Brown in Chicago – Decolonizing our roots and future

With the Logan Square Neighborhood Association

LSNA’s youth organizing work is founded on the values of racial justice. Youth are vital leaders in the push for both policy and cultural responses to the violence of displacement.[1] Displacement destroys culture. Youth leaders find themselves in a neighborhood experiencing swift racial and economic transition that feels violent and painful. They no longer feel welcomed in their neighborhood hangouts or feel secure that their parents (working-class immigrants) will be able to keep pace with the rising rents and property taxes. For our youth the fact that gentrification is a racialized process is common sense. They see the buying power young white people have in their community, and LSNA’s organizers help deepen their analysis through workshops that emphasize the historical housing policies in Chicago that created the Black and Latino ghettos of our city.

This July a group of seventeen youth leaders with the Logan Square Neighborhood Association started a journey to fight the erasure of displacement by documenting their families’ migrations from Latin America to Chicago.  Youth leaders were also commissioned by their abuelitas and parents as they submitted DNA ancestry kits to see where their families’ journeys actually started. Our ancestry results capture the mixing of people’s brought violently together in 1492.  Our Mexican students –the great majority of the group–carry between 60-90% indigenous ancestry.  Africa is also present with us—all of our youth came back with some African ancestry. And our young people from the Caribbean have between 15-35% African ancestry.  We suddenly feel ancient and feel the weight of the loss of our indigenous and African identities–colonization is also erasure of one’s stories.


In partnership with the Genealogy and Storytelling Project LSNA youth will:

  1. Uncover the history of migration and displacement and the impact they have on their lives today;
  2. Boldly claim their own place in history as part of the Latin-American and Pan-African Diaspora;
  3. Dismantle the dominant narrative of white supremacy within the specific process of gentrification and more broadly;
  4. Engage more Latinx[2] families to celebrate their place and histories in the community as one weapon against displacement.

[1] In the past year, 110 youth have been involved in LSNA’s anti-gentrification work taking significant roles in outreach efforts to residents, develogeneology commissions 3.JPEGping actions, introducing new strategies and concepts, and meeting with local officials about the need to create policy solutions to address rising displacement.

[2] Latinx= The “x” makes Latino, a masculine identifier, gender-neutral. The “x” also encompasses genders outside of that limiting man-woman binary. Pronounced “La-teen-ex.


2/24/18 Session #10


This morning we ground ourselves with the reminder from Juliet our Brown In Chicago project director that, “to study is a revolutionary duty, and we ain’t just doing this for an A+ within a capitalistic society!” We each took turns sharing what topics we want to research for the duration of the Brown In Chicago Fellowship up until May. Within the next two months we will work within groups to conduct our own research projects on a topic of interest related to previous lessons. The following are topic ideas presented by each fellow and answers these questions: What I hope to learn/research more? What have I learned so far? What are ways I plan to learn more?

Emma: I used to think Latino culture and identity was more or less the same and I want to know more about what doesn’t make them monolithic. I’m interested in learning more about my indigenous background. I would love to find out how it’s still alive today in multiple cultures in Latin America. I’ve done limited research on this topic so far but I’ve been able to read small articles about different cultures in Latin America. Now that I have more concrete data about my DNA and what it’s made up of I can go from there. The first step in my plan is to conduct more research using all the resources that have been provided to me. I would also like to interview people to see if they have any input or information that I might not be able to find.

Austin: I want to deepen my own familial experience and to get to the root of acculturation and assimilation. How can internalized racism become so defining, despite it not being an explicitly overt/conscious action? I’ve found a couple of great resources on the topic and have been able to put my own experiences and the experiences of others into perspective. While I do want to use academic sources and back up what I say, I want this piece to be more personal. I will keep on finding more resources! Talk with more individuals about their experiences and work on formatting the whole piece.

Lucas: Understanding how we are developing or ascribed to the way we are today? Perhaps looking into epigenetics? Where did Mexicans get culture from that made it it’s own in terms of music food and appearances? How different are we to even say we are different from one another if I look more Puerto Rican than Mexican to others? What I have learned so far is that nothing past being born on a different plot of land and our skin color and adaptation occurring making from scratch what they had that later carried itself into the twenty first century. The way I plan to learn more is by investigating the lands and tribes/groups of people I am blood related to and see how much I relate to them in my personality, looks or how I am in my everyday life.

