Culture

A New Incubator Is Opening Up In Chicago’s ‘La Villita’ And Will Embrace The Neighborhood’s Mexican Heritage

At 10 years old, Anayasin Vazquez, now 60, moved to Little Village, affectionately called La Villita, with her family. The predominantly Mexican neighborhood is only 15 minutes Southwest of the Loop in Chicago, but entering its non-physical borders can feel like a passport is required. Billboard advertisements change from English to Spanish, the skin and hair color of people darkens and the image of La Virgen de Guadalupe can be seen on nearly every block.

Anayasin Vazquez’s memories of her childhood in La Villita are of bustling businesses, like La Chiquita grocery store.

Credit: junf_ga / Instagram

Vasquez recalls families eating at La Justicia, sweet smells emanating from El Nopal bakery and grocery trips to La Chiquita.

“That was a time when I saw Little Village thriving,” she recalls. She moved out of the area at 18 years old, and 20 years passed before she moved back. When she did, the neighborhood had changed.

But, over time, Vasquez saw changes to the community she loves, some of which are positive.

Credit: Google Maps

“Buildings deteriorated, businesses were leaving and it no longer had the vibrancy I remembered,” says Vazquez. “People were negatively affected by these changes. It led to crime. And that’s why I’m excited about Xquina. Because maybe it can help us get back to what Little Village was.”

Vazquez is referring to Xquina Cafe.

Credit: Google Maps

The recently announced hybrid coffee shop and entrepreneurial incubator, expected to fill the empty storefront located at 3534 W. 26th St., in Spring 2019. Jaime di Paulo, former executive director of the local chamber of commerce, now President & CEO of the Illinois Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, spearheaded the project and describes it as a learning center with cultural relevance. In late July, the Mayor’s office announced it was the recipient of a $250,000 Neighborhood Opportunity Grant. Another $350,000 is needed to fully fund the project.

The two-story, 6,000-square-foot building, is described as an eyesore by locals. It sits along the main corridor of the neighborhood’s shopping district, which to date, has lacked any businesses of this kind. The facility, partially owned by the chamber, will be designed as a hub for ideas and business meetings. Expect free wi-fi, classes for entrepreneurs, co-working spaces and private offices. 

Di Paulo was aided in his bid by Juan Saldana, associate director of the chamber’s Small Business Development Center. The two brokered a deal with Carlos Halwaji, its initial purchaser, for 25 percent ownership of the building. Halwaji is a chiropractor who has practiced in Little Village for the last 20 years. 

The facility shares tech incubator DNA, but will incorporate the neighborhood’s Mexican identity.

Credit: DesignBridgeLtd

Classes will be offered in both English and Spanish; and the coffee operator and second anchor tenant will be carefully scrutinized by select members of the chamber, in order to ensure a shared vision of empowering the people in the area.

“Gentrification is a real issue,” says di Paulo. “We want to be very selective of the vendors we use. New amenities to a community is sometimes confused as gentrification. This isn’t that. We are building something for the people of Little Village.” 

It’s not the first time a local organization purchased and built out a physical space in order to better the lives, and preserve the culture, of people in the district. Universidad Popular is a non-profit which provides support services to Latinos. Founded in 1972, the organization offers an array of classes and resources ranging from health and wellness topics, to digital literacy. 

Originally located in Lakeview, the organization bounced from Humboldt Park to Pilsen, due to rising rent. In an effort to combat gentrification, the organization purchased a 12,000 square foot banquet hall in Little Village. The renovation costs, estimated at upwards of $1M, almost kept the organization from moving forward with their plans. However, with the help of its working class neighborhood—plumbers, carpenters, housekeepers and electricians—they managed to transform the dilapidated building into a vital part of the community that continues to thrive. 

Xquina is the younger sibling to this concept. It’s a place primarily designed for the 33 percent of residents under the age of 35.

“Most people have to leave the neighborhood if they need a quiet place to work or study,” says di Paulo. “We don’t want that, so we’re working to fit the needs and demands of the people. There’s currently nothing like this in Little Village.“

A feasibility study done by the chamber, showed 90 percent of people deemed this initiative important and critical to the area. Especially the free internet. A common asset in the Loop and Northside, but a scarce resource in the neighborhood says Vazquez.

With a clear need and desire for this concept, it can appear as if support was garnered overnight. However, the process began five years ago when di Paulo started his position, and inherited a $50,000 deficit.

Over time, he turned the business around and earned the trust of the people by funneling resources into the neighborhood. Such as the establishment of a small business development center last fall. With that addition to the neighborhood, came Salgado. 

The two walked the streets, knocked on doors and got to know residents. Their grassroots efforts led to their small business center being one of the most successful on record. Money allocated for businesses in Little Village reached more than $1M in less than a year. 

When the times come, a vendor RFP will be posted where a committee of four to five members from the area will be formed to select the two anchor tenants. 

“Hopefully someone from the neighborhood steps up,” says Salgado when asked about the ideal candidate.

This optimism and investment in the community drives the concept. Salgado and di Paulo both speak of this project as a way to combat gentrification and minimize brain drain happening among young people who feel their needs are not being met. 

