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Monday, November 19, 2018

Archive dive: A report from Morton, Illinois, the self-declared pumpkin capital of the world

Posted By on 11.19.18 at 11:00 AM

  • JAMES H.

The Reader's archive is vast and varied, going back to 1971. Every week in Archive Dive, we'll dig through and bring up some finds.

Sure, your aunt may say she made that Thanksgiving pumpkin pie all on her own, but how much does she know about the people who picked and packed the pumpkins before the can of pie filling entered her kitchen? In the 2006 Reader article "Hecho en Illinois," Linda Lutton and Catrin Einhorn explored Morton, Illinois, which at the time produced as much as 90 percent of all canned pumpkin consumed in the United States. And the majority of those who made it possible traveled from a small town in Michoacan, Mexico.

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Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Crashing the boys’ club: independent women directors in the 60s and 70s

Posted By on 08.07.18 at 06:00 AM

Barbara Loden's Wanda
  • Barbara Loden's Wanda
The explosion of American independent filmmaking in the 1960s and '70s was largely an all-male affair (surprise), but a few talented women also got their hand in during this vital and changing period. The Chicago Film Society is showing one such effort, Juleen Compton's 1966 rarity The Plastic Dome of Norma Jean, which has been recently rediscovered and restored, on Wednesday, August 15. We've selected another five diverse titles below.

The Connection
I saw the Living Theater's legendary production of Jack Gelber's play (directed by Judith Malina) three times during its initial run in the early 60s, and no film adaptation half as long could claim its raw confrontational power. Echoing The Lower Depths and The Iceman Cometh, it's about junkies waiting for a fix (among them a performing jazz quartet with pianist-composer Freddie Redd and alto sax Jackie McLean), and spectators were even accosted in the lobby by one actor begging for money. Shirley Clarke's imaginative if dated 1961 film uses most of the splendid original cast (Warren Finnerty is especially good), confining the action to the play's single run-down flat. It's presented as a pseudodocumentary; the square neophyte director, eventually persuaded to shoot heroin himself, winds up focusing his camera on a cockroach. The film retains the same beatnik wit that the play effectively distilled, as well as a few scary shocks. With Carl Lee, Garry Goodrow, and Roscoe Lee Browne. 105 min. —Jonathan Rosenbaum

Perhaps the most depressing film ever made, this 1971 feature by director-actress Barbara Loden tells of a young, ignorant, emotionally deadened, and hopelessly dreary woman from the coal-mining region of Pennsylvania whose life is a succession of dead ends. Doomed from the start to a life of ignorance and boredom, she's victimized by her surroundings, by men hardly less dreary than she, and by her sex. A brilliantly atmospheric film with a superb performance by Loden. 105 min. —Don Druker

The Velvet Vampire
Given the genre (horror) and the budget (extremely low), it may seem perverse to say that Stephanie Rothman's 1971 film is among the best women's films ever made, but so it is—a highly intelligent, deftly poetic reimagining of the vampire myth, with the theme of fatal sexuality transferred to a female character. The vampire is neither an aggressor nor a seductress, but an abstract figure of polymorphous sensuality: her "victims" choose her, and they range from a would-be rapist to a liberated (and wittily parodied) southern California couple. 80 min. —Dave Kehr

Hester Street
Joan Micklin Silver's ingratiating little movie (1975) begins with some big ideas about immigrant culture, but these are soon and happily shucked in favor of a modestly effective domestic melodrama. In the New York of the 1890s, Jake (Steven Keats), a Jewish immigrant with five years in America, dreads the arrival of his wife, Gitl (Carol Kane), from the old country. Jake is a "Yankee" now, resenting Gitl's naivete and superstition. Photographed in a self-consciously quaint black and white, Hester Street is compromised by preciousness and oversimplification, but it makes a pleasant and efficient entertainment. 90 min. —Dave Kehr

Harlan County, USA
Barbara Kopple's 1977 documentary on a Kentucky coal miners' strike is muddled on the issues, but it earned its Oscar as a dramatic, involving story, full of tough and appealing characters. Kopple's fiercely partisan stance upsets the classic balance of cinema verite documentary, but who could fail to take sides in this timeless labor-management confrontation and still claim to have a heart? 103 min. —Dave Kehr

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Tuesday, July 10, 2018

100,000 'From Immigrants' love letters to the U.S. are being left around Chicago and other cities

Posted By on 07.10.18 at 06:00 AM

One of the "From Immigrants" love letters - PILAR TORCAL
  • Pilar Torcal
  • One of the "From Immigrants" love letters

Melis Sönmez is the founder and director of Bright Side, an online magazine dedicated to telling the stories of creative immigrants living in the United States. With her small team, composed of herself, a writing volunteer, a social media volunteer, and a design partner, she hopes to empower immigrants and educate American citizens about the obstacles that they must overcome to live in this country. She's starting at the grassroots level with her newest project, titled "From Immigrants," a series of cards featuring vibrant artwork and brief anecdotes from immigrants that Sönmez will leave in various public spaces across Chicago. She wants the people who pick up the cards to think of them as love letters from immigrants to the United States. Last month, Sönmez launched the "From Immigrants" project on Kickstarter to help spread the love letters beyond Chicago.