Arely : Last year my Mexican identity was deconstructed and I felt shook. I am proud of the diversity I see in Mexico similarly to the U.S. I want to know how to claim my indigeneity and access it. But, by doing so this means to reject my family’s Catholicism which upsets them. My research question is, What does it mean to be Mexican? Who are we as culture? I’ve learned that there is colorism and that it’s very similar to the U.S. we come from different backgrounds and are treated accordingly. But we are also one at the same time, being Mexican means being the colonizer and colonized at the same time for me. I plan to make more trips to Mexico and keep learning about the history of Mexico and learn how the people interact with the different dimensions Mexican culture.

Anaiza: How can POC students take education into our own hands? Why are we still struggling with dropout rates if our ancestors fought so hard to win us the fight to go to school?

Brittany: Why isn’t Latino history taught in school? Or just the option for it, having it available would be nice. Even when I was in grammar school in Puerto Rico for a little, we spent a little time learning about Tainos but more focus on Mayans groups. Meeting a Taino man on the isla who was proud of his culture inspired me that the culture isn’t dead. When we learn about Latin American in U.S schools, it is still Eurocentric and focuses on economic development and influences of colonialism is viewed as “mixing” which is just whitewashing. I am learning that more about more types of indigenous groups, challenging in school why don’t we learn more about Latin American History, about historical challenges against education/institutions to include more ethnic studies in our schools. I’m Interested in creating curriculum that is accessible Ethnic Studies and Integrating personal narratives.I want to explore how music, dance, and other mediums can challenge racism?

Ashley:  I want to begin to Heal from Catholicism. By shifting religious affiliation and practice I want to see someone like me when I pray to God. While exploring and practicing Yoruba culture and spirituality I want to embrace natural and holistic forms of healing. Not depending on one person like God and to better feel supported by multiple orishas instead. This is a life changing process that will take time for me to better understand my familial indigeneity abuelita knowledge. I wish to know more about their traditions and our history?

Merari: I want to learn more about ending cycles of generational trauma, understanding my own healing, and learning more about my family’s battle with mental illness history.

Of the eight research topics and questions discussed above from the students in attendance I narrowed their topics into three main research groups based on their interests:

1) What is the history of the U.S Education Systems and importance of implementing Ethnic Studies?

2) Exploring what is Latinx identity, Nationalism, and internalized prejudice?

3) What Generational Trauma and decolonized healing?

Within these next two month we will continue to work on our research projects and continue to find creative ways to present our projects and share them within various upcoming community events which are planned or in the planning process still. One upcoming event that was co-planned with a B.I.C Fellow with a relationship with ICIRR: Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights will take place at on March 10th at the Immigrant Youth Conference at Northeastern Illinois University – El Centro Campus from 9 am – 2 pm. As a response to the attacks on immigrants and our youth, ICIRR and partners are creating a safe space for immigrant youth and provide resources, workshops, and an opportunity to meet other immigrant youth across Illinois.

Evelyn, a B.I.C fellow collaborated to design an hour long workshop for this conference called, WE ARE ENOUGH:  I don’t need your papers to be whole, I am already whole, I am already enough. While it’s so important to fight back and arm ourselves with information, it’s also important to recognize our need to heal from being an immigrant in this nation at this time. In this workshop we will introduce the concept of healing justice, create art that affirms who we are regardless of this status and create a safe space to share our stories.

This workshop is just one example and community engagement opportunity that was inspired by the Brown In Chicago project and am excited to see the other projects grow into fruition this upcoming spring 2018!


2/3/2018 Session #9


Today’s notes were gathered by Brown In Chicago Fellow Merari Flores while I took a sick day because the flu has been spreading around aggressively! Edits to notes made by Violet. Additional guest joined today’s session such as staff from LSNA and the parents of some of the youth participants. Today’s presentations is to unpack DNA from three different professional backgrounds in biology, anthropology, genealogy and social work.

Check in question:What are we expecting to hear/find out today?

Tammy- The biggest thing I like to learn today is how to better understand my 23andMe results? What do they actually mean? I have second and third cousins from the reports, should I reach out to them?

Annisa- I’m excited to learn more!

Gerrick- I’m pretty anxious to be honest but I still haven’t gotten my results yet.

Merari- I already had my results from last year so i’m excited to see what y’alls results are.

Emma’s parents- Extremely excited to find out more! To see how closely related we are to others.

Lucas- I don’t really know, I’ll take it as it is, my first cousin reached out, a third cousin reached out to me from the reports.

