and nation. We look forward to updates of the report that include COID-19 years.

The pre-and post-pandemic socioeconomic conditions of Latinos remind us that we must ensure that special attention is given to the devastation that COVID has wreaked.

The Forum will continue to work with elected officials and policymakers to secure that resources directed at fixing what COVID has broken reflect the socioeconomic importance of Latinos and the severity of the damage COVID has done to them. 

While the 2022 jobs and economic data look promising – even Latinos, in large numbers, have returned to work – the reality is that Latinos have returned to low-wage jobs. They are working, but their wage does not reflect the ‘economic recovery’ that so many other groups are experiencing. As of the second quarter of 2022, among racial and ethnic groups, it is Latinos who have the lowest earned weekly income. 

The Forum will continue to advocate for equity, justice, and economic prosperity for the Latino community by focusing on the pillars of education, housing, and immigration for economic mobility.

After all, as illustrated by the report, imagine how much more economic growth Chicago, Illinois, and the country will enjoy once Latinos get total wealth equity.


Sylvia Puente is the President and CEO of the Latino Policy Forum, a nonprofit that works for equity, justice, and economic prosperity on behalf of Latinos in Chicago and Illinois through public-policy advocacy and analysis on issues including education, housing, and immigration.

Adding to her many accolades, Puente was appointed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker to the University of Illinois Board of Trustees on August 8, 2022.

Puente is frequently cited as an expert on Latino issues and has published numerous reports and articles that articulate the vital role they play in society. She is a recipient of the Ohtli Award, Mexico’s highest recognition of those serving the Mexican community outside of Mexico, and received an honorary PhD for her social justice work from Roosevelt University in 2021. She has been recognized by Hispanic Business Magazine as one of the “100 Most Influential Hispanics in the U.S.�

The post Latinos Don’t Benefit From The Economic Prosperity They Create appeared first on ILLN.

Addressing Period Poverty

Period poverty is a global issue experienced by millions of people, especially houseless, low-income and Black and Brown communities. Still, so many are unaware of what this is. The stigmas surrounding menstruation, sexual health, and gender have all contributed to the mass dismissal of this topic as a health crisis, preventing many from recieving help.

In fact, periods are so stigmatized that many can’t even utter the word period or menstruation: it’s the cycle, that time of the month, Aunt Flo or so many other euphemisms that deflect from this naturally occurring bodily function. 

At Illinois Latino News and its sibling affiliates under the Latino News Network banner, we view our readers, you, as an extension of our newsroom. If journalism is a public service, you are our collaborators, our partners.

In covering this topic, we need your help. 

We want to know your experiences dealing with menstruation and/or period poverty to provide the most well-rounded, thorough coverage of this issue. In collecting this information, we hope to gain insight on how this issue affects those in our communities.

We hope to use the data collected from this survey to shape our storytelling and provide the answers you most want to hear.

This data will also be used to plan the final portion of this project, a digital community conversation that will provide a platform for these important discussions to take place.

Please participate in the Addressing Period Poverty Survey by following this link https://forms.gle/EueiD5FtTrWv5qKN8.

The survey will also be available in Spanish in the coming weeks.

_________________________________________________________________________________

ILLN Editor, Reporter Annabel Rocha

Editor’s Note: In July, Illinois Latino News announced my participation in The Center for Health Journalism’s 2022 National Fellowship. My intention through this project is to encourage conversations about menstruation, grant a platform to those most affected by period poverty and ultimately, contribute to the destigmatization of periods. 

My introduction to this topic was published by the Center for Health Journalism.

To share any questions, comments, concerns or suggestions please contact me at annabel@latinonewsnetwork.com.

The post Addressing Period Poverty appeared first on ILLN.

Oases in the Desert: How Local Initiatives Battle Food Insecurity

The Go Green Fresh Community Market in Chicago’s Englewood is an oasis. With its earthy-colored signs and stalls stacked with leafy greens, the local grocery store sits at the intersection of 63rd and Racine – right in the heart of a food desert, where locals have little or no access to fresh produce. 

Food deserts, according to the USDA, are entirely man-made urban areas with a poverty rate of at least 20% and where at least a third of the population lives more than a mile from a supermarket or large grocery store. In Chicago, food deserts make up the majority of South and West neighborhoods, prompting around 500 thousand residents to shop at local corner stores. 

