Latino community

Solidarity Concert For Puerto Rico January 22


A Solidarity With Puerto Rico Benefit Concert, featuring local musicians and performers from Normal Community High School and the Bloomington-Normal community, is scheduled 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. January 22 at Normal Theater to raise funds for hurricane relief efforts in Puerto Rico.

The event is hosted by Illinois State University Latin American and Latino/a Studies. In September 2017, Hurricane Maria devastated the island and NCHS juniors Keajia “Keke” Hardin and Anabelle Chinski wanted to do something to help. For their community service project, they reached out to ISU's Professor Maura Toro-Morn to organize this event.

All proceeds will be donated to the Puerto Rico Agenda, a not-for-profit group in Chicago sending aid to relief and rebuilding efforts on the island.

To learn more about Puerto Rico and the effects of hurricane Maria, there will be a teach-in -- free and open to the public -- on Friday, January 19, at 3 p.m. in the Escalante Room of Hewett Manchester. Puerto Rico, its unique history with the US, and the effects of Maria on the island, are topics.

Presenters will include Professors Maura Toro-Morn and Yojanna Cuenca-Carlino of ISU, Professor Daynali Flores-Rodriguez and Krista Cardona of Illinois Wesleyan University, and Stephanie Rodriguez, ISU student and reporter for The Daily Vidette. It will be moderated by Prof. Juliet Lynd, Acting Director of LALS. Sponsored by the Latin American and Latino Studies Program.

Official figures show that, of the island’s 1.5 million customers, just 900,000 have had their power restored. Businesses continue to struggle and many schools remain closed. Puerto Rico has received limited federal support amid controversial statements by President Trump about the U.S. territory and its people.

The New York City Department of Buildings sent a 14-member team to inspect damage to homes and government buildings after Hurricane Maria slammed into the island. Inspectors assessed nearly 5,100 structures, helping local officials understand the magnitude of the destruction.

Dozens of inspectors swarmed the streets of New York City in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, filling out piles of paperwork as they assessed the damage.

Over 80,000 buildings were inspected, but city officials realized the process could have been completed more efficiently. So, in late 2016, the Department of Buildings began using technology that allowed inspectors to file reports from the field using a smartphone or tablet.

The technology was used in a disaster zone for the first time a few months ago, in Puerto Rico.

“Having people from the mainland that came in early, left late, and didn’t have to worry about not having electricity in their homes — it was extremely necessary,” said David Carrasquillo Medrano, an adviser on planning and land use affairs for the city of San Juan, the island’s capital.

New York City buildings department officials said they mapped the damage and streamed the results in near-real time to officials.



Cultural Immersion Preps ISU Senior For PR Career

Deja Whitt, a senior public relations major, declared the Latin American and Latino/a Studies (LALS) minor just this year, but her enthusiasm for the program began much earlier.

Since leaving her hometown of Calumet Park, a south suburb of Chicago, in 2014 to begin her college career, Whitt has taken a variety of courses in LALS, attended countless program events hosted by LALS, and served as a teaching assistant for two courses in the minor. Outside of the minor, Whitt dedicates her time to her membership in Illinois State University’s Chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America, two jobs through the Alumni Center, and internship with Motivate Moms, LLC. Despite her busy schedule, Whitt was able to share her experience in the minor with us this month as our first Student Spotlight of the semester. Check out our interview to learn about her experience in the minor and why she wants you to join!

Latin American and Latino/a Studies: Tell me about yourself! What do you like to do?

Deja Whitt: I’m a proud part-time pet mom to my shih-tzu Stewart, annoying big sister, and movie buff! When I’m not working or in class you can probably find me watching Empire, re-reading Harry Potter or cooking. I’m also a member of the Illinois State University’s Chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America. Last year I served on the executive board, but this year I’m dedicating most of my time on campus to my two jobs at the Alumni Center! I work at the Telefund Calling Center as a fundraiser and at University Marketing and Communications as a communications assistant.

LALS: Before declaring a minor in Latin American and Latino/a Studies, you studied Spanish. Tell me about this experience. In what ways has declaring a Latin American and Latino/a Studies minor complimented your study of Spanish? Would you recommend this plan of study to other students? If yes, why?

DW: To fulfill some requirements for the Latin American and Latino/a Studies minor I took quite a few Spanish classes. I’ve studied the language since high school and it has definitely helped my understanding of a lot of the themes and concepts we learn about in the minor’s coursework. In Spanish classes here at Illinois State you don’t just learn the language, you study the people, their culture, the socio-economic challenges they face and so much more. You totally don’t need to speak Spanish to be a part of the minor, but as a non-Latinx, it helped deepen my understanding of the people I was learning about and that’s something that’s important to me.

LALS: What has been your favorite course you have taken for the Latin American and Latino/a Studies minor so far? Why was it your favorite? What did you learn?

DW: This is a tough question! I’ve loved all of the courses I’ve taken so far and I’ve learned so much during my time in the minor. If I had to choose though, Dr. Toro-Morn’s Introduction to Latin American and Latino Studies course was the class that gave me the foundation to take other classes in the minor. You get the chance to really study the U.S. Latinx population from a variety of angles. The concepts that I learned veered outside of what you expect from a traditional introductory course. The course touches on some really relevant and vital material. It counts for general education credit as well, so I definitely recommend it to everyone!

LALS: You have been a teaching assistant for Introduction to Latin American and Latino/a Studies (SOC 109) and History of Latin America (HIS 104A03), two core courses of the Latin American and Latino/a Studies minor. What did you learn from these experiences?

DW: Being a teaching assistant is one of my favorite ISU memories! I got the chance to work under both Dr. Toro-Morn and Dr. Cutter and I couldn’t have asked for two better mentors. You learn a ton being a teaching assistant— responsibility, time management, and how to communicate effectively with large audiences. Most importantly, it taught me to be an advocate for myself and to take charge of my learning. I think as college students we really underestimate how much we can learn from each other and our professors. You could be one class, conversation or conversation away from a achieving a goal— all it takes is your voice and a little courage.

LALS: Tell me about your current internship. What do you do and where? In what ways has Illinois State University, Spanish and Latin American and Latino/a Studies minors prepared you for this experience?

DW: I’m the Digital Media intern for Motivate Moms LLC. Our goal is to teach parents that by empowering themselves, they empower their children too. We step into the community and create programs that engage parents with each other, and with their children’s educational experience. Outside of technical skills like writing, my studies here, especially within the minor, have taught me how to truly connect with others. It has also taught me how to find common ground to solve problems to meet a goal that we share— and that’s exactly what we do at Motivate Moms.