Arely- This is my second year too, even though you never finish learning about genealogy

Evelyn- I’m really excited to learn more about bio-culture, it’s something I want to be able to talk to my family about this because it was problematic.

Ashley- I just want to learn a little bit more about where I come from.

Kerry- I’m excited to explain more about the Azknasi Jewish ancestry.


Notes from the following presentation:

1.The Migrations of Homo Sapiens

-Where do we come from originally? We are all for the most part from East Africa.

-We don’t know the whole picture but we know we arrived about 50,000 years ago.

2.Racism and ‘race science’ in the 1800s

-When Irish people started pouring into the U.S there was a notion that they looked closer to Black people.

3.Skin color spectrum

-The amounts of red and yellow based melanin in the skin which protects it from ultraviolet rays from the sun, is highest nearest the equator, declining further away where skin is exposed less and still needs more sunlight to produce vitamin.

-Skin color does relate to where people have originally migrated from.

-Freckles are a mutation of dark skinned pigment people losing color, result of later migration. Why? Because as we move to places that have less and less sunlight we lose color.

4.Is it in our genes? Is it in our cultures?

-Extreme biological determinism:basically justifies outright racism, all social conditions and behaviors are linked to biology.

-Extreme social constructionism=all life conditions and behaviors are socially made, this can be used to justify colorblind racism

-Bio-cultural synthesis=social conditions and behaviors are linked to ancestries and inheritances.this recognizes difference but undermines racists claims.

5.What forces are leading us to map our genes?

-The Black community wanted to know their ancestry, people wanted to learn more about themselves. There is this form of “marketing a more inclusive” gene.

-Genes are not stuck to geographies.

-When we say someone is west african we say from gene flow that it is where place of conception was.

-We have never been a species that has stayed in one place.

6.The whole picture of our biocultural selves

-Phenotype has to do with reproduction, identity and ascription is how you and others see you, family and kinship has to do with how physical traits are sure.

-A recent study showed there is wider genetic variation among present day indigenous people in Mexico than between for example the average German and Japanese person.

Questions from the presentation:

Emma’s parents: Why would anybody want to know more about me? i’m very happy knowing I have Native American and African in me!

Ashley: I can actually answer that, my grandma was indigenous from Oaxaca so I was always wondering where exactly she came from specifically what tribe, and I went to Arizona and there was indigenous women from oaxaca and they say they couldn’t help me find out exactly know from what tribe, so I like knowing after seeing my dna results that I have my grandmother living in me.

Tammy: For me, I would really like my results to narrow down to specific countries, because West African is not enough, my whole family says we are Native American, so getting the results back I can see there is not one drop of native American, I want to know the specific countries, knowing specifically where I’m from. I boohooed tremendously and that’s because we don’t know where we were from, as I shared this with my family members they just didn’t care and i can’t understand why.


-Based on fossils how old is our world? As far as we can tell from the oldest rocks on the planet our planet is about 4.5 billion years old

-How old are Homo sapiens? About 200,000 years old
-When we started seeing lineage of modern-day life it happened at 500 million years.

1.A Brief History of life

-Our planet has not always looked the same way it looks today, if you look at an apple and see the skin, that is how much actual land we have on our planet, everything else is lava.

-When you have rock that is extremely hot it starts to move so all the top little plates are literally flowing on lava and they are constantly moving, so what we have today has not always been and depending on where continents are determines wind currents and the global climate

-Our continents have always been shifting.

-Darwin explained a mechanism how to explain how evolution works which was natural selection.

-Somewhere around 12 million years ago Central America came up.

-Modern day chimps are still around because they adapted to the forest and stayed in the forest.


-We evolved from australopithecus africanus to homo erectus.

-We are more closely related to chimps but we did not come from chimps.



-Genealogical dna testing lets us go deeper than our known family tree.

-Son and daughter get the mitochondria dna.

-Fathers pass down the Y dna.

-The further back you go the less percentage you get.

-Why ashkenazi dna? The jews that originally came from Spain are called sephardic jews. In 1492 the catholic church offered the jews of spain.

-When we see Ashkenazi in our DNA it is most likely Jews who were forced to convert and then came to the Americas.

