Maria Hinojosa On Media & Mentorship – Interview Part 2

Journalist Maria Hinojosa

Last month, journalist Maria Hinojosa was generous enough with her time to let us interview her about being a Latina in media. In case you missed the first part of her interview, you can still read the post Meet Media Maker Maria Hinojosa on our site.

At some point, you may have heard or seen Maria on National Public Radio’s Latino USA, CNN or PBS Frontline.  I am excited to share this interview with you is because Maria is a media trailblazer opening doors for the next generation of Latinas in media.

A decade ago, if you had asked me to name Latinas in Chicago media I would probably have shrugged and not have been able to name any. Today, I’m happy to say that I’m noticing more Latinas in media telling stories using a variety of platforms ranging from print, radio to blogging. This week we are happy share part two of our interview with Maria Hinojosa. If you enjoy the interview let us know or please share it to your networks on Facebook, Twitter or Linkedin.

 

DP: What was the moment you realized you were going to be a journalist?

MH: I think it was when I got hired at National Public Radio in 1985 and being the first Latina hired to work at a network. Probably six months into that when I realized I’m at these editorial meetings and I’m coming up with ideas and people like what I’m saying and I’m producing this stuff yeah I think I can do this and that really was the moment when I said I need to have my own voice because at the point I was producing for other people and when I realized I wanted to be a journalist and could be I also Around that time when I realized I needed to own my own voice and tell my own stories.

DP: What are your tips for emerging Latinas in media?

MH: They should trust their voices, not give up and find their elders and mentors because they will need them but more than anything. I want them to honor and hold on to their experience as Americans, immigrants, and Latinas because this is in fact one of these crucial moments where how we define ourselves and who defines us is so important.  I also want them to keep on believing that they have the power, words and tools to define themselves and to tell these stories.

DP: What role has mentorship played in your life and how has it impacted you?

MH: Well I wouldn’t say I’ve had an actual mentor. Maybe, I wish I would have. I didn’t find the right person to be a “mentor.” What I do have are elders, some are Latinas and some aren’t, who have come before me and who I turn to for support. I take very seriously the notion of what a mentor is and the role that requires and consistency and I haven’t really had that officially.  What I’ve had is “sistahs” who’ve been there for me and who are there to pick me up when times are bad and who allow me to understand historical context.

Without them I could not do it there’s no doubt about that because there are lots of ups and lots of downs. You have to have people who have a cool head and see the forest through the woods. I’m a little jealous of younger women who can actually have mentors because there wasn’t anyone doing this for me.  I was the first Latina at NPR, CNN and just five years ago the first Latina correspondent on PBS and just recently the first Latina to anchor Frontline. Even now, I’m still trying to break through because there haven’t been many Latinas who I could turn to and say guide the way. This is why I take the role of mentoring so seriously and imparting information and experience to young Latinas as often and authentically as I can.

DP: What trends are you seeing in terms of women and media?

MH: I think it’s another one of these moments where there is struggle around media because more women are stepping forward in the mainstream media or outside of the mainstream media pushing to have these stories told. We are kind of building our own space both within the mainstream media and outside of it. The reason why I sound hesitant, is because while we are doing amazing things like websites and information but at the same time we are still in the process of this shift where more of the mainstream media needs to understand that reporting on gender issues really matters but I don’t think a lot of the mainstream media sees it that way.  Like with Latinos we are in the same kind of space it’s a struggle right now it’s not an easy one and there is resistance because everything in our country right now is changing.

DP: Do you think Latinos continue to be invisible in media, politics and different sectors despite the increase in population released by the U.S. Census?

MH: Unfortunately yes, but that is our challenge for the next decade. It’s really important to understand at what point do we stop being invisible? I was giving a speech to educators and we were at a downtown hotel at a breakfast and I said to them “you know the people you walked by as they cleaned your room or served us breakfast and you didn’t really look at them, well all of their kids are the ones going to your community colleges so actually you really need to see them and need to talk to them and understand who they are because they are here. There’s that part of it and I think the other part of it is Latinos themselves need have to be willing themselves to see other Latinos and they have to be able to put other Latinos forward and point out the ones that are invisible and not be afraid to say those kinds of things.

DP: Final thoughts you would like to share?

MH: We really have to support each other as Latinas and find ways to do it in small or big ways because we really need each other. I  also think that we have to be the spirit of hope because we have a tendency to be very blue but what we don’t’ recognize is that we can also be very hopeful and joyous. in the midst of the struggle coming in the next decade we must find the joy because it’s something we should be happily adding to the mix of this country.

Listen to Maria Hinojosa on National Public Radio’s Latino USA

Watch Maria Hinojosa on One-on-One

Watch Maria’s Hinojosa’s Lost In Detention

Follow Maria on Twitter @Maria_Hinojosa

Keep the conversation going and tell us what you thought of this interview with Maria by posting in the comments section.

This project is supported by the Local Reporting Awards

La Buena Vibra: Building community with alternative medicine

“We are all healers. We all have it in us and it comes from the divine or whatever you want to call it we are all vessels for healing.” -Isabel Garcia, Reiki Master Teacher,RMT

Isabel Garcia, Reiki Master Teacher,RMT

When I first heard about the meditation circle it intrigued me just like the Tibetan Buddhist temple near my home.  I’ve always been too shy to go in, but sometimes, when I walk by I peek in and everyone is in meditation, chanting or banging on a brass bell. There is a giant statue of a green Buddha smiling tranquilly at me. I’ve always liked the idea of meditation but haven’t done it because I have trouble sitting still. It wasn’t until I read Eat, Pray, Love and decided to explore the Sri Gura Gita that was mentioned in the book. I was so curious about it I even downloaded the English PDF version of the Sri Gura Gita. When I got the Facebook event invite I hesitated because I wasn’t sure how I felt about meditating with other people. I decided to go and experience first hand the  meditation circle and if others could benefit from it.

Meditation Circle
We meet at Biblioteca Popular, an independent bookstore in Pilsen, I plop down on  a chair, notice that in the center of the room there is a small table with a picture of Green Tara, known as the Buddha of enlightened activity, and  incense burning.

“The reason I come is because I felt the need to start connecting to other people who share similar beliefs and prayers,” says Jenine Arteaga, a Humboldt Park resident, that makes the trek to participate.  ”It’s a step forward in my spiritual path. It definitely builds community and allows us to connect with people from different parts of the city.  It’s a good spiritual community to be part of.” 

The meditation circle is organized and led by Isabel Garcia a certified Reiki healer. Reiki is a form of energy healing from Japan. “Rei” means spirit and “ki” means energy and translates to universal life energy. Isabel describes energy healing as spiritual energy that comes from a life force that you breathe in and is amplified. 
“Western medicine has a place and having been sick with uterine polyps  I understand its place and benefited from it, however, western medicine only addresses the physical,” says Isabel. According to an article published in 2011 in My Health News Daily more Americans with limited access to healthcare are turning to complimentary and alternative medicine (CAM).  “While claims made by CAM treatment providers about their benefits can sound promising, we do not know how safe many CAM treatments are or how well they work,” according to the National Institutes of Health.

However, benefits of mediation include:  Stress relief, improved concentration, awareness of posture and breathing, reduced anxiety, relaxed nervous system, decreased muscle tension, increased productivity, and released  emotional toxins. So, if you are participating in meditation and energy healing should you stop going to your doctor? Isabel gets this question a lot. The answer is no. You need to keep seeing your doctor to monitor your health. “Spiritual energy healing is going to change your vibration only and replace negative energy with healing energy,” says Isabel.

Mantras

The mantras are chanted in the ancient Sanskrit language originating in India and is believed to be the language of energy. Each mantra is associated with the each chakra of the body. We begin our first chant dedicated to Ghanesh a deity worshipped in Hindu sects of India and Nepal. My tongue stumbles over the chant. Everyone is in deep meditation,  I squirm in my chair trying to focus and keep up with the chant.

Om Tat Savitur Varenyam

Bhargo Devasya Dhimahi

Dhiyo Yonaha Prachodayat…

“Letters of Sankrit light up different parts of our chakras and energy shifts when you chant,” says Isabel. Her favorite chant is the Gaya Tri because it seemed to keep being mentioned in meditation books and she has chanted it ever since. In a nutshell, the chant itself means enlightment of yourself and all beings. We chant this for a really long time until my chattering-monkey mind quiets and I  find myself in a focused and relaxed state.

prayer beads

As we chant, I notice that some people have what looks like rosaries. After the meditation session, I inquire about them and discover they are Mala prayer beads. In meditation the prayer beads are used as a healing tool and help you keep count of your mantras with 108 beads. The large bead, known as the Meru, absorbs the energy of the mantras. This tool helps anchor your thoughts and helps you focus. You can also wear your prayer beads that have absorbed the energy of the mantras around your neck.

La Buena Vibra

After our meditation session, Isabel and I go next door to taquería El Milagro to talk about the work she is doing in the community. Isabel is wearing her mala around her neck near her heart chakra. She orders a taco de puerco slathered in green salsa and when I see the color of the salsa the image of green Tara floats into my mind. We begin to chat  and I discover that the meditation circle was born when Isabel’s friends started asking her how to meditate.

These days with so many people struggling in this economy stress levels are high and some people have even begun to normalize high levels of stress. What people don’t realize is that if you don’t know how to manage or release stress it often leads to health complications. With so many requests for a meditation circle she couldn’t say no to sharing healing knowledge with the community.

“I’m humbled by the way people are receiving it and by the way they are benefiting from it and their dedication to it,” says Isabel.

Between sips of champurrado, I asked Isabel how she knew she was a healer? “When I was eight years old I was talking to my sister and I told her that everything we needed to heal ourselves is on the planet” says Isabel.  But it was not until she became an adult that Isabel accepted her gifts as a healer and her life changed. She quit her 9 to 5 job to focus on her healing work and develop a stronger spiritual self.

“Some of the challenges of being an energy healer is that people don’t take it seriously or don’t understand it.” I asked Isabel about the best way to advocate for healers and she said, “Share your experience with others about this type of healing.”

Healing Sessions For Survivors of Sexual Assault

Isabel also mentioned that she has started organizing healing sessions for women that are survivors of sexual assault. Her healing sessions for survivors of sexual assault come at a time when according to the Centers for Disease Control 1 in 5 American women report being sexually assaulted. The last session she did in February included counselor Emily Robison, Sexual Abuse Crisis Counselor of the YWCA of Metropolitan Chicago. The goal of the healing session was to create a safe space to come together and mediate. and create a stepping-stone for these women on their journey to personal healing. The need is so tremendous that this month Isabel is organizing more healing sessions  for women in the Pilsen neighborhood.

I’m A Healer, Now What?

If you are interested in learning to heal others or if your gut feeling tells you that you already are but you’re not sure what to do next Isabel suggests you talk to other healers, ask for guidance, take classes that focus and develop your skills and as the saying goes, “when the student is ready, the teacher appears.” Recently Isabel participated in a supervised Nunye, which is a 32 hour vow of silence with no food or water.  In the near future Isabel plans to start giving Reiki workshops for people interested in energy healing.

I ask Isabel what her thoughts are on a medical model  that brings together Latina healers and doctors under one roof working side by side and if a model like that could ever exist in Chicago? She says, “A clinic that that treats the whole human being (physical, mental and spiritual) would help people tremendously. I think people are ready for a medical model like that in Chicago.” While this type of healing isn’t for everybody what is certain is that when women create their own spaces it builds and strengthens community.

Keep the conversation going and tell us in the comment section what your experiences have been with alternative healing or western medicine.

Contact Isabel Garcia for more information on the meditation circle or healing sessions.

FACEBOOK PAGE – http://www.facebook.com/pages/Isabel-C-Garcia-RMT/24157458921712

or via elsolthesun@gmail.com / 312-730-7710 /  http://elsol.weebly.com

Resources

Read more on benefits of mediation….

Learn more about Tibetan Buddhism..

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.

Suicide and the Silence that follows

Last November, I added my mother's name to an interactive ofrenda for Day of the Dead at Mattie Rhodes Gallery in Kansas City.

Last September I placed a call to speak to suicide survivors.  I chose to tackle a personal topic that carries a heavy social stigma as part of our Reportera Series.  I was not sure if anyone would respond—I knew firsthand that it was a private issue for most families and probably even more so in Latino communities. My grief still raw—I was determined to figure out a way to dissect the source of my most disempowering life experience. The call was followed by a level of silence and I chose to do what I have occasionally done in writing and reporting–sometimes you just have to wait and let the story unfold at its own pace.

A close friend that has recently dealt with this very issue in her life, expressed wonder as to how I could be so open about it.  So, I thought maybe it was a good starting point for me to explain why I chose to talk about becoming a suicide survivor on a public platform?

First, a story about my mom:

As a teen, I once accompanied my mother to a friend’s apartment.  Her friend was overweight, tired and unable to reach her feet and properly care for them.  As a result, she had festering calluses and they were a source of a lot of pain.  My mother took a plastic pan, filled it with warm water, poured Epson salt and had her friend soak her feet.  She then sat across from her friend, spread a towel on her lap and proceeded to take each swollen and battered foot and began to slowly massage it, slough away the rough skin and offer words of encouragement.

At the time,  a squeamish youth, I watched in quiet horror but in retrospect I recognize that my mother was providing her friend with the gift of love and care.

I saw this same friend at my mother’s funeral.  She offered her condolences and in her puzzled grief quietly inquired about the cause of her friend’s death.  Not many people had asked me directly, but because I knew she was my mother’s friend I decided to be honest.  When I told her my mother died by suicide she physically retreated in shock—as if it was a contagious plague or curse.  It was a reaction that initially caused me pain, then anger and finally sadness because it helped me realize that my mother’s community of peers—immigrant and working class—is not having an informed dialogue.  I suspect that its ingrained religious and cultural views that may prevent them to consider a more scientific view that concludes that suicide is the result of a mental or emotional disorder.  My mother suffered from depression and anxiety, pretty common conditions, one study found that one in five adults has a mental illness but these are topics that we don’t talk about.

Perhaps its a lack of understanding. I admit that my awareness of mental health prior to losing my mother was limited. I had misconceptions of mental illness, I thought it had to be extreme–think media imposed clichés.  But what resonates with me now is an aunt’s description of depression–subtle, silent and as toxic as carbon monoxide.  I now understand that mental health can be compromised by a spectrum of conditions and they can be obvious or illusive.

Something else that I recently discovered is that the suicide rate has risen steadily in the last ten years.  I was already familiar with  a study released some time back that revealed Latina teens were at higher risk, however the Centers for Disease Control does not differentiate between genders and reports that, “Native American and Hispanic youth [have] the highest rates of suicide-related fatalities. A nationwide survey of youth in grades 9-12 in public and private schools in the U.S. found Hispanic youth were more likely to report attempting suicide than their black and white, non-Hispanic peers.”

According to the American Association of Suicidology, for each suicide there are an average of 6 survivors.  I don’t have enough fingers to count the people impacted by my mother’s death.   In the days that followed my loss, as non-functional as I was, I arrived to two conclusions: First, I needed therapy to help me cope.  Second, I would not let my mother’s suicide become an oppressive weight of shame to carry in addition to the grief.  It was a heavy load I saw many loved ones take on and I thought it was a disservice to her memory.  I still regret that it will be some time–if ever– before her friend learns to remember my mom as the caring friend she was and not how she died.

One of the greatest gifts that arrived into my hands, was a phone number to the LOSS program at Catholic Charities which provides support and resources for suicide survivors.  My therapist knows a lot about suicide—he’s a credible source as a survivor himself—and he gently explains and reminds me that, “People don’t chose to die by suicide—just like they don’t chose to die of cancer—it’s a disease that chooses them.”

Eventually–after placing my call to speak to suicide survivors–messages trickled into my inbox.  Some shared their own experience, and some offered encouragement.  These texts were quiet, virtual whispers that reminded me of the people that approached me in the days after losing my mom and shared their stories about suicide and mental health issues.  They were tid-bits of information that helped me understand that I was not alone—that there were a few out there that understood and shared my situation.  I got to sit down and speak with a couple of women and because of the sensitive nature of this topic I allowed and encouraged them to share terms of engagement—maybe, not the best journalistic practice but necessary in ensuring that I honor their stories–I will share a part of those conversations in futures blog posts.

Resources

Suicide Survivors
Chicago

United States

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: www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org

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.

Diabetes: Prioritizing my heart & health

"It’s hard to take care of a Latina and even harder to convince one that she needs help."

“I hope you never get tired of hearing your eyes are healthy,” my ophthalmologist told me  the last time I saw him.

Oh, no, doc. I don’t think I ever will.

Diabetes is a multi-organ disease and I have to see about six doctors a year.  Diabetes doesn’t just deal with a malfunctioning pancreas, it affects every part of the body; from your toes to your salivary glands and even your heart. So my doctors test my  liver enzymes, check for protein in the urine and determine sugar percentage in the blood stream over a three-month span.  These are only a few of the many tests I undergo; and that’s just the order of the endocrinologist, it does not include the dentist, ophthalmologist, optometrist or podiatrist.

I’ve been seeing these specialists since I was first diagnosed as a child and they have kept me aware of what could happen if I am not cautious. Especially since the first endocrinologist I ever had used scare tactics to get me to stick to my “diabetic diet.” He literally threatened me with stories about losing my feet, going blind and dying as a young person.

“If you don’t take care of yourself now, you’re going to see a lot of complications in the future,” he said. My mother bought it and I guess I did, too.

As a diabetic I am also at higher risk for stroke and heart disease.  Over the years, my doctors warned me to control my cholestorol because bad cholesterol builds up faster in people with diabetes–it can lead to artery blockage and compromise the strongest and one of the most important organs in my body–my heart.

Diabetes among Latinas is very prevalent.
Latinas are 17 times more likely to die of diabetes than non-Hispanic white women, according to WomensHealth.gov. In addition, the Journal of the American Medical Association estimates lifetime risks to be higher for Latinas than white women. Go figure. But I think the most shocking discovery of the journal is that Latinas born in 2000 have a 52.5 percent risk of developing diabetes. Not only are we at higher risk for Type 2 diabetes, but we are also at greater risk for gestational diabetes, which develops during pregnancy and is troubling for a possible overweight baby and may lead to complications during delivery.

Another alarming statistic is that of the eight million Latinas  living with heart disease, only one in six believe that heart disease is their greatest health threat.  According to Go Red Por Tu Corazon, heart disease is the number one killer of Latinas, which outranks all forms of cancer combined. In addition, heart disease is two to four times more likely to appear in a person with diabetes.

Heart disease, according to the Mayo Clinic, is a broad term used to describe a range complications; from congenital heart defects to problems affecting your arteries, blood vessels and valves. It basically includes anything that affects your heart, meaning heart attacks, strokes and chest pain.

“…heart disease is the number one killer of Latinas…of the eight million Latinas living with heart disease, only one in six believe that heart disease is their greatest health threat.”

This is a scary thing and I’m not trying to scare anyone into taking care of themselves. But if you know that changing your diet and taking preventative measure every day can help stop the onset of heart disease and diabetes, why not do it?  In fact, the good news is that heart disease is preventable–just like diabetes.

These statistics alone should inspire Latinas– strong, powerful, head strong women– to take care of themselves. So, why don’t we?

Help everyone but yourself
It’s hard to take care of a Latina and even harder to convince one that she needs help.

The theory I have is this: Latinas attempt to help everyone and care about their families before themselves. Because they want to make sure that their children, parents and relatives are doing well, they neglect their own health.

I once met a young woman who told me about growing up with a mother who worked very hard, taking a job at McDonald’s because she couldn’t find another one, and on her feet all day–never making it to the doctor. When she finally did,she was diagnosed with diabetes–a result of  the food she was eating, being overweight and not having the time to exercise. But you better believe that her daughter was going to school and her grandchildren were put into good day care programs.

It’s circumstances like these that lead Latinas to believe that they don’t have time for themselves, when in reality, if they don’t care for themselves, who will? So ultimately, it is up to us to find the time and the care and consideration to make sure our hearts and our health are up to par. Besides, who’s going to be there to take care of everyone else if you’re not?

Christina Elizabeth Rodriguez is the editorial director at Extra Bilingual Newspaper and has been living with Type 1 diabetes for the past 20 years of her life. Developing a need to educate her peers and those around her about the long-lasting and lethal effects of unhealthy living especially within the Latino community, Christina started blogging for ChicagoNOW on her blog titled Check Yo’ Self,  which delves into the complications, nutritional insight, stresses and successes of living with diabetes. In addition, she is also the Communications and Social Media committee chair for the American Diabetes Association Young Professional’s Board. Christina has been a featured guest on Poco A Poco radio as a diabetes activist, is a monthly guest blogger for Latinos in Social Media’s Salud Saturdays and also talks to high school health classes when asked. To get more of her musings and diabetes insights, follow her on Twitter at @kiki416 and @kikisbetes.

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.

Image: Nuttapong / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Diabetes primer: How to occupy the body

I was diagnosed with diabetes when I was 7 years old and in second grade.  One day,  while my mother checked my blood sugar, I asked, “Am I going to have to do this for the rest of my life?” I don’t remember clearly, but I don’t think she answered me. I looked down at my young fingers–still callous-less, milking a sufficient amount of blood to place on the One Touch monitoring strip–hoping my sugars would come down from being too high.

There are approximately 26 million people who have diabetes in the United States. According to the American Diabetes Association, about five percent (maybe more) of those people have Type 1 diabetes.   I am part of the five percent living with Type 1 diabetes. I am one member of the five. I occupy my body and thoughts and diet because of it. I can say that now. But I couldn’t say that as a child, adolescent and young adult with diabetes, that, at the time was called juvenile diabetes since it was only found to be prevalent in children. No, my control was exactly the opposite of the word and my path was a decent one, but by no means was it good. Let me tell you a bit more about diabetes before we talk about me.

The scientific explanation
Type 1 diabetes an autoimmune disease that disseminates the use of your beta cells which create insulin for the body to properly digest simple sugars called glucose and thus carbohydrates. Because of this, the person with such a disease is responsible for daily doses of insulin injections to make sure that blood glucose levels are maintained and normal, since the result of diabetes, Type 1, Type 2, Gestational, Late Adult Onset and any other types of diabetes, is an abnormally high blood sugar range. A normal blood sugar range is anything from 70-120. The goal of people with diabetes is to keep it below 200.

My simple explanation

Type 1 diabetes:

  • With Type 1 the pancreas, a major gland in the body, no longer produces insulin, a major hormone that is a key player in digesting simple sugars or glucose. Make sense?
  • Type 1 diabetes is considered an autoimmune disease because according to researchers, it is one’s own body that diminishes the beta cells. Why? I’d like to know the same. I don’t know and neither does anyone else, apparently. When I was a kid, they thought that drinking cow’s milk too early in life was the cause of the disease. Now, they think that because of unhealthy mothers during pregnancy, the health risks are somehow passed on to the child, which develops into Type 1.
  • It’s getting more complicated as time goes on because what they thought was juvenile diabetes (Type 1) is now diagnosed in people of all ages.