“The idea is, we don’t have all the answers,” says Salgado. “We’re looking to the community to help us. We want to bring in the right people who can help create jobs. We want to be a catalyst for growth.”

And judging by the support for Xquina Cafe, it’s clear Salgado is not the only hopeful one.

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Meet Manuel Mendoza, The Winner Of Netflix’s Cannabis Cooking Competition Show

Culture

Meet Manuel Mendoza, The Winner Of Netflix’s Cannabis Cooking Competition Show

lil_manofrom18th / Instagram

Netflix and Kelis teamed up to create a cooking competition show all about cannabis cooking. “Cooked with Cannabis” is giving cannabis chefs a chance to shine with some friendly competition and the ever-popular cannabis.

Kelis is here with a new kind of cooking competition show officially changing the game.

“Cooked with Cannabis” is elevating the use of cannabis in the kitchen. It is no longer something used by stoners and only stoners. “Cooked with Cannabis” makes cannabis a sophisticated and respectable ingredient in the kitchen. The show offers some insights as to the differences between different strains of pot that many of us just never understood.

The show has six episodes in the first season and there is a new cast of chefs every episode.

The premise of the show is three chefs battling it out for three judges to show what they can do with the cannabis they are given. The recipes look like culinary works of art and seem equally as appetizing. The winner of the episode is given $10,000 as a prize and that’s pretty grand.

One of the winners this season is Manuel Mendoza, a cannabis chef from Chicago.

Mendoza works for Herbal Notes, a Chicago-based cannabis collaborative project. According to the website, Herbal Notes hopes to destigmatize the practice of using cannabis in cooking by highlighting the medicinal properties of the natural ingredient. Herbal Notes is also trying to empower communities long vilified for their use of cannabis.

Mendoza won using the cannabis to create some deliciously relevant foods.

Mendoza won by giving the judges some pot leaf-shaped chilaquiles and marijuana-infused pupusas. The use of Mexican and Salvadoran foods not only highlights our community but also his own upbringing in Chicago as a Salvadoran kid. Mendoza is proud to say that he was raised by Pilsen, the famed Latino community in Chicago.

Congratulations, Mendoza. It is a victory well deserved.

Mendoza’s start in cannabis cooking came when he had a eureka moment with iced chocolate milk. The chef was fresh out of culinary school and was eager to try new things, including cannabis cooking. The cannabis cooking trend was just kicking off and he just wanted to play around. When he created that iced chocolate milk, Mendoza knew that he was on to something and the rest is his culinary career.

READ: Mexico’s Progressive Bill Legalizing Cannabis Stalled Again Because Of Pandemic

A Young Mother With COVID-19 In Chicago Dies After Emergency C-Section

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A Young Mother With COVID-19 In Chicago Dies After Emergency C-Section

GoFundMe

There is no lack of tragic stories of loss and heartbreak as the world confronts the COVID-19 pandemic. The virus has killed the old, young, sick, and healthy. For one Chicago family, the virus took a young woman after an emergency c-section was performed to save her child’s life.

A Chicago family is mourning the sudden and tragic death of a young mother-to-be.

It is with great sadness and pain that we share with friends and family that my sister fought her hardest against…

Posted by Mauricio Solano on Thursday, April 23, 2020

Eli Solano was a 26-year-old pregnant woman living in Chicago. Solano was expecting her first child when she was diagnosed with COVID-19. The mother-to-be was hospitalized with the virus for three days before being sent home. According to family members, her symptoms from the virus continued to worsen until she was readmitted to the hospital.

The family is currently raising money to cover the unexpected cost of a funeral for Solano.

Credit: GoFundMe

Solano’s brother remembers her as someone who was excited to be a new mother.

“She was very excited to have her baby and she was very excited throughout her whole pregnancy,” Solano’s brother, Mauricio Solano told NBC 5 Chicago.

Mauricio’s Facebook post dedicated to his sister has been flooded with love and support.

Credit: Mauricio Solano / Facebook

Eli was first admitted to AMITA Health Saints Mary and Elizabeth Medical Center after she went for an ultrasound. Shortly after that ultrasound, Eli tested positive for the deadly virus that is sweeping across the world.

“They were able to get her pulse back but 20 minutes later she left for good,” Mauricio remembers about his sister’s last moments.

Mauricio added: “She was very excited. This was her first baby and we have to stay strong for this baby that she left behind. We will always see her through him as she will always be by his side.”

The family’s fundraiser has surpassed its financial goal to cover expenses related to the tragedy.

Credit: GoFundMe

While the family heals from the unexpected loss, Mauricio wants families to be prepared to do whatever it takes to spare themselves this pain. The virus isn’t going anywhere any time soon and it is up to everyone to make sure that we do everything we can to protect our loved ones from the virus.

“I encourage everyone to stay home and take this virus seriously,” Mauricio told NBC 5 Chicago. “It is not a joke.”

The United States is close to 1,000,000 reported cases of COVID-19 with millions of Americans currently under lockdown orders. As the summer months start, the desire to leave the house has prompted health officials to encourage people to stay home and social distance as much as possible.

READ: President Trump Thinks Injecting Disinfectants Could Cure COVID-19 And The Memes Are Hilarious