LALS: What would you tell a student considering declaring the Latin American and Latino/a Studies minor?


LALS: What are your goals after graduation?

DW: I’m pursuing jobs with an emphasis on servicing communities and I’m hoping to do that through either agency or nonprofit public relations. My ultimate goal though is to start my own freelance public relations business. I’m really passionate about helping smaller businesses and companies—I like the intimacy of getting to work with clients one-on-one and help them achieve their dreams through their business.

Conversanco Entre Nosotros: White Acadamia and Intersectionality

Join Illinois State University's Latin American and Latino/a Studies program on Friday, October 20, at 3 p.m. in Williams Hall 314 for the second event of the LALS Brown Bag Lecture Series.

During "Conversando Entre Nosotros," Dr. Tanya Diaz-Kozlowski, Instructional Assistant Professor in Women’s and Gender Studies, shares her experiences teaching an introductory Women and Gender Studies course at a predominantly white institution, articulating three barriers to teaching the ontological, epistemological, and material significance of intersectionality.

Diaz-Kozlowski articulates how she uses Chicana feminist pedagogies in the classroom and as an interdisciplinary scholar who aims to invigorate diverse student participation, revitalize curriculum, and dismantle systems of privilege and inequality in educational institutions.

This event is free and open to the general public.

'Hyperdocumented Academic' To Keynote ISU Latinx Heritage Month

Aurora Chang will deliver the keynote address for Latinx Heritage Month at Illinois State University with the talk “Undocumented to Hyperdocumented: A Journey of Papers, Protection, and Ph.D. status” at 5 p.m. Thursday, November 9, in the State Farm Hall of Business, room 357. The event is free and open to the public.

Once an undocumented immigrant from Guatemala, Chang will relay her journey to becoming a “hyperdocumented” academic. She currently serves as an assistant professor of teaching and learning in the School of Education at Loyola University. Chang will also discuss her ongoing national research on the identity, education and agency of undocumented college students.

Interlacing personal experiences with findings from empirical qualitative research, the talk will explore undocumented students’ quest to achieve. Their effort to grow academically cultivates an empowering self-identity while simultaneously forcing them to involuntarily perform the role of infallible non-citizen citizen.

The event is sponsored by Latin American and Latinx Studies Program. For more information contact Latino Studies at

The Bookshelf: New Library Selections Address Modern Challenges, Historical Context

As local youth return to school, it may be the right time for a little adult homework, as well. The Normal Public Library's latest acquisitions offer a global perspective on the swirling issues that are shaping our society and the historical forces that have shaped our attitudes.

Divided We Stand: The Battle Over Women's Rights and Family Values That Polarized American Politics reveals how the battle between feminists and their conservative challengers divided the nation as Democrats continued to support women's rights and Republicans cast themselves as the party of family values. Meanwhile, The Glass Universe offers a prequel of sorts to Hidden Figures' story of Space Age racial and feminist empowerment. In the mid-nineteenth century, the Harvard College Observatory began employing women as calculators, or “human computers,” to interpret the observations their male counterparts made via telescope each night. At the outset this group included the wives, sisters, and daughters of the resident astronomers, but soon the female corps included graduates of the new women's colleges — Vassar, Wellesley, and Smith. As photography transformed the practice of astronomy, the ladies turned from computation to studying the stars captured nightly on glass photographic plates.

Immigration has become a focal point for U.S. debate, community division, and growing alarm. In Latino Heartland, Sujey Vega addresses the politics of immigration, showing us how increasingly diverse towns can work toward embracing their complexity by focusing on one Hoosier community's experience. The Book of Isaias: A Child of Hispanic Immigrants Seeks His Own America tells the story of 18-year-old high school senior Isaias Ramos, who plays in a punk rock group called Los Psychosis and is so bright that when his school’s quiz bowl goes on local TV, he acts as captain. School counselors want him to apply to Harvard. But Isaias isn’t so sure. He's thinking about going to work painting houses with his parents, who crossed the Arizona desert illegally from Mexico.

The horrors and triumphs of America's racial history come alive in a trio of new non-fiction selections. Blood at the Root: A Racial Cleansing in America revisits Forsyth County, Georgia, which at the turn of the twentieth century was home to a large African-American community that included ministers and teachers, farmers and field hands, tradesmen, servants, and children. Many black residents were poor sharecroppers, but others owned their own farms and the land on which they’d founded the county’s thriving black churches. Then, in September 1912, three young black laborers were accused of raping and murdering a white girl. One man was dragged from a jail cell and lynched on the town square, two teenagers were hung after a one-day trial, and soon bands of white “night riders” launched a coordinated campaign of arson and terror, driving all 1,098 black citizens out of the county. He Calls Me By Lightning: The Life of Caliph Washington and the forgotten Saga of Jim Crow, Southern Justice, and the Death Penalty offers another harrowing narrative: In 1957, Washington, a seventeen-year-old simply returning home after a double date, was swiftly arrested, put on trial, and sentenced to death by an all-white jury. The young man endured the horrors of a hellish prison system for thirteen years, a term that included various stints on death row fearing the "lightning" of the electric chair. Finally, The Black Panthers: Portraits from an Unfinished Revolution, focuses on the faces of protest and activism 50 years before Black Lives Matter became a cause. The book offers a reappraisal of the Panthers' history and legacy through portraits and interviews with surviving Panthers as well as illuminating essays by leading scholars.

The Thunder Before the Storm: The Autobiography of Clyde Bellecourt examines another aspect of American racism and social justice, through the eyes of the co-founder of the American Indian Movement. 

The LGBTQ community continues as well to wage its battle for equality, respect, and recognition. 2Brides 2Be: A Same-Sex Guide for the Modern Bride is designed to help couples navigate the world of lesbian wedding planning with humor and advice from wedding professional on everything from the logistics of walking down the aisle to wording the invites. Born Both: An Intersex Life covers more somber ground -- the turbulent but ultimately triumphant life of Hida Viloria, who was raised as a girl but discovered at a young age that her body "looked different." She felt "scared and alone, especially given my attraction to girls," until at 26, she began to connect with the intersex community.

Women's and Gender Studies Symposium Friday at ISU

The Women’s and Gender Studies Symposium will highlight the student research by WGS minors, Queer Studies students, and other students in the Illinois State University campus community. This year the keynote speaker will be Mariana Ortega.

The annual symposium, now in its 22nd year, will be held between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. on Friday, April 14, in the Old Main Room of the Bone Student Center at Illinois State University.