1/27/18 Session #8

Our check in this morning revealed that with the momentum picking up for the new year many of us are beginning to feel overwhelmed with our daily responsibilities.There was a sense of feeling unbalanced within our roles, school, work, and personal lives. As a group we thought it would be best to center ourselves and practice mindfulness and meditation before diving into the discussion for today. We practiced an excerpt of a 21 day meditation series called Black Feminist Breathing Chorus , which focuses on a guided meditation lead by Alexis Pauline Gumbs. Each meditation day is inspired by the legacies of black feminist thinkers, writers and activist. We meditated to day two which features Poet Laureate Gwendolyn Brooks and the affirmation highlighted from this episode was, “I have hopes for myself.”

We planned to take time to discuss and debrief the 23andMe DNA ancestry results because a majority of the group received their results and were eager to process. We took turns going around and asking “what has changed about how we see ourselves after our results” or “what questions we have about the results?”  For those who did not get their results back they shared experiences they have had with instances of prejudice around the nuances of race/ethnicity/nationality.The following are the responses from the group:

Ashley- Which box do I check off on legal documents or surveys since I’m 75.8% Native American? I don’t have to check off the white box under the category for race but do I have that privilege to check off Native on the boxes? I want to continue to learn more about the indigenous side of my family.

Pedro- While filling out border card to go from O’Hare to London during my recent study abroad trip,I filled out my nationality as Latino/Hispanic  on some paperwork and the TSA agent aggressively crossed out my selection and told me, “NO, you’re AMERICAN!” I didn’t want to argue so he can get on my flight safely without being detained.

Annisa- When I shared my results with my parents my father teased her about having 33% Native American ancestry and about continued on how I inherited that ancestry from my mother’s side.

Lucas- Receiving my results inspired me to travel to Spain and Italy more!

Roxy- Uncovering that her grandmother isn’t my “maternal” grandmother and now I’m trying to discover the stories and rumors about her papers being fake or stolen might be true.

Brittany- I am trying to understand where Native American identity fits into my own identity? I find it so weird that I come from Europe/Spain when ethnically I am from the islas like Puerto Rico and Dominican Republic. How can I be both?

Austin-I think we construct our own identity but also we honor our families and ancestors. I have learned so much about who I am from my mother and am starting to understand how these identities intersect.

Emma- I’m feeling overwhelmed and processing these fresh results still.

Juliet- Reclaiming African diasporic identity is helping me counter the anti-blackness within my family and also to accept that I am mezitaze and how mixed my own heritage is.

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We ended our meeting to a quick field trip down the street to visit Hairpin Arts Center, for their latest guest installation called, For the People Art Collective “DO NOT RESIST? 100 Years of Chicago Police Violence.” We had a private tour curated for our group around the different exhibit art pieces that addressed Chicago Police Brutality over the last 100 years. Art that was represented from as early as the 1919 Chicago Race Riots to #BlacklivesMatters demonstration photography from the last few years. I also spotted a photo of my fellow LSNA Youth Organizing colleague Lili with her five year old daughter at a #BlacklivesMatters protest we attended with a group of Youth leaders during the summer of 2016.

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It is important to remind ourselves why projects such as Brown in Chicago wants to explore notions of race, identity, decolonization, and power structures. These are the social constructions our society is informed by and how we navigate throughout our communities. This art installation reminds us that our history and engagement with Policing and Prison Industrial Complex is perpetuated are sustained by racism and violence. What we can do to not continue to engage within these structures is to truly take time to reflect within ourselves what privileges we benefit from and may take for granted. While challenging how to hold ourselves accountable to not be a bystander to inequalities that are as subtle as a micro-aggression’s or inequity within institutionalized spaces.

1/13/18 Session #7

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Our opening question this morning was adopted from Xicana activist-artist Melanie Cervantes from California. We took turns answering,“What message do you want to share with your future ancestor?” Whether a few of us want to have children or not it was very important to us to have our memory and message of empowerment to our future ancestors.

We then, split up into two working groups, one to focus on developing our research questions from the previous session and group to catch up with the previous workshop.

Below are more topics and themes we are interested in researching and questions to ask our own families:

Internalized Racism: “My grandfather distanced himself from Latinx identifiers, assimilation and growing up in a white neighborhood.

Conflict with Catholicism and finding a new religion (decolonization) Finding a religion that better caters to my experience and allows me to have agency and power with my connection to spirituality in an autonomous way. I wanted to praise someone who looks like me, a strong woman like Yemaya is more practical for my daily life and spiritual practice.

Colombian:  Repression of Colombian  identity? Wanting to know my Colombian family more.

Religious Syncretism- How can we deepen our spirituality?

Dad’s father: Mexican, grandmother (Guatemalan) came thru Mexico interviewing “tita”

Mental Illness:  Understanding a traumatic family history, my own healing, ending cycles of violence, empathy for history of family violence.

Formalized Education:  Education in the US and POC, how did we get to the dropout rate crisis? *Most educated population are black women. Taking education in our own hands.

Grandparents lives: Grandfather was a POW WII and wanting to learn more about his own experience. Grandmother was she “Texan” or “Mexican” (or Cuban or Spanish) she was a sex worker? First child was kidnapped and could be a Gypsy?

Wanting to return home: Understanding more deeply where my family is from and what legacies have Taino culture has left behind? What can I do to help the island after hurricane Maria?

12/16/17 Session #6

The opening question for this morning was inspired by a poem written by Nigerian Poet Ijeoma Umebinyuo. We reflected and shared what are we celebrating about ourselves at this moment? With many of us feeling drained from a busy semester or felt stressed over the upcoming holidays, it was important to take a moment to share gratitude for showing up this morning.

Our lecture presentation was lead by Dr. Jesse Mumm who is our resident Historian for our project and is a Latin American & Latino Studies professor at DePaul University. The lecture consisted on the history of early colonial settlement in the Americas and the push/pull factors for migration to the U.S. Below are a few of the highlights from the lecture:

“We can think of the Spanish conquest as a failed experiment. That there were always populations that resisted, who were beyond official imperial control.”

“Some slaves or migrants kept their original last names, others bought “common” last names in an attempt to better assimilate and a means to survive in a colonized state.”

Why do WE write history?
-To valorize those who are not valorized.
-To right a wrong.
-To shift a perception.
-To expose powerful lies.
-To take command of the present
-To argue for social change.
-To deepen a story.
-To take command of the present.

“When the indians win it’s called a massacre. When anglos win it’s called a battled.”

After the presentation we were challenged to think of what questions we had about our own family’s migration experience and lives. Our debrief questions for the lecture included:

How far back do you want to look? What eras interest you?
Where are the gaps in your family history?
What do you question, out of the things you have you been told? What needs to be explained?
Do you want to investigate your particular family events, or the wider cultures and societies around them?
Who do you want to write for?

We concluded our session by sharing the questions we gathered from our group. From our wide range of research questions we hope to learn much more about our families, our history and better inform what we know about ourselves.

How is internalized prejudice formed and what are the driving factors behind that? What does it me to be “Passing”? I want to study this from my mother’s and grandfather’s and my own experiences.”

“How do we forgive without forgetting the damages they did to my people by the Roman Catholic Church. The realizations of a Catholic Chicana.  “We don’t have this white Jesus anymore. Lupita is still on my wall. We are moving on, shifting away from this eurocentric religion.”

“Does having 2% African blood give me the right to say the “N” word? What are the implications behind using this word? 

“I want to know more about classism and internalized racism within my family. My dad’s family had money on the ranch. And had a maid who was referred to as “la negra.” I want to further explore race and class in Mexico, and how  mental illness informs that experience, while exploring my own mental illness. A lot of my father’s family lived lives that show signs of trauma and caused ongoing trauma.”

“I want to learn more about the town where my family is from which is Orocovis, Puerto Rico and more about taino culture.”



12/2/17 Session #5

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This morning was very anticipated by our youth and their families to complete and submit our 23andMe DNA kits! Over breakfast we were able to share with the families our process of the Brown In Chicago project from the previous year and what this new group of participants. At the end we held a small candle lighting ceremony and invited the parents/families to share a “wish” they have for their children as they anticipate their results over the next 4-6 weeks. Many parents expressed gratitude to be apart of this project, wished their children to feel more proud and confident about their culture and many blessings and we learn to honor our ancestors and history.

11/18/17 Session #4

All that you touch

You change.

All that you change

Changes you.

The only lasting truth

Is Change
God is change.

-Octavia Butler

2017 has thus far shown us many changes in which we perceive who can hold power and who can facilitate change. This is felt from a macro level of our shifting government and climate, to the everyday changes we are experiencing within our own communities and developmentally within our own lives.  Today we focused on introducing the topic of POC futurism and what that means to our own identities in relation to our place our communities and at large. Science fiction almost typically is demonstrated to center such themes of whiteness, patriarchy, imperialism, heteronormativity and competition. These stories imagine our future colonizing other territories and planets due the destructive force these themes reflect and shape our current way of living.

It is through looking to our past and understanding our history we can begin to uncover that we have not always survived in a world that does not center patriarchy, capitalism and other marginalizing forces. Science Fiction allows the freedom to reimagine our futures but if we cultivate and rebuild with these structures we will not be sustainable. Such as Audre Lorde claims, “For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us to temporarily beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.” So who and what values do we center for for our future? For the future of our generations? We need to begin to imagining a new way to organize life, our relationships to each other, to power and the earth so that we do not continue to perpetuate destruction.

We can begin this process to imagine change by writing ourselves into the future, foreseeing our survival and how we will thrive through the changes.  Visionary Fiction writer Walidah Imarisha explains, “Any time we try to envision a different world—without poverty, prisons, capitalism, war—we are engaging in science fiction. When we can dream those realities together, that’s when we can begin to build them right here and now.” The conditions that we live in today were once born from the imagination of others. So who is to say we cannot do the same to dream for a better future?

We invited our group today to spend time writing and answering the following prompt:
Imagine, you meet your ancestor, either the one who migrated or even further back, and you look just like one another. Let’s write about that encounter.

What challenges do they face? What’s their character like? What do they sound like? What are their dreams? What are their assets? Their fears? What’s their magic? What do they think about the US? What do they think you about you? Your life? Your identities? Your struggles? Your fight for social justice? What questions do they have for you?What’s different about your lives? What’s the same about your lives? What power did they pass on to you?

Below are pieces that were written today:

La Mama looked just like me. Hopefully, but full of pain. She didn’t know how her eleven children would survive in the world. They lived in poverty, something she worked against since she could remember. But she always took the time to show her children compassion. She used to say, “here take the food off my plate, I will be skinny for you.” Her children saw her fears, they knew how hard she worked. She wanted her children to live happy, to survive the world they were born into. She prayed and prayed but realized but realized it wasn’t enough. She had heard of an Inca’s secret journey, which many said, “with a sacrifice of the heart would grant the seeker anything they desired.” So La Mama told me, “there is nothing I wouldn’t do for my children and their future!” She began her journey into the mountains after having fed her children and only half a bread in her stomach. She had to take her youngest because she couldn’t stand to be separated from her mother.

The road was cold, lonely, and many people along the way told La Mama that she would never find the secret passage. They asked her “why are you going when you know it’s going to be hard.” “Why don’t you just go home, don’t waste your time!! But she ignored them held tightly to her last born and kept moving. At nightfall as she finally put her baby to sleep on a couple of panchos on the rocky road. She cried.- She said this was the time she began to ask the night abyss surrounding her. “What if I can’t find it? What if it’s not real? She couldn’t imagine the passage, she couldn’t even fathom the idea of a solution out of poverty. She kept long into the night of a solution out of poverty. She wept long into the night, she cried herself to sleep. When she woke her daughter was gone. La Mama began screaming her name, angry at herself for believing in the secret passage. She just wanted to find her daughter and leave the unforgiving mountains.

In the distance she heard the echo of her daughter’s voice. She followed it, the sand led her into a cave just above her camp. She heard her daughter laughing and happy, her heart finally felt like it was back in her chest. She walked deeper into the cave unable to see a thing. She tripped over a rock and hit her head and immediately began to bleed. Out of her spilled blood unto the floor a red rose formed and more buds bloomed around La Mama. The bloodied ground shined bright red and lead her deeper into the cave, where she found her child unharmed and sleeping.

Suddenly, a shadowy, small figure emerged from above her child. La Mama was frightened and quickly grasped her child to safety. The figured stood very still and stared back at La Mama, then the child and gazed back at La Mama. The figure then spoke, “ why are you here?” La Mama replied, “I came to look for my child. The figure replied, “why did you venture this far away from your home and people?. La Mama explained, I came into the mountains in hopes to find the secret passage.” The shadow questioned, “why?” La Mama bursted into tears and after a few deep breaths to compose herself she exclaimed, “I want my children to have a future and survive and live long prosperous life! In the world of U.S Colonialism, Ecuador is losing so much, making it impossible to survive. People like us, brown, poor, and “uneducated”, live to work the lands and resources so others who benefit from this system can then harvest our labor and live comfortably. “I just want comfort and security for my children.”