A typical corner store, however, is crammed, small, and does not carry fresh food options, explains Elliot Clay, state programs director at the Illinois Environmental Council. Results of concentrated shopping at corner stores vary from health problems – obesity, diabetes, and shorter life expectancy – to social issues, where neighborhoods do not evolve, and locals drain their own neighborhoods of income, trying to access food options elsewhere. 

“Corner stores are typically the only stores residents can access without a private vehicle, “explains Sana Syed, senior director of strategic initiatives at the Inner City Muslim Association (IMAN), an organization behind Englewood’s community market. “51% of Englewood’s population does not own a car.“ This creates a 30-year life expectancy gap between Englewood – where an average resident is expected to live up to 60 years – and Streeterville, just nine miles north, where life expectancy is up to 90 years. 


“You cannot bring investment to the community without talking to the community and making sure the investment makes sense for that community.â€�

Lori Lightfoot, Mayor of Chicago


Despite the implication in the name, food deserts are not naturally the case for Chicago, Syed adds. Rather, they are a result of people’s decisions. One such decision is the announced closure of the Whole Foods Market, just two intersections away from Go Green. Less than six years ago, Whole Foods promised to bring more fresh food options to Englewood, yet Mayor Lori Lightfoot now insists that the corporation never made the right investment, to begin with: “Most Chicagoans are hard-pressed to pay, for example, $15 a pound for a piece of steak,� Lightfoot said. “To me, what it underscores — and I wasn’t here when this decision was made — you cannot bring investment to the community without talking to the community and making sure the investment makes sense for that community.�

Now IMAN is stepping in to fill in the gap meaningfully, trying to find the best-tailored approach for Englewood. At first, the organization worked directly with corner store owners, encouraging them to diversify the products and improve the aesthetics of the stores “But we could only preach that much,� Syed smiles.�At some point, these corner stores needed a viable model. They needed to see what their store could look like.� 



Since opening its doors in March 2022, the Go Green Fresh Community Market has shown what a neighborhood market can do for local vendors and consumers alike. The market carries 40 local products owned by people of color; It also offers halal, kosher, and gluten-free options for consumers with specific diets. Pre-packaged lunch options made on the spot in the deli – a rare luxury in Englewood – are hit products that vanish from shelves in an instant. 

But what’s more important, Syed says consumers finally have a local store that feels dignified to them. 

“The overwhelming reaction has been of gratitude,â€� she says, recalling how residents would leave tips at the cash register. “ It is such a heartwarming gesture if you think of it. This is a low-income neighborhood where people barely have enough to pay bills, and yet they were leaving tips.â€� 

A market – a model of a successful small business in Englewood also served as an important example of local success. Syed explains that IMAN made a conscious choice to start a business rather than a food pantry: 

“There are some pantries [serving Englewood residents],â€� she said. “But it was just the lack of confidence that business operators or corporations have around the viability of business in our neighborhood.â€� So IMAN insisted upon fostering business development. 

Helping existing businesses

Just a state away from Chicago, “Max� Kaniger also saw an opportunity in corner stores strewn across Kansas City, where countries like Jackson in Missouri and Wyandotte in Kansas, parts of which classify as food deserts.

“I realized convenience stores provide a really great infrastructure that’s already in place,â€� he recalls. In 2017 Kanger partnered with one store on May 31st and Prospect, which allowed him to bring and install a refrigerator for fresh produce. Kaniger would deliver perishable goods for it, and the store would keep some income from the sales. 

4 months of partnership and a year of analyzing its results gave way to what is now Kanbe’s Markets –  a 30,000 square-foot warehouse with six trucks going in and out, supplying 40 corner stores in the city’s Black and Brown communities with fresh goods and making sure they can store the items properly: For each store, Kanbe’s buys refrigeration, shelving, racks, and baskets. Then, it delivers fresh produce on consignment, meaning that no charges are applied to corner stores until the produce is sold. “If anything goes bad, we replace it at no cost,â€� Kaniger adds. All the corner stores have to do is sell the produce and the two sides share profits.

“With the consignment model, we make it easier for them to sell healthy foods,â€�  Kaniger says, explaining that as a supplier, Kanbe’s gets to control the quality and the price of all the food in the store. He remembers instances of severed relationships because partners inflated prices. “Just because they are the only option in a particular neighborhood doesn’t mean I want the prices to go up,â€� Kaniger concludes. The model also enables Kanbe’s to keep shelves stacked even if the product sells out quickly. 