The symposium showcases the scholarship being done by students at Illinois State University and neighboring institutions. The event is free and open to the public. The symposium, much like

Women’s and Gender Studies discipline, is committed to a transformative analysis of gender as it intersects with class/caste, sexuality, race, ethnicity, ability, age, coloniality, and transnationality.

Ortega will give the  symposium keynote address “Bodies of Color, Bodies of Sorrow, and Resistant Melancholia” at 1 p.m. Ortega is a professor of philosophy at John Carroll University, who works on Latina feminisms. Her most recent book is In-Between: Latina Feminist Phenomenology, Multiplicity, and the Self (2016). Ortega studies questions of self and sociality, identity, and visual representations of race. She will be on campus interacting with Visual Culture students and members of the WGS community during her visit.

The WGS scholarships will be presented at the symposium. This is the inaugural year for the Rhonda Nicol Memorial Book Award. Nicol taught WGS courses in the English department for over ten years. She passed away suddenly last year. The book awards will be presented for the outstanding graduate and undergraduate papers.

The symposium is sponsored by the Alice and Fannie Fell Trust, History Department, Philosophy Department, MECCPAC: A Dean of Students Diversity Initiative, Office of the President, Harold K. Sage Foundation, the Illinois State University Foundation, College of Arts and Sciences, Women’s and Gender Studies Program, and Latin American and Latino/a Studies Program.

Bilingual Education/Entertainment Focus of Library Event

The 10th Annual El Día de Los Niños/El Día de Los Libros will celebrate bilingual education at 11 a.m. April 29 at the Bloomington Public Library.

Attendees will enjoy bilingual storytelling with Mama Edie, Bilingual Storyteller, dance performances with Ballet Folklorico de Central Illinois, crafts, the Clothespin Puppets, face painting with the Zoo Lady, and community exhibits.

The Oogies Food On Wheels and Healthy in a Hurry food trucks will also be present selling their fare.

Preview the event on Facebook.

Anti-Hate Rally Commemorates Kansas Murder, Seeks Unity

Lenore Sobota

The Pantagraph

and Camille Taylor

Rabbi Rebecca Dubowe of the Moses Montefiore Congregation in Bloomington asked people attending a Not In Our Town anti-hate rally Thursday at Illinois Wesleyan University to join hands and repeat after her.

"We are not here to protest or rally against any group or individual, but to educate ourselves and our children and become more aware of what is happening around us. After you leave these doors, remember tonight, remember our stories, our cheers, our emotions and friendship, remember that we our one. Together, Let us be compassionate, kind, and respectful towards each other. We must see people for who they truly are and teach our children to take a stand against racism, bigotry and all forms of intolerance. Let us celebrate our diversity together and inspire and honor each other as brothers and sisters. -- Archana Shekara

“We are here. We are your brothers and sisters. We hear you. We believe you,” she said as the crowd of more than 150 people echoed her words. “Hatred and intolerance have no place here. We shall not fear. Love will hold us together as one family of humanity."

The gathering started with a mantra recited by a Hindu priest and the lighting of a candle to symbolize removal of darkness from the community.

Aishwarya Shekara (Photos by Mike Matejka)

Aishwarya Shekara (Photos by Mike Matejka)

Speaker after speaker talked about the need to support each other, to speak out against hatred and bigotry and to work for peace.

Imam Khalid Herrington

Imam Khalid Herrington

The rally took place in IWU's Hansen Student Center where the two dozen flags of other countries that ring the upper level took on special meaning.

“We are all here in solidarity as a community to stop hate together,” said IWU Provost Jonathan Green. “We are gathered here tonight to express love for our neighbors.”

But it was the personal stories of insults and slights, particularly those of high school students from Bloomington District 87 and McLean County Unit 5, that seemed to touch the crowd.

A student whose family is from India told of being asked in a social studies class what caste her family was from.

Another who is Muslim said the day she decided to wear her hijab to school she received "weird looks" or was ignored by people she knew.

A Hispanic student said she was told not to speak Spanish in school — “you're in America now,” they said.

And a student of mixed race related how, when she was only 6 years old, her mother, who is white, came to school for a program and another student asked if she was adopted.

Imam Khalid Herrington of the Islamic Center of McLean County experienced racism growing up in the 1970s with a mother who is white and a father who is black. When he became a Muslim in the mid-1990s, he encountered other bigotry, especially after the 9-11 attacks.

Bloomington Police Chief Brendan Heffner and local law enforcement officers were on hand at the event. Below, Normal Mayor Chris Koos, right, and Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner stress the need for community solidarity.

Bloomington Police Chief Brendan Heffner and local law enforcement officers were on hand at the event. Below, Normal Mayor Chris Koos, right, and Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner stress the need for community solidarity.

One day, Herrington, whose parents both served in the U.S. military, was told to “Go back to your country,” he said.

“I didn't know whether to laugh or cry,” he recalled.

But amid the stories of rude comments — or worse — there were also stories of feeling welcome in Bloomington-Normal and staying far longer than they ever thought they would.

Archana Shekara, a Not In Our Town member and one of the event's organizers, lived in India for 19 years, but she has lived in Bloomington-Normal for the last 24 years.

“Bloomington-Normal is my town. It's where I live. It's my home,” said Shekara, prompting applause from the crowd.

A number of speakers, representing different races, religions and nationalities took the stage at one point — immigrants and children of immigrants from countries such as France, Brazil, Bangladesh, India and Venezuela.

“This is what Bloomington-Normal looks like,” said Shekara.

The Rev. Susan Baller-Shepard of rural Bloomington warned that hate speech is becoming hate action in parts of America, but she emphasized that hate should not be answered by hate.

“We have to guard against lowering … our behavior to that of the haters,” she said.

Shekara urged people to report instances of hatred.

Her daughter, 17-year-old Aishwarya Shekara, said, “See us as the next generation of leaders who have the power to change our nation, even in these polarized times.”

Baller-Shepard said, "Let's continue to celebrate diversity, not just tolerate it, not just moan about it, but celebrate."

Herrington reminded the crowd: "We are not going to agree all of the time. We can still respect each other all of the time. We can try to understand each other all of the time."

Four of NIOTBN's nine Not In Our School (NIOS) schools also were represented at the rally. An Indian student translated the gathering's Hindi prayer into English, while students from Bloomington Junior High and Bloomington High School read a post-election letter written to them by their teacher assuring them of their safety.

Another BHS student read a prepared statement from the Bloomington District 87 School District affirming its support of all students. A Normal West High School student read a similar statement prepared by the Normal Unit 5 School District.