The stories that Sönmez, 28, shares on Bright Side are those of immigrants who do some type of creative work and are having a positive impact on society. About a year after the magazine's inception, she says that she has received overwhelmingly positive feedback, but she wants to be careful that she is not preaching to the choir. She hopes to reach those who may not have a true understanding of immigrants' plight in this country.

"These people are not here to steal jobs," Sönmez says. "Almost every person that I've interviewed so far, they're here because they want to get some sort of different experience. Not everyone is here because they hate their [home] countries."


Sönmez, a Turkish immigrant, came up with the idea to create Bright Side after her own struggles with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. She moved to the United States in 2014 on an internship visa, which expires after a year. The company that she was interning for offered her full-time employment, prompting her to apply for an H-1B visa, which allows for foreign workers in specialty occupations to work for U.S. companies. The H-1B visa is given out by way of a lottery and, unfortunately, Sönmez was not chosen in the lottery that year.

While the United States was the sixth country she's lived in, she was ready to settle down in Chicago and build a life here. The company she worked for encouraged her to speak to an attorney, who suggested that she apply for a different visa, the extraordinary ability visa or EB-1A visa. Sönmez, a design reseacher by trade, applied and waited.

"I thought that I didn't have a chance, and I was eventually getting ready to leave the country, but for some reason they gave me that visa," she says.

However, she lived in limbo for nine months, unsure of her status and whether she would have to pack up and move back to Turkey. Since she couldn't work legally and didn't have much money, she spent most of her time at home and felt useless.

"I thought that I was the only person to go through those difficulties," Sönmez says. "But then I realized that a lot of people overcome the same problems. So I was like, OK, this is interesting, I think [immigrants] need a platform where we can share these struggles but in a positive way."

Being positive is important to Sönmez, and she wanted this to be reflected in Bright Side. It is a large part of the reason she chose Pilar Torcal, an artist from Spain who now lives in New York City, to be her design partner.

Torcal created the images for both the website and the "From Immigrants" project. Torcal's style is very colorful and striking, which Sönmez loved and felt would fit well with her mission. Torcal also being an immigrant made her a perfect fit for Bright Side.

  • Pilar Torcal

Sönmez is leaving the love letters in places like coffee shops, grocery stores, and mailboxes across the city so that everyday people have access to them. She hopes that the Kickstarter will help her afford to print 100,000 of the "From Immigrants" love letters to distribute in not only Chicago, but also New York and Miami. (She's starting in those cities because she already has volunteers there.) Eventually she wants to translate the cards into various languages, and she hopes to see the project implemented in elementary schools, grow nationwide, and ultimately go global.

As the debates about immigration reform grow more heated—especially since the Trump administration issued its zero tolerance policy—this labor can be difficult at times, but Sönmez says, "The only thing that gives me peace of mind is that I'm not doing anything wrong here. It's all positivity, and it's not a lie. These are the things that people are going through, these are facts. I cannot live in fear."

She is cautious about jeopardizing her visa, though. So while she recognizes that the plight of illegal immigrants is equally important, she only publishes stories of legal immigrants.

Her ultimate dream, she says, laughing, is "as Trump says, a big, fat, beautiful wall. [But] for immigrants." The wall will feature a compilation of the images that Torcal has created for the "From Immigrants" love letters.

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Saturday, June 30, 2018

Thousands protest Trump in the Families Belong Together March [PHOTOS]

Posted By , and on 06.30.18 at 02:28 PM

  • Aimee Levitt

There were more than 700 Families Belong Together rallies across America today, including one in downtown Chicago. The rallies were ostensibly organized to protest the new government policy of declaring immigrant children "unaccompanied minors" and separating them from their parents at the border, but they also condemned the Trump administration's refusal to grant asylum to refugees from domestic and gang violence and the recent Supreme Court decision to uphold the travel ban on residents of seven countries, five of which are majority Muslim.