Kanbe’s operational area starts from the northern end of the city and spans to Independence in the south. It includes Coleman Highlands and Troost Avenue, which has historically served as a divide between the city’s East and West sides – the life expectancy in East Kansas City, where Black and Brown communities reside, is 14 years less than in areas west of Troost Avenue. 


Chicago Kansas City
Total population (2021) 2,696,555 508,394
Black population 29,2% 27,7%
Hispanic/Latino population 28,6% 10,6%
% of the population living in poverty 17,3% 15,3%
Source: https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/chicagocityillinois,kansascitycitymissouri/PST045221 

In the face of a disparity like this, Kaniger’s philosophy makes sense: at Kanbe’s, nothing goes to waste. Foodsellers donate what they aren’t going to sell, and Kanbe’s volunteers come in, sorting food in terms of quality: The best quality products go to grocery stores or organizations that prepare meal kits, lower level produce makes its way to zoos, animal shelters and the rest – to compost sites.

Lessons learned

While a single market in Chicago or a single warehouse serving 70 stores in Kansas City can’t solve a city-wide problem, both enterprises are living examples of community members battling food deserts with their own means. 

“I want to make sure that if people are having to go to a convenience store to get food, it should still be the same quality that you would expect at any grocery store,� Kaniger said about his vision.

As for IMAN, the organization hopes to turn its market into a community and cultural center that will serve as a catalyst in the revitalization of Englewood. But they can’t do the work alone, without companies distributing the goods. Syed explains that as a small non-profit, the market pays higher prices on goods than big chain enterprises like Whole Foods. “This is not just a typical grocery store; this exists within a context of food injustice and food inequity. [So distributors] have a responsibility in this neighborhood,� she says, adding with a tinge of surprise simple yet sad maxim decision-makers in the food industry often forget: “People do not have to be grateful when a grocery store opens in the community.�


Irina Matchavariani is a graduate student at the Missouri School of Journalism.

She is working with Illinois Latino News (ILLN) as part of the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute’s (RJI) Student Innovation Fellowships program, gaining hands-on experience helping the outlets connect with their audiences.

A native of the Republic of Georgia, Irina’s experience includes working with Vox Magazine and the Columbia Missourian.


Publisher’s Notes: Please support IL Latino News’ mission to nurture young journalists. Please make a donation via Balta Enterprises, parent of ILLN, and the Latino News Network: Developing the Future of Journalism.

The post Oases in the Desert: How Local Initiatives Battle Food Insecurity appeared first on ILLN.

Chicago Street Soccer: Unifying Communities

Free from the rules and regulations of standardized sports and true to the essence of how futbol is played around the world, street soccer is a pastime rooted in many Latinos’ childhood memories and, for some, everyday life.

This summer, Mettle Sports, in collaboration with Sterling Bay and the Chicago Park District, is hosting the Chicago Street Soccer Tour, traveling around the city and setting up free, portable soccer fields in select parks. The tour began on July 14 in Ellis Park, with stops scheduled in South Chicago, North Lawndale, and Rogers Park, among others.

Mettle Sports was founded in Evanston in 2017 as a company that provides pitches and equipment to make street soccer more accessible to underserved communities. The company works to promote the culture of street soccer by providing gated areas to practice but allowing participants to organically organize and decide how to play. 

“We see it truly as what I think a lot of the world has recognized, that they’ve become these epicenters for communities, a place for people to gather, no matter if you play soccer or just want to commune with your neighbors,â€� said Mettle Sports CEO Neal Levin, describing the communal aspect of soccer. 

Mettle became an ARCS partner with the park district, collaboratively deciding which parks to incorporate into the program based on programming, space, and community, according to Levin. In mid-July, Mettle installed the soccer pitches at Harrison Park for a two-week stint in Pilsen.

“In Pilsen, I think we have a history of being a very strong community,� said 25th Ward Alderman Byron Sigcho-Lopez. “It’s meaningful to be in Harrison Park because I think a good number of our kids, our families, enjoy the game,� he continued, expressing the importance of unstructured activities like this existing in the neighborhood.

