Esperanza Gama: su niña interior sanada

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

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

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

This story originally aired on News Beat, Columbia College Chicago

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

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

Alan De La Torre

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Perilous Journey to the American Dream

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Documentary by Brenda Ordoñez, Northwestern University

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Concerns of Voters 50+ Addressed in AARP Illinois Community Forum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“This is what we do,� agreed Ramírez.

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

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

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

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


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

Cover photo: Connor Betts for Unsplash

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Mayoral Candidates Johnson, Vallas on Chicago’s Black and Brown Future

Chicagoans flocked to the Chicago History Museum on Monday night for a chance to hear from mayoral candidates Brandon Johnson and Paul Vallas before the April 4 Runoff Election. Chicago’s Black and Brown Future: Conversations with the Mayoral Candidates focused on issues impacting Black and Latino communities including housing, crime, education, economic development, equitable representation, and immigration.

The conversation was moderated by veteran journalists, longtime CBS2 Chicago reporter, Dorothy Tucker and publisher of IL Latino News, Hugo Balta. Tucker is the current president of the National Association of Black Journalists. Balta has served twice as president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.

Moderators Dorothy Tucker and Hugo Balta.

“Events like tonight’s conversation with Chicago mayoral candidates Brandon Johnson and Paul Vallas gives voters an opportunity to make side-by-side comparisons,� said Balta. “ The health of our democracy depends on an informed citizenry.�

Unlike a traditional debate with candidates going back and forth, interacting with one another, each candidate had a dedicated space in the program to answer predetermined questions. The two did not appear on stage together. Audience members were given green and red cards to express approval or disapproval, by waving the colored sheets of paper in the air as the opponents spoke. 

Both candidates were met with applause when introduced to the stage. Johnson went first, followed by a short intermission, and then Vallas.

A recent poll by Northwestern’s Center for the Study of Diversity and Democracy showed that crime was top of mind for many voters, rated as the most important issue for 54 percent of Black voters and 46 percent of Latino voters.

Johnson said he would focus on getting to the root of crime by investing in youth programs and hiring 200 more detectives.

“We’re going to double the amount of young people that we hire, not just for summer positions but year-round positions,� he said.

On crime, Vallas stated that he wants to fulfill current Chicago Police Department vacancies, not expand CPD. He added that he wants to add officers to CTA platforms “because people are afraid to take the CTA,� citing another recent poll by WBEZ.

Both Johnson and Vallas said that they would support the Welcome to IL coalition, vowing to support immigrants and migrants arriving in the city. Governor JB Pritzker issued a disaster proclamation to speed up the availability of state money and resources to help deal with the busloads of migrants being sent to Chicago from Texas.

There are now two weeks left before a new mayor is elected. Early Voting is open in all 50 Wards. More information about Early Voting can be found on the Chicago Elections website.

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Chicago Fire Youth Soccer Club Coach Christina Murillo sets the role model for young players

The 9- and 10-year-old girls training with Chicago Fire Youth Soccer Club coach Christina Murillo are constantly running after the ball during the training session. They learn how to pass the ball to each other and how to shoot at the goal. They laugh and have fun during Monday afternoon trainings, and that is one of Murillo’s goals as a coach – to make surethe players have a good time practicing soccer.

“It’s so much more important that players enjoy the game than me guaranteeing that they’re going to go pro,â€� said Murillo, head of Pre-Formation Phase (13U-15U) and Community Outreach in Chicago Fire Youth Soccer Club. “We want them to be in competitive environments, but I hope families get the understanding this is supposed to be for fun.â€�

Murillo, 30, is a role model for the girls and boys in the club. She tries to teach them in every session that it doesn’t matter if they make mistakes – the important thing is to overcome them and keep playing.

“Girls are more hesitant to make mistakes, and in sports, that’s very importantâ€� to understand, Murillo said. “I push for the girls to get outside of their comfort zones and be assertive.â€�

Concerning boys, Murillo said she likes to see that “they understand that they can have these emotions and that they should feel comfortable with it.”

Murillo’s coaching philosophy and her impact on and off the field were key to the Illinois Youth Soccer Association’s decision to give her the 2022 Female Coach of the Year award in December.

