Ciudadanía 2012

Citizenship Workshop at Mujeres Latinas en Acción where volunteers assist legal permanent residents on the citizenship application process.

I have a very hazy memory of my parents becoming United States citizens since it happened when I was pretty young.  What is easy to recall is the feeling that it was something big and that they worked hard towards accomplishing.  My mother recounted the nerve wrecking experience of preparing and taking her citizenship test.

I don’t know if anyone helped my parents navigate that path but I do remember their oath ceremonies where as big a deal as school graduations and they took days off work to attend.  Afterward they both  beamed with satisfaction and pride–perhaps a sense of relief. And once they had this social capital they paid it forward, I often heard my mom pointing friends–that like her were also immigrants–toward  resources and offering much needed encouragement on obtaining their ciudadanía.

According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website in the last decade 6.8 million individuals became U.S. citizens.  With over 800,000 new citizens in 2000 that number dropped by almost half by 2003 and didn’t see a significant increase until 2008 at over one million.  That is an average of 680,000 new U.S. citizens per year that gain the ability to fully participate in the country they now call home and that can begin flexing their voting muscle. It was my parents who modeled this civic duty and by the time I turned 18 I understood the value of registering and showing up to vote on election day.

So when Maria León, Latina Leadership Coordinator at Mujeres Latinas en Acción recently told me about an opportunity to train to assist legal permanent residents fill out their applications for citizenship I didn’t have to think too much about it–its definitely something I want to do.

Below is information on the training workshop and dates that the citizenship workshops will take place in 2012.

When:  Wednesday, January 18th from 6pm to 9pm
Where:  Instituto del Progreso Latino,
2520 S. Western Ave.
If you are interested in participating contact Maria Leon at

All workshops take place Saturdays from 9 am – 1 pm but volunteers usually stay until 2 pm if the turnout is great.

January 21 @ Daley College, 7500 South Pulaski
February 25 @ Benito Juarez High School,
1450-1510 W. Cermak Road  (Parking is on 21st and Loomis)
March 10 @
Benito Juarez High School, 1450-1510 W. Cermak Road (Parking is on 21st and Loomis)
March 24 @ Location TBD
May 12 @ Location TBD
June 23 @ Location TBD

And as Maria says, “In the spirit of giving back: feel free to spread the word.”

This project is supported by the Local Reporting Awards, The Chicago Community Trust , Community News Matter initiative.  Get the full scoop on The Reportera Series here.


11.30.11 Wordless Wednesday

Kansas City: Respite in the Heartland


The invitation arrived a few months back. Diana and I were invited to read as part of a Dia de los Muertos event at the Writers Place in Kansas City, Missouri. It was the perfect excuse for my favorite mode of travel—a road trip!

On the morning we left Diana bought bacon buns from the Bridgeport Bakery to jump-start our journey with a savory snack. I was determined to keep the 500 mile stretch of Midwest inter-state interesting with my favorite Pandora stations. We occasionally pulled over to obscure rural towns and rest-stops for bathroom breaks and to gas-up the car. Nine hours later we were welcomed into the lovely home of Kansas City resident and founding member of the Latino Writers Collective Xanath Caraza. It was the beginning of a charming weekend and plenty of wonderful discoveries about a city that up until very recently I knew too little about.

This brief get-away also served as a creative pilgrimage with plenty of delightful discoveries that left me inspired–they are as follows:

The Writers Place I’m told that this literary community center was founded by a Latina, and the mansion it calls home was once a brothel, later an evangelical church and now the writers that frequent the spot suggest there is a ghost.

The Latino Writers Collective is a fierce group of Kansas City writers, “they hold bi-weekly meetings and critiques, collaborating to hone and polish the work of its members for publication.” To date they have published two anthologies: Primera Pagina: Poetry from the Latino Heartland and Cuentos del Centro: Stories from the Latino Heartland. Proyecto Latina has been lucky enough to feature two of its members: Linda Rodriguez (Oct. 2010) and Xanath Caraza (April 2011).  It was an honor to have the opportunity to read with them in Kansas City.

The Plaza is a posh entertainment district full of Spanish inspired architectural eye-candy.  We squeezed in some window shopping and Diana splurged on cookie cutters in the shape of a hummingbird and a daschund. At the coffee shop I was pleasantly surprised that the barista that prepared my pumpkin latte pronounced my name correctly.

Dolores Huerta was not new to me, but it was the first time I got to hear her speak. I was pretty star-struck but I managed to ask if she would take a photo with me.