Studies suggest that physically active communities are physically and mentally healthier, have higher high school graduation rates, and lower obesity rates, which tends to be a more prevalent issue in communities of color like Pilsen.

One of the goals of the tour is to draw people outside, away from technology, to bond with others.

“The culture of street soccer has been overwhelming to bring people together that otherwise wouldn’t come together in unstructured, free play. That’s just blossomed to finding more ways that we could bring that to the people, and that’s been our mission,� said Levin.

The pitches are open for people to start their own games or even just kick the ball around. Visitors have noticed how this makes the sport more approachable. 

“It’s not competitive; it’s more recreational. So there’s a little bit of pressure off of you. You can just show up, play, enjoy the community that we kind of built right now and just have fun,� said local soccer organizer Diego Moreno.

Street soccer has no rules, and that approach to the sport was implemented into the plan of implanting these pitches into the parks. There’s no requirement to book the space ahead of time or to ask for permission to play. The pitches are accessible, unlocked, and remain on-site overnight for the duration that they are in the community.

“What’s nice too is that it’s out here; you don’t necessarily have to ask anyone to use it. You can just come out, be a part of it, and then soccer’s a very welcoming sport,� said Moreno.

It was important to Levin and Mettle Sports to keep the tour free of rules and commitments. He explained that in the United States, most soccer fields are largely built with the intention of programming. He says that Mettle approaches the sport with a conscious effort not to over-structure and give freedom to those who choose to use their amenities, regardless of age, gender, or skill level.

“There’s not a single rule to a street soccer pitch,� he said.

As summer has progressed and the pitches traveled around Chicago, their green walls have filled with the spray-painted names of the neighborhoods they’ve seen, a colorful collage symbolic of the city’s culturally rich neighborhoods. Levin said, “I think people really enjoy creating their own space. I think it’s very empowering to give ownership of how you use an amenity to the community.�

The pitches can currently be found in Field (Eugene) Park in Albany Park. The tour will conclude this fall with a tournament held at Fleet Fields from Oct. 13-16. Mettle Sports says both the Chicago Street Soccer Tour and Cup will return next summer.

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Mental Health Resources for the new school year

In a collaborative effort to equip parents with the information necessary for the upcoming school year Illinois Latino News, WBEZ, and Association House of Chicago hosted the free, virtual and bilingual event: Community Conversation: Student Mental Health in Chicago Schools on August 18. 

The online conversation brought together a variety of mental health experts and educators to discuss resources available for Chicago parents and students.

Araceli Gomez-Aldana of WBEZ moderated the event which consisted of five panelists: Myra Rodriguez, Community Health Supervisor at Association House; Dr. Tara Gill, Psychologist and Mental Health Consultant at Lurie Children’s Hospital Center for Childhood Resilience; Catherine Whitfield Martin, Principal at Charles Sumner Math and Science Academy; Brian Coleman, Counselor at Jones College Prep and President at Illinois School Counselor Association; and Lucia del Rincon Martinez, Trauma Therapist at La Rabida Children’s Hospital Chicago Child Trauma Center. 

In the weeks leading up to the event, Illinois Latino News and WBEZ shared a survey that gave the public the opportunity to engage in the conversation by telling the newsrooms exactly what they wanted to know. These responses helped develop the final structure of the Community Conversation.

According to survey responses, the mental health of students is on parents’ minds. Experts validate these concerns, with 2021 data from the CDC revealing that 37 percent of high schoolers in the U.S. reported poor mental health during the pandemic and 44 percent saying they felt persistently sad or hopeless during that year. The American Academy of Pediatrics even declared the state of adolescent mental health a national emergency

One concern shared in the survey asked how parents can know the difference between mental health issues and a child just being a child. Rodriguez said that it’s easy for parents to assume some behaviors are due to developing adolescents, especially in teenagers, but that parents should be concerned if they start to notice patterns or differences in eating or sleeping habits that are not typical for that child. 

Parents also voiced concerns with helping their children deal with stress from school and pressure from extracurricular activities. 

“I think it’s really important for parents to recognize that they can set the tone in their household based on their family values,â€� said Dr. Gill. She said it’s important to model emotional safety and healthy ways to deal with stress because children pick up on how this is dealt with at home. 

Cultural barriers can impact how mental health is addressed. 

“In the Latino community talking about mental health, disorders, illnesses, it’s still very taboo. You know, there’s a lot of these assumptions that one is weak minded or it’s all in your mind, it’s all in your brain, don’t think about it,� explained Rodriguez.

This stigma, which exists in both the Latino and Black communities, often prevents in need people from seeking resources. Dr. Gill said that it’s okay to stay true to your cultural traditions while also implementing a healthier approach to mental wellness.

The event focused on helping parents understand the resources available at the school level. Both Whitfield Martin and Coleman expressed that they’ve seen a shift in how Chicago schools treat mental health and wellness, with much more resources being available now. They said that it’s important to understand the makeup of a student’s school’s system, who the key staff members to turn to are and common language used in order to best take advantage of what’s available in each school. 

“It’s about reaching out, finding who your support players are and normalizing that trusting, collaborative relationship that’s so important,� said Coleman.

To assist in establishing this relationship with your child’s teacher, Whitfield Martin suggests being transparent about your child’s specific needs and approaches you know work best for them. For parents who feel hesitant to engage with schools due to language barriers, Coleman ensures that plenty of resources are available to help families with these needs, but that parents have to express that they want help.

“The more information that a school has, then they can meet you where you are but we have to first know where you are, which means we have to first know you,� said Coleman.

Viewers who would like to provide feedback of the event can do so in English here or in Spanish here. WBEZ has compiled a resource guide to keep students happy and healthy this school year. This list is expected to be translated and available in Spanish in the coming weeks. 

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Community Conversation: Student Mental Health

WBEZ Chicago and Illinois Latino News (ILLN) will host a second virtual Community Conversation on Thursday, August 18 at 7 pm (CST) as part of their partnership in best serving the public.

Between the pandemic, remote learning, school work and social media, Chicago students have lots to be stressed about. Ahead of the 2022-2023 school year, WBEZ and Illinois Latino News are aiming to help parents prepare to keep their kids healthy while learning. This virtual event will be built based on survey responses from Chicago parents.

COVID19 revealed inequities in healthcare, and other determinants of health among Hispanics-Latinos. ILLN and WBEZ collaborated on their first Community Conversation: Lessons Learned From the COVID-19 Pandemic in March.

Dr. Marina Del Rios, the first person in Chicago to receive the vaccine was among the guest speakers.

“There’s been an improvement, but we’re seeing a delay,� said Dr. Del Rios about getting Spanish dominant Hispanic Latinos information in their language of choice. �(It) speaks to the importance of having a diverse body of decision makers in public health in hospitals and clinics so that messaging is created we ensure it is multilingual and culturally competent.�

Hugo Balta, Publisher of ILLN, was the moderator of that event. “Now, more than ever, it is crucial for local news outlets to listen to the needs of the public they serve in helping shape the content we produce,� Balta said of the Community Conversation’s inclusive approach. �A survey ahead of the event is imperative in letting us know what issues matter most to the communities we serve.�

Community Conversation: Student Mental Health in Chicago Schools to be held on 8/18 will be built based on survey responses from Chicago parents.

Click here to fill out our back-to-school survey and let us know your questions about student mental health.

To register for the free event, click here: Community Conversation.

This virtual event will be available in both English and Spanish.

Our goal is to give you the information and resources you need to start the next school year off on the right foot!


About WBEZ Chicago

WBEZ is Chicago’s NPR news source and one of the largest and most respected public media stations in the country, serving the community with fact-based, objective news and information. WBEZ’s award-winning journalists ask tough questions, dig deep for answers and expose truths that spark change and foster understanding. In addition to its local and national news programming, WBEZ Chicago is home to a growing portfolio of popular podcasts, including the “Makingâ€� series of Making Beyoncé, Making Obama and Making Oprah; an investigative podcast series, Motive; 16 Shots: A podcast about the fatal police shooting of Laquan McDonald; Nerdette; and Curious City. WBEZ Chicago has a legacy of innovation as the birthplace of nationally acclaimed programs such as This American Life, and Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!, and the ground-breaking podcast, Serial. 

About ILLN

The online news publication ILLatinoNews.com is one of five independent statewide coverage, Hispanic-Latino editorial focus English language news, and information websites under the ownership and leadership of nationally recognized journalist and media advocate, Hugo Balta. 

ILLN’s mission is to provide greater visibility and voice to Hispanics-Latinos in Illinois – an underrepresented community in mainstream newsrooms and news coverage.

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