Other Indian, Muslim, biracial, and Latina students shared personal stories about being stereotyped, feeling singled out, and wanting to be seen as a human being first and foremost. Some of the students were the leaders of NIOS clubs; others were members/students from their schools.

A group of children from BCAI (Breaking Chains Advancing Increase) performed with dances reflecting the Indian culture. Their sponsor, Angelique Racki, is on the steering committee of NIOTBN, as chair of its Arts and Culture Committee.

Museum, ISU Spotlighting Latino Writer, Anthropologist

Illinois State University’s Latin American and Latino Studies Program and the McLean County Museum of History are teaming up to host a community reading group. First up: Dr. Sujey Vega’s book, Latino Heartland: Of Borders and Belonging in the Midwest, in preparation for Vega's visit to Bloomington-Normal.

Vega, an anthropologist at Arizona State University, will speak on the Illinois State campus on Thursday, February 23 at 7:00 p.m., Old Main Room, Bone Student Center. On Saturday, February 25 at 1 p.m., Mclean County Museum of History will hold a community “charla” with the author.

Latino Heartland offers an ethnography of the Latino and non-Latino residents of a small Indiana town, showing how national debate pitted neighbor against neighbor—and the strategies some used to combat such animosity. It conveys the lived impact of divisive political rhetoric on immigration and how race, gender, class, and ethnicity inform community belonging in the twenty-first century.  

Copies of the book can be borrowed from both the Bloomington and Normal public libraries and they are available for purchase at the museum, Babbitt’s Books, or Barnes and Noble. Both speaker programs are free and open to the public thanks to the Sage Foundation Fund at Illinois State.

ISU Heritage Month Focuses on Activism, Neoliberalism


Latino/a Heritage Month will be celebrated at Illinois State University with talks on Latino immigration.

Chicago’s immigrant youth movement
Professor Ruth Gomberg-Muñoz of Loyola University Chicago and Jorge Mena Robles of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign will present “Activism After DACA: Lessons from Chicago’s Immigrant Youth Movement” at 4 p.m., Tuesday, September 27, in Moulton Hall, room 210.

This talk draws from extended ethnographic research with, and participation in, Chicago’s immigrant rights movement to explore how Chicago youth have responded to the implementation of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and the extended surveillance that DACA confers.

Mena is an undocumented (DACAmented) and queer graduate of the master’s program in Latin American and Latino Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He emigrated from Jalisco, Mexico, when he was 8 years old and has been involved in the undocumented immigrant youth movement since the 2009 formation of the Immigrant Youth Justice League. He is now living in Urbana where he serves as Assistant Director of La Casa Cultural Latina at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana.

Gomberg-Muñoz is an assistant professor of anthropology at Loyola University Chicago. Her research explores how undocumented people and their family members navigate the political and socioeconomic landscape of the United States. Gomberg-Muñoz is the author of two books, Labor and Legality: An Ethnography of a Mexican Immigrant Network (Oxford, 2011) and Becoming Legal: Immigration Law and Mixed Status Families (Oxford, 2016), as well as numerous articles and book chapters.

Neoliberalism and Latinos
Professor Andrea Silva of the University of North Texas will present “Neoliberalism confronts Latinos: Paradigmatic shifts in immigration practices” at noon, Friday, September 30, in Williams Hall, room 314.

Silva’s talk examines how three neoliberal principles—privatization, efficiency, and personal responsibility—have impacted the implementation of American immigration policy, increasing the detention, abuse, and death of undocumented migrants. This change disproportionately affects Latinos, as they are more likely to either know an undocumented person, or be one themselves.

All talks are sponsored by the Latin American and Latino/a Studies program at Illinois State University.

For additional information, contact the Latin American and Latino/a Studies program at (309) 438-8290.

Hanna: The Immigration Project Undertakes 'Compelling' Mission

Amid global poverty and violence and current U.S. rhetoric, many individuals and families are seeking basic safety or stability in the U.S.

Hanna Tarbert, AmeriCorps VISTA communications and development coordinator with the Normal office of The Immigration Project, is committed with Project attorneys and volunteers to helping provide it.

The Immigration Project provides quality citizenship and other legal assistance for immigrants in 85 counties across downstate Illinois, from Kankakee on the east to Moline on the west and on a north-south line from Fairmount City to Carbondale. Statewide, the Project serves an estimated 53,000 undocumented immigrants.

Tarbert previously worked for six months with refugee resettlement in Dayton, Ohio, where she met several immigration attorneys and became interested in legal advocacy for those who’ve sought a better or simply safer life in the States.

“There are people fleeing conflict; they’re fleeing for their lives,” she related. “From a human element, I don’t think there’s anything more compelling than that. Refugees have literally lost everything, and they’re starting over.

“We did get a lot of people coming out of Central America who were fleeing gang violence. There were people there leaving poverty, or they were reunifying with family. There are a lot of good reasons to work in immigration and help people get status here.”

The Project’s largely rural-regional approach includes regular local information clinics with staff attorneys and partnerships with area groups who set up permanent webcam sites to facilitate long-distance interviews and case preparation. An August 19 clinic is set for Bloomington-Normal.

Tarbert – who graduated with a Master of Arts in International and Comparative Politics and a Master of Arts Certificate in Women’s Studies from Wright State University in 2015 -- must grapple with a variety of “huge misconceptions” particularly about undocumented immigrants. “A lot of people don’t think immigrants pay taxes, and they do,” she said, noting Project clients must document that “they have been contributing.”

In fact, unauthorized immigrants in Illinois paid $499.2 million in state and local taxes in 2010 alone, according to data from the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy. That includes $85.4 million in state income taxes, $45.8 million in property taxes, and $368 million in sales taxes.

Further, the 2012 purchasing power of Illinois’s Latinos totaled $46.1 billion — an increase of 422.2 percent since 1990. Asian buying power totaled $28.7 billion — an increase of 463 percent since 1990, according to the Selig Center for Economic Growth at the University of Georgia.

While U.S. immigration debate focuses largely on Latino populations, The Immigration Project deals with immigrants from across the globe, including a growing influx of French-speaking arrivals from Togo and other African countries and Canadian and European immigrants.

Immigrants who currently must remain in the legal shadows effectively are “living in limbo,” Tarbert said, limiting work or educational opportunities. On a national level, she argued the Immigration Project and similar groups would benefit from a U.S. Supreme Court re-review of the currently court-deadlocked case challenging President Obama’s immigration reform plan, which had reflected elements of a stalled bipartisan Senate package. The 2012 purchasing power of Illinois’s Latinos totaled $46.1 billion—an increase of 422.2% since 1990. Asian buying power totaled $28.7 billion—an increase of 463% since 1990, according to the Selig Center for Economic Growth at the University of Georgia.