I believe my children will become a force in the world for people like us. I want them to be in place where they can help others. I believe in my children and I would do anything for them.” The figure didn’t say anything as La Mama’s steady stream of tears began to fill and flood the cave with her sorrow. The figure touched her sleeping child’s forehead and said, “Mama, your children will all survive, flourish and give back to their community. This I can promise you. You need not to travel far and wide to fulfill this wish.” It is within, it will always be within your life.



Brittany F.

We meet during a Puerto Rican Parade. I was walking around with a piña colada in hand and I see a reflection of myself. I stared back and began to make silly faces. But the image didn’t move. I approached closer and it turned out to be another person. “Oh my bad,” I said, “it’s a mirror.” I explained. After that, we talked a little bit more and it turns out that we’re related. She’s my great, great great, great grandmother. She told me how she got here and the reasons why she wanted to bother herself as a person. She migrated on a boat and started working as an entertainer. She would do dances, concerts, and play instruments. Even tell stories.

I would ask her what was her favorite instrument and she would respond with the drum. According to her, the drum was very important because it represented life because of the beat. The beat was the heart of everything back home. It would begin a story and end it. That’s why she loves it. I told her that the drums are my favorite. After that, she has been teaching me how l live with the drum in my heart. “As long as you keep a steady beat nothing will stop you.”

Anaiza Cartagena

A conversation with an ancestor

Challenges they face?

Taking care of her children and her sister’s children. Trying to support them.

What is their character like?

Reserved and welcoming




Make people around her happy.


This lady has seen it all, ain’t nobody got time for that.


Her charm.

Thoughts about the U.S?

She tries to get through the day, some people are too rude and she just doesn’t like the people.

Thoughts about me?

She loves me, she crocheted a whole blanket for me.

Thoughts about my life

She’s not opposed to anything that I’m doing, she just wants me to make the right decisions.

My identities?

She accepts who I am?

My struggles?

She would tell me that I shouldn’t be struggling because I am so young.

Questions I would ask:

How did you feel when your sister abandoned her family?

Why did you feel the need to take in my grandmother?

Did you feel like it was your responsibility?


Garrick Baker

I can imagine all the difficulties he’s going through like traveling, food, water, and asking for money from people. Their character is brave and strong because no matter what he keeps going always looking at the bright side instead of seeing the bad. His dream is to start a family in the U.S. in order to make a change within this country because I see so much negativity. Despite being in a country that is supposed to be a “land of opportunity” for newcomers. His fears was going back and dying while he is on this journey.

Did someone threatened to send you back if you don’t do anything wrong? Were their people offering you things like coffee, socks, or food? Who did you look up to? Is there an item you’ve treasured for so long and what does it mean to you? How was it there in that country you came from? What made you leave there? His magic was to make people laugh and happy and make them comfortable with another.


Lucas V

When I meet with Rafael, I’d imagine the challenges they face or he faces in his family to just to meet basic needs such as work and living. With what’s going on in Puerto Rico right now, it’s a matter of survival and keeping a positive mindset. Their character would be cheerful but determined, just like my dad’s. Their fear would be just keeping family safe and happy. Their magic is creating conversation  and making people smile. They think of the United States as a place of sovereignty but more of as a place of opportunity, not home. They see me as grown, smart, and the will to do, what I want and need to do. My life is filled with work, lots of fun, and being busy in school, going to have a great education. My identity is a mixture of Boriqua but also very  Americanized. My struggles would be making it well in school by staying out of problems such as drugs and women. He hopes I would carry on and know my culture as I should with that of America. They’d ask about my school and how it was, as well as how my job is. Generally, they’d see my family is too, with my profession.

Our lives are different because of how fortunate I am with education. An easy job, family close by, and tons of technology, and mostly support. What’s the same is our foods, culture, and I  believe that’s it. The power they passed to me is that of what privilege it is to be here and live in Chicago in Humboldt Park.

Leanesse Castillo

If I could spend one day with one of my ancestors they would be as crazy as the rest of my family. They would be funny, straight forward, no sugar coating and very outgoing. We would tell stories and laugh and have a good time, show me their cooking skills and the way they do things. The things they loved to do things. The things they love to do and what made them happy, they can tell me how much my great grandparents drove them crazy. They tell me about their background, what they have been through, their conflicts, why they did the things they did.

Just for a day for them to show me differently because I’m not like them, well not all the time. I think they did pass down the anger and attitude and loudness down to me but also the goofy and big hearted personality down to me.