At Daley Plaza - JAMIE LUDWIG
  • Jamie Ludwig
  • At Daley Plaza

An estimated 60,000 people gathered in and around Daley Plaza at 11 AM this morning, including a marching band, voter registrars, Captain America, and a family who might have been Aztec warriors. The heat index was above 100 degrees, but thousands stayed through the hour-long rally and the march afterward. (The column of marchers was so long that as some were returning to the plaza at the end of the 15-block route, others were still just leaving.) There was a handful of speakers, though the crowd was so vast that their voices didn't carry very far. One young woman spoke movingly about how her father may have been deported. A physician talked about immigrating to the U.S. from India when she was two years old in order to seek medical care. She described the "toxic trauma" she sees now in Chicago among children who live in constant fear of their families being split up. Two more young undocumented Chicagoans informed the crowd that they are part of the community here and that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) should be abolished. A final speaker said that abolishing ICE wouldn't be going far enough: the government needed to repeal the 2003 immigration bill that led to the establishment of ICE in the first place.

  • Aimee Levitt

At noon, the march stepped off from Daley Plaza, heading south on Clark to the federal building at 101 W. Congress, where the Chicago office of ICE is located. It stopped briefly so the band could play a rendition of "The Imperial March" from Star Wars before looping back north on Dearborn. A few marchers later attempted to occupy the building, but they were stopped and kettled by police, according to reports on Twitter.

Occupying the Picasso - JAMIE LUDWIG
  • Jamie Ludwig
  • Occupying the Picasso

  • Aimee Levitt

Inmates watched the crowd from the observation deck of the Metropolitan Correctional Center. - AIMEE LEVITT
  • Aimee Levitt
  • Inmates watched the crowd from the observation deck of the Metropolitan Correctional Center.

  • Aimee Levitt

  • Aimee Levitt

  • Philip Montoro

A slogan that never gets old - PHILIP MONTORO
  • Philip Montoro
  • A slogan that never gets old
Blessings from an Aztec warrior - PHILIP MONTORO
  • Philip Montoro
  • Blessings from an Aztec warrior
A water mister from the fire department cooled the marchers - PHILIP MONTORO
  • Philip Montoro
  • A water mister from the fire department cooled the marchers
The signs

  • Jamie Ludwig
  • Jamie Ludwig

  • Jamie Ludwig

  • Aimee Levitt

  • Jamie Ludwig

  • Jamie Ludwig

  • Aimee Levitt

  • Aimee Levitt

  • Philip Montoro

  • Philip Montoro

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Friday, May 18, 2018

Immigration activist who took sanctuary in Humboldt Park church spotlighted in Elvira

Posted By on 05.18.18 at 06:00 AM

Elvira Arellano at a rally in 2006
  • Elvira Arellano at a rally in 2006
South Side Projections concludes an ongoing series of films about undocumented immigrants with a free screening at 7 PM Saturday night at the U. of C. Logan Center for the Arts of the locally produced documentary Elvira (2009). The film, directed by Columbia College graduate Javier Solórzano Casarin, profiles Elvira Arellano, an undocumented Mexican immigrant who became an activist for immigrants' rights after she was arrested in the early 2000s. Arellano, who will attend Saturday's screening, had been working at O'Hare Airport when she was arrested by immigration authorities; after being released, she found sanctuary with her son (who was born in the U.S.) at a church in Humboldt Park. As she waited for her case to be tried, Arellano took part in rallies for the rights of undocumented immigrants, becoming a symbol for many; she also garnered the attention of U.S. politicians who offered to sponsor her stay in the country. Despite her prominence, Arellano was deported to Mexico in 2007. She returned to Chicago in 2014, where she was reunited with her son, and the two returned to the Humboldt Park church. Arellano will share her story on Saturday and discuss how she continues to stay involved in the immigration rights movement.

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Friday, May 19, 2017

As others are deported, a Dreamer wrestles with fear and uncertainty

Posted By on 05.19.17 at 11:23 AM

Laura Mendoza - JON BROWN
  • Jon Brown
  • Laura Mendoza

In April, President Donald Trump pledged not to deport undocumented immigrants with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status—aka "Dreamers"—telling the more than 875,000 people brought to the U.S. illegally as children that they should "rest easy."

Despite these assurances, a 23-year-old man filed a lawsuit alleging he was deported from California to Mexico on February 18 despite having active protection under the DACA program. And on May 8, a woman in Atlanta had her DACA status removed by immigration officials due to legal technicalities.

Laura Mendoza, 28, is an immigration organizer with the Resurrection Project in Chicago. She has DACA status and works in Pilsen and Back of the Yards to help other undocumented residents learn more about the resources and rights available to them.

Here Mendoza describes the fear and uncertainty she's facing under the Trump administration, and why her organizing work is so important to her.