Christina Murillo played for the for Lithuanian club GintraUniversitetas in 2017 and Chicago Red Stars in 2018.She coaches youth group at the Fire Pitch on NorthTalman Ave. in Chicago. (Diana Giambona/MEDILL)

Christina Murillo played for the for Lithuanian club GintraUniversitetas in 2017 and Chicago Red Stars in 2018.She coaches youth group at the Fire Pitch on NorthTalman Ave. in Chicago. (Diana Giambona/MEDILL)

“Christina brings a lot of passion to the field, she works incredibly hard, she has a good understanding of the game and I think she has high standards because she’s played at a very high level herself,â€� said Nate Boyden, Youth Technical Director for Chicago Fire Youth Soccer Club. “She can connect and relate to the players, and also push them along in their development so that they become better soccer players.â€� 

Murillo’s parents emigrated to the U.S. from Mexico. She was born and raised in California where her passion for soccer began when she was four years old and watched her older brothers playing. She started playing at home before starting school and went on to compete at the highest level. In 2010 she was called up by the Mexico National Soccer Teamand competed in the U-17 World Cup in Trinidad andTobago. Two years later, she played as a defender in the U-20 World Cup in Japan, and in 2015 she represented Mexico in the Women’s World Cup in Canada.

Her experience as a professional player and her competitive spirit are reflected in her training sessions. The girls have fun playing soccer, but also follow their coach’s directions with discipline and try to improve at every opportunity.

Although Murillo never thought of coaching children, she now says it is “amazingâ€� working with them. 

“To see them grow as people has been the most gratifying thing,� Murillo said. “I tell people all the time, I love my job every single day.� 

Christina Murillo coaches girls and boys of different ages. (Diana Giambona/MEDILL)

Christina Murillo coaches girls and boys of different ages. (Diana Giambona/MEDILL)

In addition to physical training, Murillo stresses the importance of psychologically preparing young players. 

“The mental part is of the utmost importance to me and since day one of coaching, that’s been more of my emphasis,â€� she said. “There’s going to be a lot of kids who can play soccer well, but I think the ones that don’t know how to handle adversity, that’s going to be a lot harder for them.â€�

Murillo recalls that, in her experience as a player, the psychological pressure was very hard, and that is why she is concerned that her players always have a good time training. 

“It’s hard when you as a player put the burden of a whole country on yourself thinking that if you don’t do well, you’re letting down millions of people,â€� she said.

Murillo decided to stop playing and focus on coaching. She has been working in the Chicago Fire Youth Soccer Club since 2019 and one of her objectives is to promote the empowerment of girls and women through sports. 

“I want every girl in our club to come out feeling like a leader,â€� she said. “Whether they continue with soccer[or not], that’s okay. But it’s more important to me that they develop skills that make them into the best versions of themselves after soccer.â€�

According to EY and espnW report, 94% of women in the C-suite played sports, including 52% at the university level. 

“Soccer and sports, in general, are just like a very good environment to develop leadership skills,â€� Murillo said. 

In Chicago, more and more girls are becoming interested in playing soccer, and role models like coach Murillo can show them that it is possible to become professional players. 

“When it comes to the youth soccer on the girls’ side, I see that it is growing in Chicago,� Boyden said. “Still, there is a gap and work to do in providing opportunities for young female players and to help them fall in love with the game.�

Soccer is becoming an ever more popular sport in the United States. Murillo said that it is a sport that allows everyone to connect culturally and is a space where young people can make friends.

Murillo said Chicago athletic programs have underestimated the population of youth soccer players including Latino players. “There isn’t a huge population of players but there is a Latino market that wants to play and my goal, from who I am and my background, is to make our program more accessible,â€� Murillo said.

Chicago Fire Youth Soccer Club offers programming for ages 5 to 19 years old. Over the past year, the club has been working on new youth soccer development initiatives aimed at increasing access and pathways for players and coaches in the Midwest to engage with Chicago Fire Academy.

“We want to be at the forefront of providing access opportunities, and furthering the knowledge, whether that’s soccer skills, or improving personal kind of developmental skills for players and coaches,â€� said Jamie Lyons, Executive Director for Youth Soccer for the Chicago Fire FC.

The 2023 Women’s World Cup will be held in July and August in Australia and New Zealand, where the U.S. team will be one of the favorites. In 2026, the United States, along with Mexico and Canada, will host the Men’s World Cup. Murillo, Boyden and Lyons agree that these two events will be very important to continue promoting soccer among the young. The girls and boys who now train at the club will watch their idols play and prove that reaching the top of soccer â€“ and a dream or two – is possible.