Mattie Rhodes Art Gallery had an impressive number of altars, for their Day of the Dead exhibit, squeezed into their storefront space. One interactive ofrenda titled Mujeres Poderosas allowed Diana and I to add our mothers names. It was in this space that I encountered a French Bulldog named Diego, with the same frog eyes as his name sake, a bow-tie collection and the sweetest temperament.

The Nelson-Atkins Museum features a sculpture garden with a 56 foot metal tree and a scattering of giant shuttle cocks.  Our visit was short but it packed a punch: we viewed an exhibit of prints by Jose Guadalupe Posada and we saw the Day of the Dead community ofrenda that our friend Xanath had a hand in creating–you can listen to a piece on the making of this ofrenda here.

Rotary Cheese Graters You know, the darnest things will impress me. Xanath hosted us to breakfast and dinner, and when we asked if we could help it was this kitchen gadget that kept me entertained–she joked that it was part of her husband’s dowry. There were other gastronomic indulgences in Kansas City: A pint of craft beer from Boulevard, a local brewery and the signature burnt ends bbq brisket for dinner. How about a scoop of goatcheese and fig flavor ice cream? Diana, Xanath and I vowed to write odes to it.

10.17.11: Spotlight on multi-media maven Stephanie Manriquez

photo credit: Thelma Uranga

Sometimes we like to go “backstage” and scout out the Latina talent in the wings–the people with the skills to make those in the spotlight shine a little brighter.  These are the shyer counterparts to limelight lovers and often the work they do is equally amazing and just as important.  We are pretty excited to hear that Stephanie Manriquez, the Proyecto Latina feature in October will be arriving with a multi-media presentation of her work.  Our reading series continues to tour the south side and we are thrilled to be returning to  the Carlos and Dominguez Fine Arts Gallery.  As always the Chisme Box will be taking your confessional and gossipy bits.  We want to know what you’ve been working on so make sure to ask about Open mic sign-up if you plan to participate.

Monday, October 17, 2011 @ 7 p.m.

Carlos & Dominguez Fine Arts Gallery
1538 W. Cullerton
Chicago, Il 60608

Stephanie Manriquez is a writer and an independent radio producer, a cultural worker and social activist.  A native of Mexico City  where she also obtained a degree in Marketing from the Instituto Politécnico Nacional at the age of sixteen.  In 2001 she moved to the Chicago and began her work with public radio— during her tenure at Radio Arte, WRTE Chicago, she participated in programs such as Homofrecuencia ultimately becoming a co-producer, Chronicles of an Announced Interview and Polyforum —a program dedicated to the local arts scene and recognized for its original direction and production

While working at Radio Arte, Stephanie satisfied her quest for shedding light on social justice issues that affect the Latino communities such as the anti-immigrant movement here in the United States.

Due to a lack of contemporary spaces within the Latino communities in Chicago and in conjuction with other independent artists she decided to organize the first Festival of Latino Electronic Music in 2007.  This summer marked its 4th anniversary with over 13 Latin American artists of international stature that imparted workshops and conducted discussions on digital,  experimental and audiovisual art plus presented electronic music of different genres.

She has participated with audio pieces and/or audio documentaries at many sites such as the National Museum of Mexican Art, Pilsen Open Studios and in a compilation of audio work from CONACULTA Chihuahua with her piece titled, Tribute to Juarez Women.

Currently she collaborates with several publications such as El Extra Newspaper, Chi-remezcla, Pilsen Portal and Revista Contratiempo. As part of her collaboration with Contratiempo (2008) and as member of their editorial team (2010), she sharpens her focus on issues of the Pilsen community, its art and its people.

Reportera Series: seeking suicide survivors

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention website, “Each year over 34,000 people in the United States die by suicide — the devastated family and friends they leave behind are known as “survivors.”  Sunday, September 4th was the beginning of  National Suicide Prevention Week, it also marked the 6th month since my mother passed and I became a suicide survivor.

I have learned so much in the half-year since I lost my mother–about the resilience within me, about the love in others and about the stigma of suicide.  A while back we posted information about a study that found that Latina teens are at high risk for suicide, it was a report that many other media outlets reported on.  At the time I was alarmed by the findings but didn’t think it was something that I needed to worry about–it was not something that I felt could impact me.

I am sharing this very personal detail because I will be reporting on suicide and its impact on the Latino community as part of our Reportera Series.  After some preliminary research and taking media guidelines for adequate reporting on suicide into consideration its become clear what my focus needs to be: I am looking to speak to other Latin@s that are also suicide survivors.  If you are willing to share your story with me, please email me at

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline toll-free number, 1-800-273-TALK (273-8255), which is available 24/7, can be used anywhere in the United States, and connects the caller to a certified crisis center near where the call is placed.  More information can be found on the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline website: