Midwest Chronicles: Downstate Diversity Flourishes

You are currently viewing Midwest Chronicles: Downstate Diversity FlourishesSam Vega/Hoy

This project was hatched over Thai food at the YMCA in Champaign between the journalists from Hoy-Chicago and CU-CitizenAccess.org.

Hoy had been thinking about how it could provide a new and different look at Central Illinois for its readers and viewers and CU-CitizenAccess.org had been thinking about how it could better serve the Central Illinois community.

We all took the proverbial step back and inspiration came.

Together we decided to look at the changing demographics and the stories of the people behind those demographics with a focus on, but not exclusively, the ever growing Latino communities in the region.

We also had heard about African Americans who had moved to Central Illinois from Chicago after many public housing projects were torn down as part of the Chicago Housing Authority’s Planfor Transformation.

In addition, we knew there was an increasing Asian population.

So we began researching and reporting for the Chronicles of the Midwest project.

We found more stories than could possibly be harvested for one project and therefore defined a16-county area to concentrate on – an area that stretched from Livingston in the north and Cumberland in the south to Macon in the west and Vermilion in the east.

We also got data. A lot of it. By the time we were done with the data collection phase of the project, we had, among others, data sets about census, jobs, health, environmental, crime, and food stamps. TAG_1_0.jpg

The data analysis helped paint some broad strokes of life in Central Illinois.

Among the most important elements: population growth is being fueled by people of color.

The Latino population increased in all 16 counties in the past decade, with the Asian and black communities also registering notable growth while most counties saw the white population decreased in all but four of the counties.

On the jobs front, manufacturing sustained major blows during the period from 2003 to 2010, while health care and education saw upticks in the number of jobs available in the region.

Beyond these statistical snapshots, though, we know that this region and this country are about people.

Using our analysis – and CU-CitizenAcccess.org familiarity with the region – as starting points, we went to communities throughout the area to see what more we could learn.

Hoy traveled to Champaign and Urbana to dig into glaring disparities in the number of black people arrested for offenses ranging from noise violations to the possession and sale of illegal drugs.  Hoy and CU-CitizenAccess.org spent a week in Arcola and found a Latino youth group that has worked to improve access to college through information forums for the community’s undocumented population as well as raise money for scholarships.

In Champaign we did reporting at the Judah Christian School and Maligaya’s store to begin to enter the area’s growing Filipino community, many of whose members have come to the area for healthcare jobs and have stayed.

We also met Cuong Diep, a Vietnamese immigrant who has worked tirelessly in the quarter century since he purchased Far East grocery store. After spending more than two decades in the area, Diepand his wife, also a refugee, have found that they consider Champaign their home more than Vietnam.

Hoy and CU-CitizenAccess.org traveled to Bloomington to speak with Socorro Alvarez who aims to bridge the communication gap between the Spanish and English speakers in the community all while under new police moves to detain undocumented non-U.S.residents.

In Rantoul, we heard from CristellaGonzales, a 16-year-old migrant worker who spent her summer vacation traveling north with her family from Frostproof, Florida to participate in the annual corn detasseling process, then going to school at night.

When the worst drought in more than half a century ended their work, she and her family left Rantoul for Waverly, Missouri, where they picked apples.

In short, with our wide-ranging reporting we found fascinating communities and a gripping mix of opportunity, integration, hardship and entrepreneurial zeal.

We did this project to provide information and to stimulate conversation about critical issues facing this area and others like it throughout the country.

We found that this is a story of not only of Central Illinois, but also a story of America.

We’ve posted our reporting throughout the project on our site and on Hoy Chicago and will continue to do so as we gather more information and stories.

We’d like to hear from you. We would like you to tell us what we have missed and tell us what we need to report to get the fuller story.

And tell us about your experience in this richly diverse section of the state and the country.

We hope this further opens discussions on issues and policies in this region and draws from everyone’s perceptions, talents and contributions.

We appreciate your attention to this work and look forward to the conversation.

Increases in the Latino Population draws more business to Rantoul

CU-HOY-photo_edit 003_0.JPGBy Jeff Kelly Lowenstein/Hoy — In a dynamic that is happening in communities throughout the country, the decline in the white population is being at least partially offset by the surge in Latinos. The number of Latinos living in Rantoul increased 262 percent in the past decade, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

See Hoy for the Spanish version

Attorney fights for rights of migrant workers

CU-HOY-photo_edit 035_0.JPGBy Jeff Kelly Lowenstein/Hoy — Enterprise Rent-A-Car must love Miguel Keberlein-Gutierrez.

That’s because the supervisory attorney at the Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago logs 6,000 to 8,000 miles each month during the summer as he zigzags across Illinois in a ceaseless effort to reach out to, connect with, and provide information and legal services to migrant workers.

Today’s first stop is at the Rantoul Motel, on the outskirts of a town where migrant workers come each year to detassel corn.

“You have rights,” he said, distributing business cards to a group of workers standing in the parking lot.  His voice bears the imprint of his childhood in Wisconsin.

See Hoy for the Spanish version

‘Secure Communities’ spurs fear among ethnic residents

Jennifer J. Carrillo, community organizer at IL People's Action_0.JPGBy Sean Powers/Illinois Public Media — Nearly the entire country is now enrolled in the program, known as “Secure Communities”. McLeanCounty is not one of the counties, but the sheriff’s office’s willingness to contact immigration officials about non-citizen arrests, and honor the ICE “holds” is easily the equivalent of being in the program.  Angelina Lopez shares her story.

Champaign County detaches from immigration enforcement activity

MF8A0246_0.JPGBy Azra Halilovic/CU-CitizenAccess/Hoy — Last December, the CU-Immigration Forum held a public meeting at the Champaign Public Library to discuss the county’s implementation of Secure Communities. More than 125 people showed up to talk about and listen to the concerns over the program.

“In its one-year implementation in Champaign County, it has been plagued by problems,” Aarón Johnson-Ortíz, a member of the CU-Immigration Forum, told a crowd.

Health industry brings Filipinos to Champaign 

CU-HOY-photo_edit 011_0_0.JPGBy Jeff Kelly Lowenstein/Hoy — Light gleams off the wooden floor in the gymnasium at Judah Christian School in Champaign.

The squeaking of sneakers is followed by cheers when the volleyball is spiked, lands out of bounds or is served under the net.  On one court, Angela, a 10-year-old with a black ponytail and a white t-shirt, keeps score with a black marker. On the other court, players from ages 13 to 55 play in the shadow of the purple scoreboard with gold letters.

See Hoy for the Spanish version

Lilia Peters- mother of Champaign’s Filipino community

liliapeters_0.jpgBy Jeff Kelly Lowenstein/Hoy — As a young girl in Sorsogon Province in the Philippines, in between the twice-daily purchase and preparation of freshly caught seafood, Lilia Peters dreamed of traveling the world.

Her visions were stoked by pictures of other countries she had seen in National Geographic, by her mother’s older sister, who told tales about the United States, and by pictures of smiling relatives sent from America and beckoning her to join them.
So, when she was old enough, and after receiving the nurse’s training her mother had decided would be her profession, she did just that.

See Hoy for the Spanish version

Police move to improve relations with black communities in Champaign, Urbana

CU-HOY-photo_edit 041_0.JPGBy Jeff K. Lowenstein/Hoy and Pam G. Dempsey/CU-CitizenAccess —  Marchond  Hillsman knows the black  youths in the neighborhood  well, but he  said most of the kids  don’t know local police  officers – and  many of them fear  the police.

“Anybody, any child should be able  to come to a police officer  and get help and  feel like they can get  help and kids don’t  feel that around here,”  he said.

Several black youths in  Champaign confirmed that  observation in interviews.

City officials and police in Champaign  and in Urbana acknowledge  that they are facing a deep  challenge in fixing community police  relations.

But they say they are aggressively addressing the  problems and are heavily  emphasizing community outreach  after public confrontations  between police and black  youths, including the fatal  shooting of a black youth by  police in 2009.

Latino services director helps connect families to community 

MF8A9360_0.JPGBy Pam G. Dempsey/CU-CitizenAccess — Socorro Alvarez can name off each country of origin where the small trinkets of gratitude came from that sit carefully on top of the file cabinet in her office.

This one from Colombia, she said, that one from Mexico.

Once someone brought Alvarez a live chicken as a “thank-you” for her help in getting the client’s children enrolled in pre-school.

“That’s the thing with the families, they want to thank me with whatever they have, if I say ‘no’ it’s like an offense,” said Alvarez, director and 17-year-veteran with the Hispanic Outreach Program in Bloomington.

Hispanic numbers double over a decade

Manager_0.jpgBy CU-CitizenAccess — There is salsa dance night at Radio Maria and Cowboy Monkey in downtown Champaign.

Latino food trucks pepper the landscape across Champaign- Urbana.

An almost completely Spanish- speaking community of 600 families lives in the Shadow Wood Mobile Home Park.

These are the small and large signs of the growth of the Latino and Hispanic community in Champaign County in the last decade.

In fact, the Hispanic population, which is composed mostly of those from Mexico, has more than doubled as the fastest growing population in the county – increasing from about 5,200 residents in 2000 to more than 10,600 residents in 2010.

From Mexico to Arcola, with love

CU-HOY-photo_edit 017_0.jpgBy Azra Halilovic/CU-CitizenAccess/Hoy — Herlinda Kauffman’s family, like others from Mexico that would arrive in Arcola over the years, came because of the “broomcorn” – corn made into brooms in Arcola.

A small town of nearly 3,000 residents in Douglas County about three hours south of Chicago, Arcola is known for the Amish community that settled in 1865. Since then, the Amish have mostly settled in Arthur, 10 miles west of Arcola.

A 100-percent taste of Mexico 

CU-HOY-photo_edit 009_0.jpgBy Azra Halilovic/CU-CitizenAccess/Hoy — Out in the middle of farm country in Central Illinois, Arturo Zendeja and his wife run the town’s first Mexican restaurant, a small joint called “El Taco Tako.”

Zendeja said that after years of odd jobs he has business he can focus on.

He said he misses his home country of Mexico but considers himself blessed to be living in Arcola. He loves its small-town charm and he calls it “paradise.”

Latinos cited more than others for driving without a license

MF8A0176_0.JPGBy Jeff Kelly Lowenstein/Hoy — Latinos in Urbana and Champaign make up 5 and 6 percent of the population, respectively, and, from 2007 to 2011, about the same proportion of the cities’ total citations and arrests.

But there’s one violation in which Latinos are heavily overrepresented: failing to have a driver’s license.
In both cities, Latinos made up at least 32 percent of the drivers cited for this violation, according to an Hoy analysis of arrest data.

See Hoy for the Spanish version

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