Cover Photo Credit: Coach Christina Murillo transmits her passion for soccer to girls and boys in training session at Chicago Fire Youth Soccer Club.  (Diana Giambona/MEDILL).

Diana Giambona got a degree in journalism from Universidad de La Laguna (Tenerife, Spain). She is a graduate student at Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University specializing in sports media. She has experience covering topics such as politics, society, sports and culture.

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

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Sweet Connections: La Michoacana Plus offers Little Village a community commonground

For husband and wife Angelo Villagomez and Edith Galvan, opening up La Michoacana Plus in Little Village brings them a sense of joy because it became a place where youth can laugh with friends, do homework or enjoy some ice cream. 

“Some kids come in here for half an hour, eat one thing and then just hang out…It’s turned into a way of giving back to the community,â€� Villagomez said. 

La Michoacana Plus franchise opened this month and offers a variety of treats such as paletas (ice cream bars), michelaguas (fruit flavored drinks), esquites (a corn dish), and more. 

The history of the franchise stems from California and is separate from other La Michoacana ice cream shops across Chicago, Villagomez said. 

For customer Jose Antonio Reynaga, he said visiting La Michoacana Plus with his family is a tradition and a way to reconnect with his cultural roots.

The California-based franchise opened its first Midwestern branch this month in Little Village on 26 st. Hours are 10 a.m.- 10 p.m., seven days a week. (Una Cleary)

“It’s a way to return to Mexico,â€� Reynaga said. 

Little Village residents are 81% Latino and 75% Mexican and Mexican American according to Enlace Chicago and around 18% of businesses are restaurants according to a 2012 market analysis done by the Little Village Special Service Area.

As the first Michoacana Plus on 26th street, Villagomez said he wanted to create a restaurant that is different from the rest of businesses in Little Village by giving it a “twistâ€� with its bright colors, food and vivid ambiance. 

“It’s important because most of us like to try new things, having something that’s out of the ordinary is definitely something that is really good for us,� said Liz Gonzalez, La Michoacana Plus employee.

La Michoacana Plus offers a variety of sweet and savory snacks and treats including michelaguas a fruity drink, nieves de agua, a sorbet ice cream and dorilocos chips topped with pork rinds and hot sauce. (Jacqueline Cardenas)

With a mix of younger and older employees, Gonzales said she enjoys the environment and the people she works with.  

“Most of us are pretty young and we get along pretty well,� Gonzalez said. “The elder people treat us like their own kids.�

The Little Village Academy, a local elementary school on 26th street, brings to the restaurant people from all ages, from students showing them their report cards to 30-year-old parents who want to get something to drink, Villagomez said. 

Una Cleary

Villagomez and his wife started planning their grand opening around two years ago, though it hasn’t been easy.

Villagomez said he balances general contracting, construction, the franchise and being a father to his 18 month old daughter.  

Since opening up the franchise, Villagomez said younger clientele have asked him for business advice through social media. 

He said he is always happy to help because growing up, he didn’t have anyone to guide him on how to run a business and believes it’s easier said than done. 

“I wish I had someone when I was younger,â€� he said. 

Hispanic-owned businesses grew about 8.2%, from 346,836 in 2019 to 375,256 in 202, and made up about 6.5% of all businesses, according to 2020 U.S. Census data

“Don’t be afraid to ask questions and show up…put yourself out there,â€� Villagomez said to advise young Latino entrepreneurs. 

Beyond a business opportunity Villagomez gets excited and finds joy in seeing kids come into the restaurant. 

“My heart was like damn this makes me happy,â€� Villagomez said. 

The couple plans to open up three more locations in the Chicago area in the future. 

Cover Photo: La Michoacana employee Liz Gonzalez enjoys the unique atmosphere that the store provides for the community. The store is something out of the ordinary for Gonzalez. (Una Cleary)

Jacqueline is the editor-in-chief of La DePaulia, DePaul University’s Spanish language newspaper. She is a multimedia journalist and the event coordinator for the university’s National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ) student chapter. Jacqueline is a first-generation Mexican-American who aspires to diversify the broadcast news industry. 

She is an Hortencia Zavala Foundation (HZF) fellow in the 2022 class, Journalism Camp: covering race, ethnicity, and culture.

Una Cleary is the Focus Editor for The DePaulia, DePaul University’s newspaper. She is a multimedia journalist majoring in Political Science who is passionate about local and national politics.


Publisher’s Notes: Illinois Latino News (ILLN) and La DePaulia are partners in best serving the Hispanic-Latino community.

You can read the Spanish language version of Sweet Connections: La Michoacana Plus offers Little Village A Community Commonground by clicking on La Michoacana Plus ofrece dulces conexiones en La Villita: ‘Es una manera de regresar a México’.

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Latino Soccer Leagues help steer youth away from violence in Chicago

“Run!â€� â€œKick!â€� â€œPass it!,â€� shouted the players of the Cosmos and Club Marquenze teams during the game of the Latino Soccer League in Humboldt Park. The crowd cheered every time they scored goals, and there was an atmosphere of fun, community and sportsmanship.

The match ended with a 10-4 victory for Club Marquenze. However, this league is about more than scores.

The Latino Soccer League gathers more than 20 teams every weekend at the Miguel A. Barreto Boys and Girls Club in Humboldt Park, a space where people share their passion for soccer. 

One of the goals is to help young people steer clear of violence and the dangers of Chicago’s streets,said Fermín Juárez, owner and director of the soccer league.

Juárez, highlighted the importance of sports for young people, learning values such as discipline that team organizers consider fundamental for  personal growth and development. 

“With soccer, I have kept my sons and other young people entertained in something so that their minds don’t go down another path, and it fills me with satisfaction to see many guys like my sons fulfilled,” Juárez said. 

Chicago youth are among the prime victims of crimes and shooting deaths each year. However, while some of the city’s young people are plunged into violence, others escape it thanks to soccer.

Raúl Hernández, 55, is one of the players on the Cosmos team, a participant in the amateur league. He stressed that “the sport is very good and helps young people a lot because they avoid being in gangs.”

The Latino Soccer League has both male and female categories and players starting at 16 years old can participate. Although in its beginnings the league was made up only of Latino players, it now includes people from different cultures and races, promoting respect and team spirit.

Playing soccer and participating in competitions has also benefited young people in other aspects of their lives since it creates the habit of doing a physical activity that is healthy for their body and mind. 

Video by Diana Giambona

The Furia team beat Tuzla FC by 12 to 4 in the eighth matchday of the Latin Soccer League (Diana Giambona/Medill)

María Lorenzana, 43, is the goalkeeper for the Deportivo Unión team. She decided to play soccer with her daughter and other young women with the goal of motivating them to avoid being on the streets, staying on their cell phones all day, or suffering from depression. 

“Technology is absorbing young people and sports get them healthier and off the streets,” Lorenzanasaid.  

In the Chicago suburb of Glendale Heights anotherleague called the Latinos Chicago Soccer League is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. Alejandro Guerrero, founder of this amateur competition, noted that young people participate to have fun and share their culture.

Guerrero said that “soccer is for playing and not for fighting. It is to unite the community and families.” 

In these competitions, the main objective is not to win, but to participate and enjoy soccer by sharing with family and friends. The Latino leagues seek to maintain their customs and transmit from parents to children the passion for soccer, a sport that isgrowing steadily in popularity in the United States. 

“We try to make sure the culture is not lost, that the players compete for the love of the sport and that they sweat the jersey,” Juárez said.

The amateur soccer leagues in Chicago provide an ideal space for young people to be part of a community away from violence while living a healthy life aligned with the values of sports, according to players.

Game schedule:

Cover Photo Credit: Cosmos and Club Marquenze are two of the 28 teams playing in the Latino Soccer League in the winter season (Diana Giambona/Medill)

Diana Giambona got a degree in journalism from Universidad de La Laguna (Tenerife, Spain). She is a graduate student at Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University specializing in sports media. She has experience covering topics such as politics, society, sports and culture.

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

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Dr. Carmen Ayala: A Legacy of Equity in Education

With plans to soon retire from her historic post as the first female Latina State Superintendent of Education, the Forum extends deep gratitude to Dr. Carmen Ayala for her tireless leadership and esteemed successes in the face of adversity.

Dr. Ayala has served as the State Superintendent since early 2019, when she was soon confronted with guiding Illinois schools through the difficult COVID-19 pandemic and charged with revitalizing academic improvement for the state. Now at the end of her tenure, Illinois is at a decade-high in its high school graduation rates—a factor driven by a rise in graduation by Black and Latino students. 

“I offer my heartfelt thanks to Dr. Carmen Ayala for ably serving the children of Illinois,â€� said Sylvia Puente, President, and CEO of the Latino Policy Forum. “The COVID crisis made a difficult job even more challenging. Nevertheless, she leaves a strong and inclusive legacy that has enriched the lives of Illinois school children.â€� 

Dr. Ayala is an exemplar in promoting equity in education. During 2020-2023, she oversaw the development of ISBE’s Equity Journey Continuum, an informational tool to help school districts identify gaps in student achievement, opportunities, and support. She also spearheaded various efforts to improve the diversity recruitment and retention of teachers of color. In 2021 she encouraged the state to adopt Culturally Responsive Teaching and Leading Standards.

Before her appointment to lead the State Board of Education, Dr. Ayala gained notoriety for her work as Superintendent of Berwyn North, where she transformed SD 98 from the lowest-performing school district feeding into Morton West High School into a state leader of academic student growth in reading and math, with double-digit growth for students of color. Much of this success was a deep focus on providing a culturally responsive curriculum for all students and implementation of Dual Language programming. Dr. Ayala’s career also includes teaching and administrative roles at Chicago Public Schools, Plainfield SD 202, and Aurora East SD 131.

“For more than a decade, I’ve considered Dr. Ayala one of Illinois’ most important leaders for promoting equity in education for students of color and English Learners. She spearheaded equitable education funding for all students along with increases to bilingual education funding, led considerations in school accountability for English Learners, promoted Spanish Language Arts assessments, and successfully advocated for culturally responsive educational practices. Her leadership will be greatly missed,â€� said Dr. Rebecca Vonderlack-Navarro, Education Director of the Latino Policy Forum.

Dr. Ayala has been highly involved in various boards, including the Illinois State Board of Education Bilingual Advisory Council, Illinois Women in Educational Leadership, and the Illinois Professional Review Panel for Evidence-Based Funding.    

She also served on the Board of the Latino Policy Forum. As a longstanding advocate for educational equity for students of color and English Learners, she was an obvious nomination to the board.

Publisher’s Notes: Dr. Carmen I. Ayala announced her retirement after 40 years of service and leadership in Illinois public schools.’ Her term as state superintendent of education concluded on Jan. 31. The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) named School District U-46 Superintendent Dr. Tony Sanders the new state superintendent of education this month. He will assume his duties in late February. ISBE Deputy Education Officer Krish Mohip is serving as interim state superintendent of education during the transition.

This Opinion-Editorial was first published by the Latino Policy Forum.

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ILLN Opinion+: Katrina Phidd

On this episode of Illinois Latino Opinion+, we discussed how to vote in the upcoming Chicago mayoral and aldermanic races with Katrina Phidd, communications director of Chicago Votes. Chicago Votes is a nonpartisan organization that helps mobilize young people in democracy through voting. They do not endorse candidates or align with a particular party.  

According to their website, Chicago Votes believe in the “potential of our generation to use organizing and advocacy to change politics as usual.â€� 

“Technically we have the most power… and if young people showed out to vote at really high rates we would have a huge amount of control over the election,� Phidd explained.

Youth turnout in the 2022 midterm election was the second-highest turnout rate for this group in the last 30 years, with 27 percent of people ages 18-29 participating

The definition of “youngâ€� can be subjective, but Phidd describes the “young voterâ€� category as individuals between ages 18-35. 

“We’re focused on educating young people, breaking down barriers to civic engagement, and making democracy and civics a place where young people feel heard,â€� Phidd said. 

Aside from voting for the city’s next mayor, Chicagoans will also be voting for aldermen, police district council, city clerk and Cook County treasurer during the 2023 municipal elections.

“Municipal elections are so important because they are local elections,� Phidd said. “These are the elections that impact us the most.�

Early voting is open in all 50 wards. Illinois has same day voter registration available until Election Day., Feb. 28. 


Chicago Votes’ website:

Chicago Votes Voter Guide:

Chicago Reader & South Side Weekly Police District Councils Voter Guide 2023:

Register to vote in Chicago:

Locate your polling place:

Information on Early Voting sites:

Information on voter turnout:

Publisher’s Notes: Nadia Carolina Hernandez is a junior at DePaul University studying journalism. Nadia is the print managing editor of The DePaulia and president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists – DePaul.

Nadia was an Hortencia Zavala Foundation (HZF) fellow, Journalism Camp: covering race, ethnicity, and culture, Class 2022.

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