Type 2 diabetes

  • With Type 2 the pancreas either does not produce enough insulin or the body does not, for some reason, properly use the insulin that is being produced.
  • Type 2 diabetes is said to be hereditary, carried in the body, developing because, quite frankly, of having an unlucky gene pool or due to unhealthy lifestyles. Type 2 has also evolved over time. Years ago, it was said that only people over the age of 40 who were typically overweight and had unhealthy lifestyles were developing this “disorder,” as I personally like to call it. Now, skinny people and children are being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. In addition to that, because of the unlucky gene pool, some of the healthiest people can develop pre-diabetes, meaning there are tendencies to have abnormally high blood sugar levels.
  • Oh and by the way, Type 2 is preventable and has a high chance of being put into remission.

As you can see, diabetes is an epidemic that is spreading throughout the world. Approximately 366 million people in the world have diabetes. It doesn’t seem like a lot when you think about it, but according to the ADA, one person is being diagnosed with diabetes every 17 seconds. The ADA also has shown that diabetes complications have killed more people than AIDS and breast cancer combined.

Once diagnosed, I was admitted to the hospital for four days and placed on insulin therapy. Doctors taught me how to give myself insulin and control my glucose levels. Growing up with diabetes meant that my family and I went to support groups and I was introduced to my first endocrinologist, or doctor of the glands and hormones, after I was diagnosed, around 1992. He yelled at me for not controlling my blood sugar. I don’t remember the details, but all I know is that I had no answers for him. My blood sugars were high and I had to stick to a beyond strict diet. This was the beginning of my frustrations with the disease.

In high school, my endocrinologist was happy I was “stable,” but the fact that I survived college– even though, I can’t really tell you how because there was the drinking and the terrible eating habits–I was in no way the educated diabetic I am today. It wasn’t until I fell ill due to my gall bladder and met a doctor who turned my beliefs and ideas upside down and to the left.

Getting ready to go jogging!

Dr. Grazia Aleppo loves diabetes, and little did I know that she was also the best endocrinologist in the Midwest region. People outside of Chicago know about her and say things like, “You were her patient? Tell me about her. I hear she’s amazing.” Boy, she was amazing. She explained things to me, told me that it was my job to do as she said and her job to figure out my problems. Dr. Aleppo taught me the value of nutrition, counting carbohydrates and above all, understanding what role diabetes played in my life and in my body. I owe my transformation and my desire to talk about the issues of diabetes within the Latino community to her–and she’s Italian.

I invite you to stay tuned for my series on Proyecto Latina,  where I will continue to share what living with diabetes has taught me. I’m going to tell you about issues within the Latina community. I’m going to tell you how it was for my mother to raise me and my sister to live with me. I’m going to tell you about the problems that statistics have shown within Latinas and how it ties heart disease with Type 2 diabetes and somewhere in between I’m going to tell you about the issues I see with the names each Type has and how it affects those of us of the five percent. And after all of that, I hope you come to understand why you should Occupy Your Body and make a difference while you still can.

Christina Elizabeth Rodriguez is the editorial director at Extra Bilingual Newspaper and has been living with Type 1 diabetes for the past 20 years of her life. Developing a need to educate her peers and those around her about the long-lasting and lethal effects of unhealthy living especially within the Latino community, Christina started blogging for ChicagoNOW on her blog titled Check Yo’ Self,  which delves into the complications, nutritional insight, stresses and successes of living with diabetes. In addition, she is also the Communications and Social Media committee chair for the American Diabetes Association Young Professional’s Board. Christina has been a featured guest on Poco A Poco radio as a diabetes activist, is a monthly guest blogger for Latinos in Social Media’s Salud Saturdays and also talks to high school health classes when asked. To get more of her musings and diabetes insights, follow her on Twitter at @kiki416 and @kikisbetes.

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.

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.

TRAINING
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 Maria3@mujereslat.org

MONTHLY CITIZENSHIP WORKSHOPS
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.”

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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.