The case, United States v. Texas, concerned a 2014 executive action by the president to allow as many as five million unauthorized immigrants who were the parents of citizens or of lawful permanent residents to apply for a program that would spare them from deportation and provide them with work permits, called Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA).

“Just having those programs implemented would go a long way toward helping a lot of people,” said Tarbert. “It would really have made a lot of things easier for a lot of our clients.”

Project clinics in 2014 and 2015 nonetheless covered a range of issues beyond DAPA, including citizenship application assistance. The group also assists in visa petitions, consular processing for family members, and waivers of inadmissibility, and provides immigrant crime victim support addressing domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking.

“We tend to be more service-based than advocates,” Tarbert advised. In 2015, 37 percent of client “intakes” involved those seeking naturalization and citizenship. Nearly 30 percent of clients sought support for childhood arrivals.

Clients pay an initial $25 consultation fee, though many other services are free or charged based on a sliding financial scale based on case type, family size, and household income.

The Project also taps a healthy volunteer base, which provides English/Spanish/French translation, case follow-up management, or coordination of legal clinics and area citizenship workshops.

“There are a lot of people who want to support the attorneys,” Tarbert noted.


The Immigration Project receives no federal funding, depending instead on low legal fees, donations, and grants. Those who wish to support the Project can check to see if their employer is eligible for Matching Gift Programs to match personal donations or offers any Volunteer Grant Programs which allow an employee to volunteer a set number of hours.  Amazon donates 0.5 percent of the price of an eligible purchase to The Immigration Project for every purchase made through AmazonSmile when the buyer opts to make it the charitable organization of their choice. And PayPal enables donors to use their credit card without making an account.

Revitalization Project Offers Bilingual Surveys

The West Bloomington Revitalization Project Community Input Survey is now available in Spanish. Please share it with your Spanish-speaking neighbors.

Access the form at

“Driven by the voice of residents, the WBRP leads impactful, collaborative efforts of neighbors and local stakeholders that honor our historical and cultural roots, build on the pride and strengths of our neighborhoods, and empower residents to be leaders and achieve a vision for a better community,” according to WBRP’s mission statement.

The project features a tool “library” to aid in neighborhood projects and needs, the west side Book Bike, the West Bloomington Community Garden, a computer lab, and a home restoration effort. See more at!our-programs/bipxg.


Chicago Latino Community Leader/Alumnus Leads 'Do Good' Program

Doing good is "about now, not later," .MacArthur Fellow and Illinois Wesleyan University alumnus Juan Salgado maintained during last week's Student Senate’s annual “Do Good” lecture at Illinois Wesleyan University.

"While you have that energy and enthusiasm and vitality, while you have everything to give and absolutely nothing to lose," said Salgado, president and CEO of Instituto del Progreso Latino, which creates educational and workforce opportunities for Latino communities in Chicago.  "When you are doing action research or volunteerism or opening the doors for others, you're really opening the doors for yourself in so many different ways."

Salgado was recognized as a 2011 White House Champion for Change for Social Innovation. In 2010, he was the recipient of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund Excellence in Community Service Award.

Based on his leadership on the educational, political and economic advancement of the Latino community, Salgado was named one of 24 MacArthur Fellows in 2015. Funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the so-called “genius grants” award each recipient $625,000, paid over five years with no strings attached, as an investment in the recipient’s originality, insight and potential. MacArthur Fellows are recognized for their extraordinary originality and dedication in their individual creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction.

Salgado is a 1991 graduate of Illinois Wesleyan with a major in economics. He won a graduate fellowship to study at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, where he earned a master’s degree in urban planning. Illinois Wesleyan granted Salgado an honorary doctor of humane letters degree at Commencement in 2013.

Illinois Wesleyan’s Student Senate sponsors the “Do Good” speaker series. The “Do Good” title refers to President Minor Myers, Jr., who concluded each Commencement ceremony admonishing graduates to “go forth in the world and do well, but more importantly, do good.”

Salgado’s presentation, entitled “The World Needs You,” will be held in the Hansen Student Center and is free and open to the public. It is part of the events and activities surrounding the inauguration of President Eric Jensen on April 2. 

NIOTBN's Becker Named Peace Prize Recipient

Kelley Becker, associate minister with Bloomington First Christian Church and chairman of the Not In Our Town: Bloomington/Normal Faith and Outreach Subcommittee, is 2016 recipient of the Grabill-Homan Community Peace Prize.

Becker will honored at an April 24 awards reception.

The Grabill-Homan Community Peace Prize recognizes individual achievements in peacemaking, leadership, community service, and activism. The award recipient will be presented with a plaque at a reception in the spring of 2016, and a gift of $250 will be made to an established program or scholarship at ISU selected by the recipient.

The prize is named for Joseph L. Grabill and Gerlof D. Homan, Illinois State University emeritus professors of history, who helped establish the interdisciplinary Peace and Conflict Resolution Studies Program.

Becker helps oversee an outreach program that has included FCC’s now 17-year-old, multi-church Westside Block Party and construction and promotion of the Tiny House, a modular mini-home that could prove a key solution in transitioning people who currently are homeless into a socially and economically sustainable life. She has reached out to local people who are homeless on a personal level as well as through the church, and helped communicate with local police authorities and highlight the plight of homeless persons following last spring’s eviction of individuals from an outdoor encampment on Bloomington’s Market Street.

Becker has traveled to the U.S.-Mexico border, witnessed federal deportation “show trials” in the Southwest, and through photos, stories, and sermons helped illuminate complex issues of immigration, border security, and human rights. At a time when events in Ferguson, Baltimore, and Chicago underline concerns about police-community relations particularly along racial lines, Becker continues to communicate regularly with law enforcement officials, to affect greater understanding of community needs and police perceptions.

In the pulpit and in the community, she has worked for inclusivity of the LGBT community – she helped organize First Christian’s new One and All progressive service, which provides a worship opportunity for those who may not have felt welcome or accepted at other area churches.

Becker's Faith and Outreach Subcommittee is devoted to fostering interfaith understanding and aiding area churches in efforts to address bigotry and attain social justice for all Twin Citians. She played a key role with local Jewish and Islamic leaders in a December interfaith community solidarity event at the Old Courthouse in downtown Bloomington aimed at countering anti-Islamic sentiments.