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Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Immigration fears, state budget woes have made things worse for domestic violence victims

Posted By on 05.10.17 at 05:40 PM

An advocate at the National Domestic Violence Hotline center's facility in Austin, Texas. On Monday the nation’s most prominent domestic violence hotline said there has been a sharp increase in calls from abuse victims struggling with issues related to their immigration status. - AP PHOTO/ERIC GAY, FILE
  • AP Photo/Eric Gay, File
  • An advocate at the National Domestic Violence Hotline center's facility in Austin, Texas. On Monday the nation’s most prominent domestic violence hotline said there has been a sharp increase in calls from abuse victims struggling with issues related to their immigration status.

It's a basic lesson in civics that while the operations of government may seem remote, the effects of its policies will eventually be felt by everybody, including the most vulnerable populations who have the least power to change anything. This has become abundantly clear over the past few months as the federal government's crackdown on undocumented immigrants has made undocumented victims of domestic violence afraid to press charges against their abusers, and as the Illinois state government's failure to come up with a budget for nearly two years running has cut funding and services to help those victims.

In the thick of these problems is Chicago's Domestic Violence Legal Clinic, which provides free legal assistance to low-income residents of Cook County. Executive director Margaret Duval took some time to explain to me the new challenges facing victims—and their advocates—in advance of the group's benefit, which takes place Thursday.

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Thursday, April 27, 2017

Local Syrian-American doctors support Trump’s missile strikes, despite skepticism

Posted By on 04.27.17 at 08:00 AM

A video posted online April 18 by the media arm of the Islamic State group purports to shows destroyed houses following a U.S.-led coalition strike in the eastern Syrian town of Boukamal. - AAMAQ NEWS AGENCY VIA AP
  • Aamaq News Agency via AP
  • A video posted online April 18 by the media arm of the Islamic State group purports to shows destroyed houses following a U.S.-led coalition strike in the eastern Syrian town of Boukamal.

On a windy April night, nearly 100 people met at a candlelight vigil in Federal Plaza. Organized by the Women's March Illinois the Women for Syria vigil eulogized Syria's estimated 500,000 dead and demanded an increase in the United States' intake of Syrian refugees in the wake of President Trump's missile strikes in the country.

Among a group of mostly women—some with tightly-wrapped hijabs, others with floppy pink knitted hats—were several Syrian-American doctors cautiously hopeful that somehow the air strike would be the beginning of a shift towards greater U.S. engagement in Syria.

Syrian-American doctors interviewed at the vigil say peace in Syria can never be found with Assad in power, and oddly, this has driven them to a renewed hope in Trump, a man who ran on a promise to end Syrian refugee resettlement in the United States and whose son once referred to Syrian refugees as Skittles that "would kill you."

While Trump said his strike would end "the slaughter and bloodshed in Syria," Syrian-American doctors interviewed are deeply skeptical of the U.S.'s next steps to end a six-year war that has targeted health care workers and displaced half of Syria's population.

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Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Teaching Chicagoans that in Rojava, resistance is life

Posted By on 04.26.17 at 03:20 PM

  • Kurdishstruggle/Flickr
  • A Kurdish YPG fighter

There's an old adage: The Kurds have no friends but the mountains.

The Chicago Committee for Solidarity with Kurdistan and Rojava and local anarchist group Black Rose Chicago came together Saturday in the hopes of dispelling that notion at a Rojava-focused discussion.

Held at the Nightingale Cinema in Noble Square, the event was billed as liberation support for Rojava, a radical de facto autonomous Kurdish region in northern Syria, and Kurdistan, the world's largest stateless nation, spread out among Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran. The ten-city speaking tour—organized by Friends of Rojava, a coalition of Kurdish solidarity organizations in the United States—was arranged to educate the left in the West on this little-known revolution.

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Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Deportation fears can lead to higher risk of illness in undocumented populations

Posted By on 04.25.17 at 01:30 PM

Patients wait in line for treatment at a California clinic. - AP PHOTO/DAMIAN DOVARGANES/FILE
  • AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes/File
  • Patients wait in line for treatment at a California clinic.

Donald Trump vilified immigrants during his presidential campaign and has continued to do so since being sworn into office, signing executive orders that target undocumented immigrants, among other measures. As federal immigration officials emboldened by Trump's executive orders seek out and detain undocumented immigrants, their communities are experiencing an increase in fear that can impact their health.

"We noticed that there's a lot of mental health needs and specific health problems that people face when they're undocumented," says Wendy Mironov, a registered nurse with Salud Sin Papeles (Health Without Papers). The grassroots group has been around for two years and focuses on improving the health of and access to health care for undocumented immigrants, families, and communities by educating undocumented immigrants on their rights.

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