New Exhibit Studies Origins of McLean County Residents

 McLean County Museum of History is preparing to unveil the first of five new exhibit galleries, ushering in a new era for how we connect visitors and students in particular, to local history

Challenges, Choices, & Change, a core part of the museum’s ongoing $3 million campaign is scheduled to open on the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, Monday, January 18.

Visitors will be able to explore new inter-actives , local artifacts and imagery, digital technology featuring hands-on learning activities that will answer the questions: Who are the people who have made McLean County their home? Where did they come from and how did they travel to get here? What were their experiences like when they arrived?

From the arrival of native people to the immigration of Asian Indians and Latinos in the late 20th century, the new exhibit looks at the experiences of individuals and families from all over the world who came to make McLean County their home.

The gran opening will begin with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 10: 30 a.m., followed by a special presentation on the project. Refreshments will be served after the program.

The new gallery is the culmination of the work of Dr. Gina Hunter, Illinois State University associate professor of Anthropology and Sociology, Museum curator, Susan Hartzold, and staff.

ISU Latin@ Alumni Network Planning for 2016

As the new year kicks off, join the  Illinois State University Latin@ Alumni Network (LAN) in Chicago at the Winter Social on Saturday, January 30.  Those interested in volunteer opportunities and helping to plan Homecoming events for LAN can also attend the January meeting before the social begins. LAN will recap the past year and discuss the future direction for 2016.

When: 11 a.m., Saturday, January 30
Where: Illinois State University Chicago Alumni Office, 150 North Michigan Avenue, Chicago

Alums are also encouraged to make their annual tax-deductible gift of $50 or more to LAN before the meeting. The fundraising year begins July 1 and ends June 30. This gift provides support to LAN scholarships and also offers graduates the right to full participation through discussion and a vote in the decisionmaking process.

Advanced registration is required. A call-in option is available for the meeting, but registration is still required. This will be a potluck, so LAN is asking everyone to bring a dish to share too!

Register by January 26 at or by contacting Alumni Relations at (309) 438-2586(309) 438-2586 or (800) 366-4478(800) 366-4478 FREE.

Donations Sought to Help Language School Students

Donations are now being accepted for the Cuca Avila Scholarship Fund which has been set up by Conexiones Latinas, Illinois Wesleyan University, and the Avila Family to help local students and families in need who want to attend Spanish Saturday School at the IWU Language School for Kids and cannot cover the financial cost. You can help a student learn or retain their Spanish by donating to Conexiones Latinas at the following levels:

Books: $30
Half Scholarship: $135
Full Scholarship: $300

If you want to help, visit…/ and donate directly through our fiscal agent Illinois Prairie Community Foundation (mark it as Conexiones Latinas Fund: Cuca Avila).

The IWU Language School for Kids offers Spanish classes for children Pre-K to sixth grade on Saturdays, January 16 through April 2, 2016. Classes are from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. at the Language Resource Center in Buck Memorial Library, 1111 N. East St., on the IWU campus.

Filling a void not provided by local schools, the Spanish Saturday School aims to promote early second language acquisition and retention by children who want to learn Spanish. Local children ages 4.5 to 12 have the opportunity to learn Spanish and gain knowledge of the rich cultural traditions of Spanish-speaking cultures in a university setting every week.

Ohio State Historian to Wrap Up ISU Heritage Month Events

Latino Heritage Month will wrap up November 11 with a talk by author Lilia Fernandez on Latinos living in Chicago.

Author of Brown in the Windy City: Mexicans and Puerto Ricans in Postwar Chicago Lilia Fernandez will give a talk titled “Was the City Black and White? A History of Latinos in Mid-Century Chicago” at 6:30 p.m., Wednesday, November 11, in Stevenson Hall, room 101.

Fernandez of The Ohio State University Department of History, will share research from her new book and speak on the presence of Latinos in mid-20th century Chicago, the dynamics they witnessed, the social change they championed, and the way they came to understand their place in the black and white metropolis.

The event is sponsored by the Latin American and Latino/a Studies Program and the Department of History.

More information on Latino Heritage Month can be found at

Dietz Sees ISU to Increased Latino, African-American Numbers

Noelle McGee

Champaign News-Gazette

Three weeks ago, Illinois State University Student Trustee Connor Joyce felt a sense of deja vu while talking with an alumnus who was on campus for homecoming weekend.

The alumnus recounted he was tailgating when a man in Redbirds attire approached him, shook his hand and struck up a conversation. During their chat, he asked the man if he worked for the university.

"Yes. I'm Larry Dietz, the university president," the man answered cheerfully.

"The guy was blown away," Joyce recalled, adding the alumnus probably assumed he was talking to a staffer on the welcoming committee or someone enjoying the tailgate. "He couldn't believe the president of the university would be walking around ... shaking hands with everybody."

"I wasn't surprised," continued Joyce, who knew how personable Dietz is and how much he enjoys meeting people. "I would only expect that of President Dietz. At the same time, I was proud to hear that. It's just an example of the great institution we have, and how this school and its top administrator are open and approachable and focused on people ... and giving them a great experience here."

Dietz's appointment as Illinois State's 19th president in March 2014 came at a low point in the history of the state's oldest public university, according to board Chairman Rocky Donahue.

But in the 20 months he's been at the helm, Donahue said Dietz not only restored trust and confidence in the school's leadership, which took a hit under his predecessor Timothy Flanagan's 7-month tenure, but also has "continued the momentum that was built under previous administrations.

Under Dietz' watch:

— "US News & World Report" ranked ISU the 79th best public university in the nation, up from 81 in 2014.

— The school was ranked fifth in the Midwest Best Bang for the Buck category of the Washington Monthly's book, "The Other College Guide: A Road Map for the Right School for You," based on its affordability, financial aid, low student debt and high graduation rates.

— It was named a "Great College to Work For" according to survey by "The Chronicle of Higher Education" in the category of teaching environment, which looks at innovative and high-quality teaching.

— ISU has many nationally ranked sports teams, and more than 350 registered student organizations to be involved in.

— The 2015 freshman enrollment marked a 26-year high with 3,632 students.

— Total enrollment increased 1 percent over last fall. There was an 8 percent increase in the number of Hispanic students and a 6 percent increase in African-American students, and one-fifth of the student population comes from traditionally underrepresented groups.

— The school raised $36.8 million in private funds, breaking its private fundraising record for a second straight year and doubling last year's amount of $19.5 million. The gifts mostly support scholarships and academic programs.

"We're in a good place now," Donahue continued, pointing to ISU's ranking as one of the top public universities in the U.S. and a recent College Scorecard report highlighting the school's 71 percent graduation rate, 82 percent freshman retention rate and 2.8 percent student loan default rate, all much better than the national averages.

"For students ... our competition is the University of Illinois, Missouri, Wisconsin. We're in that tier now. That's a result of a lot of hard work and certainly Larry Dietz as well. ... There's a lot of confidence in the university from the community — the alumni, students, parents, faculty, staff — now. I can't say everyone's happy with everything. But everyone says we have the right person at the helm, and they have confidence in him,"

Current and past trustees, faculty and staff, students and alumni say that has a lot to do with Dietz's personality. He's accessible, open and willing to listen, they said. He's also humble, down to earth and has a genuine compassion for students and desire to see them succeed.

"One thing that really struck me about Larry was his human quality and ability to relate to people," said Judge Michael McCuskey, who chaired the board when Dietz came to ISU as vice president of student affairs and later was promoted to the top job. McCuskey has since stepped down as a trustee.

"In everything that Larry does, he goes the extra mile for students," McCuskey said, recalling how in his previous position he handled a student's suicide, reaching out to the parents and presenting them with a diploma in their son's honor and leading the Redbirds community in the grieving process. "I think that's what a president should do — be concerned about students first because they are who we're here to serve. Of course, that's been his passion for over 40 years — serving students."

While Dietz was thrust into the presidency suddenly and unexpectedly after the board and Flanagan decided to part ways, he said he was ready to take the reins due in large part to his four decades in higher education, serving as an administrative staffer, leader and professor.

"It was a good fit for me, and I believed in the values of our 'Educating Illinois' strategic plan," said Dietz, who sees ISU's mission as "being the premier undergraduate university in the state ... in terms of both our academic programs and co-curricular offerings with selective, high-quality graduate programs. That's the lane we swim in ... and within our lane we want to have the most efficient stroke and swim faster than anyone else in the state."

Dietz credits his parents, Herman and Helen Dietz, and his upbringing on a 160-acre dairy farm outside of DeSoto, in Southern Illinois, for shaping his work ethic, values and character traits.

His great-grandfather homesteaded the farm in 1863, and his brother, Clifford Dietz, owned it until his death in September. Today, two nieces and three grandnieces live there, and he visits when he can. As a boy, Dietz rose at 4:30 each morning to help milk cows and feed chickens and hogs before eating a quick breakfast and taking a long bus ride to school. There were more chores to do after school — before dinner and homework.

"You learn a lot about hard work and responsibility," said Dietz, who also developed a business acumen and entrepreneurial spirit on the farm.

He also learned to get through challenging times by keeping a positive attitude, not dwelling on things he couldn't control, having faith and leaning on family and friends for support.

Dietz attended DeSoto Elementary School, where his mother taught for years and his father served on the school board.

"There aren't many of you around, so you got to do a lot of different things," Dietz said with a laugh, adding his class consisted of nine girls and seven boys, many of whom still keep in touch. "I think I played on every sports team."

Dietz enjoyed school and doing homework. He also was a voracious reader. While there wasn't a lot of money for books, he devoured his Scholastic "Weekly Reader" magazine that he got at school.

"It kind of expanded my horizons and told me about other places in the world and other things that were happening outside my family farm, DeSoto and Jackson County."

Finding his calling

After graduating from Carbondale Community High School, Dietz studied political science at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. He had hoped to attend law school, but a lack of finances led him to a job teaching government at his old high school that summer. When the job was eliminated in the fall, he returned to the farm to help bring in the harvest and applied for various jobs. One offer was for a financial aid adviser at Southern.

"I knew something about scholarships ... and not having a lot of money. And other people had helped me along when I was a student, so I thought this might be a good fit," Dietz recalled.

After two years of working in the financial aid office and on a master's degree in higher education and student personnel, Dietz took on more responsibility in the financial aid division at Iowa State University. He worked there for 13 years, finished his master's program and earned a doctorate degree in higher education administration.

In Ames, he had an opportunity to work as the assistant to the vice president for student affairs.

"That really opened my eyes to some of the other units within the university," Dietz said. "I felt a terrific desire to work in a capacity to help other students and watch them grow and develop."

Dietz went on to serve at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, where he held various leadership positions including vice chancellor for Student Affairs and Enrollment Management, and at his alma mater, where he was vice chancellor for student affairs, special assistant to the chancellor and a tenured associate professor in educational administration and higher education.

Then in 2011 he came to Illinois State, which had "a stellar" reputation and gave him a chance to work with then-President Al Bowman, who was well-respected and beloved by the Redbird Community.

"He and I got along famously. I thought I would finish my career working for him."

But after 10 years at the helm, Bowman retired in 2013. Dietz hoped to succeed him but came up short in the lengthy, national search.

"No one really likes to be second," Dietz said, admitting he felt some professional and personal disappointment. But, he said he never thought about bailing on ISU to seek out another university president or chancellor's position.

"I tell our students that leadership is about stepping up and stepping out. It's not about getting what you want all of the time. I needed to model that myself," said Dietz, who had made a commitment to help the university and his division through the leadership transition. "I was committed to being the best VP I could be regardless of who was sitting in the president's chair."

Unfortunately, the transition didn't go smoothly, officials recalled. Flanagan drew criticism for not being responsive or taking advantage of opportunities to interact with students, among other things. The final straw was when he came under investigation for a confrontation with the then-superintendent of grounds over the unauthorized removal of decorative lights at the university-owned president's house.

After Flanagan stepped down, Dietz had to deal with the fallout, including answering why Flanagan walked away with a $480,418 check, negotiated under his resignation agreement — and run the university, which enrolls more than 20,700 students and employs about 3,500, making it McLean County's second-largest employer behind State Farm.

"I'm overall, a very positive guy, and I really do believe we shouldn't spend a lot time on things we can't control," Dietz said on his approach to stemming the controversy and moving forward. "What was history was history. I was hired to look to the future, and that's what I planned to do ... and what I encouraged other people to do. ... We've had great support from the community, from the towns of Normal and Bloomington.

"There's a lot of people who not only want us to succeed, but be excellent," continued Dietz, who wasted no time moving down the hall to the president's office in Hovey Hall and getting to work on filling cabinet positions, increasing diversity and civic engagement, planning the $32.9 million Bone Student Center revitalization project and other capital improvements, launching the "Redbird Scholar" biannual publication showcasing the university's research, scholarship and creative projects, as well as day-to-day operations.

University leaders said they have enjoyed working with Dietz in his new role.

"He has shown great leadership with respect to our budget and ... responding to the impasse at the state level. He has also initiated or bolstered campus-wide initiatives regard to international curriculum and global learning ... and fostering a campus climate that will be more and more inclusive of diversity in our student body and faculty/staff ranks," Susan Kalter, chairwoman of the Academic Senate, wrote in an email.

The 62-member body shares governance with the president in matters regarding academic policy. Officials boast ISU's model has one of the highest student representations with roughly a third of its members being students.

"I've found him to be not only open to shared governance but intensely interested in and engaged in listening to disparate voices on the Senate and elsewhere. He seems to thoroughly enjoy the debates that we have and gives generously of his time and energy in various meetings with faculty, students and staff," Kalter continued of Dietz, who meets with the group every two weeks and with the executive committee in the off weeks to plan the agenda.

"If I have an issue, he's very open to meeting, depending on his schedule," student body President Ryan Powers said, adding the president's calm, friendly and down-to-earth demeanor makes many students feel welcome and comfortable bringing him their concerns or ideas.

"He gives everyone in the room a chance to have a voice and feel like they're being heard," Student Trustee Joyce agreed. "You know that regardless of whether or not he agrees with you, he's going to value your opinion."

"His goal is always to work as a collaborator so we can create an environment where everyone is engaged and focused on student success and a commitment to excellence," said Janet Krejci, vice president for academic affairs and provost. "And one thing he is always saying is the largest room anyone will ever be in is the room for improvement. We'll always be focused on doing what we can to be better. He's very calm and very focused on getting us to be the best we can be and always open to getting better."

Chief of Staff Jay Groves called Dietz an innovator. For example, he said, ISU is already recognized as a national model for engagement education and activity, but the president didn't want it to rest on its laurels, It was his idea to launch a Center for Civic Engagement to help coordinate programs throughout campus and catalog them and serve as a clearinghouse of information for the university and beyond.

"We want to produce folks that are known in their field. But it's also incumbent upon us to graduate solid citizens ... who not only have good jobs but are good community members who will run for office and be leaders in the communities in which they live and work. That's really our mantra," Dietz said.

Rough road ahead

Dietz said the state budget impasse has been, by far, his biggest challenge in office. He's been an integral part of the full-court press on Gov. Rauner and the Legislature by the nine public universities, led by UI President Timothy Killeen, to adopt a FY2016 budget and restore the millions of dollars in funding to higher education that would be cut under Rauner's plan.

When he hasn't been in Springfield or meeting with lawmakers on Eastern Illinois University's campus, he has been meeting with faculty and staff councils, campus groups and students to reassure them that Illinois State remains stable and the crisis hasn't reduced classes, research or other scholarly activity yet.

"We've been in the business of providing a quality education for years, and we're going to continue to stay in business," Dietz said, adding the university's strong enrollment and healthy reserves have allowed it to continue providing tuition waivers to 680 veterans, National Guard members and special education students and Monetary Award Program grants to more than 4,000 income-eligible students this year.

In October, trustees approved the university's FY2016 operating budget of $422.25 million, reflecting a $7.4 million, or 10 percent, decrease in state appropriations from the previous fiscal year. Because of the funding uncertainty, the university has placed a freeze on administrative hiring and eliminated some positions and deferred millions in renovations and maintenance projects and equipment purchases.

Killeen said the silver lining in the budget impasse has been that the relationships between the nine public university presidents has been strengthened. They meet weekly by phone or in person before Illinois Board of Higher Education meetings "to advocate for the collective best interests of our campuses and the 200,000 students that we serve."

"President Dietz's experience and insights have been invaluable to our efforts, particularly for those of us who are still relatively new to Illinois," said the Welsh-born Killeen, who came to Illinois from State University of New York's Research Foundation. "He grew up here, he earned his undergraduate degree here, and he has spent nearly half of his 40-plus years in higher education here."

Killeen called Dietz, who currently convenes the Illinois Public Universities Presidents and Chancellors Group, a consensus builder "who is always willing to share his talents to help guide us forward and make our case that investing in higher education is an investment in Illinois' future.

"His decades of knowledge, his commitment to excellence, his roll-up-your-sleeves work ethic and his student-centered focus are making a difference not just at ISU, but for public higher education in Illinois as a whole."

'Go Redbirds!'

Dietz briefly addressed the budget stalemate at a presentation to 700 high school students — mainly from Chicago and St. Louis and the surrounding suburbs — who were on campus a week ago as part of the I Can Do ISU program, aimed at recruiting prospective students from traditionally underrepresented groups.

Cedar Ridge Students Celebrate Hispanic Heritage

Julie Evelsizer

The Pantagraph

Brandy Aguirre Cruz went to school Friday wearing a top hat, neck tie and green face paint.

“I have the part of the tadpole in our play,” said 8-year-old Cruz, a third grader at Cedar Ridge Elementary School in Bloomington.

Cruz and her classmates performed a play in Spanish based on the popular Colombian fairy tale, "Rin Rin the Tadpole," to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month in October.

Students in the bilingual program at Cedar Ridge studied Spanish-speaking countries and then presented songs, plays and art to fellow students and visiting parents.

Cruz and her classmates studied the country of Colombia.

“I learned about the animals, money and authors,” said Cruz, whose family is Guatemalan.

“This is the home school for most of our kids, but some students are brought here from other local schools for the bilingual program,” said Leslie Romagnoli, English Second Language program coordinator for Unit 5 schools.

Unit 5's ESL program helps bilingual students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade whose first language is not English. Cedar Ridge has the highest number of Spanish-speaking students.

Over the summer, Romagnoli met with Cedar Ridge teachers to map out curriculum on cultural pieces for Spanish-speaking countries. Teachers will continue to focus on the countries throughout the semester.

“The students are excited to share their presentations with their parents and classmates,” said Romagnoli.

Seven-year-old Gael Sanchez Navarro learned about El Salvador in his second grade class. He and his classmates presented facts in Spanish to the crowd and played sacabuche instruments made from cups, leather and pencils.

“I talked about volcanoes in El Salvador,” Navarro said in clear English after the presentation. He started to explain more, but got stuck on a few tough English words. Romagnoli hopped in to help.

“There are things in El Salvador similar to ski lifts that take people up the sides of the volcanoes,” she translated. Navarro nodded.

In another room, a bilingual first grade class lined up to sing a about Guatemala. After the song, they each gave a fact about the country in English. As they were finished, they filed out of the room, but not before 6-year-old Antony Ramierez could dart into the crowd of visiting parents to give his dad a hug.

“I’m glad they have this activity at his school,” said his dad, Adrian Ramirez of Bloomington. “Our family is from Mexico and I don’t want him to forget his country and where we came from.”