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For years Puerto Ricans have been debating the question of their political status.

The island has been linked to the United States for 115 years and has been a Commonwealth since 1952.  It means they handle their local affairs but follow U-S federal laws.

The debate is over three options. Should Puerto Rico remain a Commonwealth?  Should it become a U-S state?  Should they fight for independence?

Each option poses some challenges.

Last year’s non-binding referendum found that 54 percent favored changing Puerto Rico’s current status as a Commonwealth.  That referendum wasn’t specific enough and was later thrown out.  The debate is likely to continue as Puerto Rico faces other challenges.

The island is dealing with a challenging economy which includes a 13.9% unemployment rate.

As we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, we take a look at the impact Latinos are having on some of the nation’s largest industries; from sports to entertainment and also religion.

Latinos are opening the doors to new ministries.  Thousands of Latinos are switching from their traditional Catholic Church to a Protestant ministry.

One of the fastest growing ministries is located here in Chicago and is run by Pastor Wilfredo DeJesus.  In 2000 they had just 68 members and have now exploded to 17,000.  DeJesus has become the face behind a religious shift from the Catholic Church to evangelical ministries.  He says evangelical churches are offering people a larger connection.

“You can’t just speak in generalities, you have to speak to the closures of homes, foreclosures,” he says.  “You can’t just have mass.”

25235039While evangelical ministries are gaining members, the Catholic Church is losing members.  Bishop Alberto with the Archdiocese of Chicago says the shift is often temporary with many of them eventually returning to the Catholic Church.

Hispanic Heritage Month: WGN’s Dan Ponce asks Chicagoans which they prefer to be labeled as, Hispanic or Latino. Find out what they said and how those labels came to be.

WGN’s Dan Ponce has the story.

An educational program created by a Chicago man aims to infiltrate that often colorful, noisy world to change the lives of at risk youth.

Roberto Rivera came up with this curriculum which uses creative forms of expression such as hip hop, dance, even graffiti to teach kids how to deal with their emotions in order to make better choices.

The facilitators of Fulfill the Dream bring a positive message to the classroom but in a context that the students can connect with.

Since its inception five years ago, Fulfill the Dream has trained 20 organizations  in seven cities around the country and impacted the lives of 20,000 students. Roberto Rivera thinks the program is successful because it gives at risk youth an opportunity to turn what brings them down into what pushes them forward.

WGN’s Ana Belaval has more.


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The rise of the Jibarito

Chicago is best known for the hot dog and the Italian beef, but there’s another sandwich that’s quickly becoming one of Chicago’s very own – the jibarito.

Ana Belaval has the story.

A local couple beat all odds to keep their neighborhood and the children living in it safe.   Even as gangs threatened their safety they stood their ground and have created one of the most successful after-school programs in Little Village.

Rob and Amy Castaneda started Beyond the Ball in 2000 as a way to fight local gangs taking over their neighborhood.  Their Little Village home was set on fire three times by gang members wanting to stop the Castaneda’s efforts to get police involved.  Instead of leaving the neighborhood they decided to start an after-school program to keep children away from crime.

Beyond the Ball is now in its 13th year and is thriving.

For more information on the program go to

As we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, we recognize the work done by Latinos in the Chicago area.

Micaela Ibarra, 83, is recognized by her church, St. Procopius, for 25 years of volunteer service.  Ibarra serves many roles at the small Pilsen church.  She volunteers six days a week organizing the food and clothing banks.  She also helps with the soup kitchen doing daily chores and handing out meals.

Ibarra, who came from Mexico in her late fifties, doesn’t speak English and learned to read and write as an adult.  None of that has stopped her from lending a helping hand.

“Really, I’m not sure what we do without her.  She’s a huge part of the community.  We’d be lost without her,” said Fr. Sean O’Sullivan said.

The community recognized her work with a huge mural in her honor.  It’s a portrait of Ibarra which sits at the side of the church.

For her 25 years of service Ibarra is now also one of Chicago’s Very Own.

Latinos have long had a major impact on Big League Baseball.  But this season, players from the island of Cuba are grabbing headlines with an electrifying style of play.

So to help us celebrate Hispanic Heritage month, we look at the extraordinary flow of Cuban talent to the Major Leagues.

According to Major League baseball, more than 17 Cuban ballplayers have taken the field this season – with minor league stars and defectors waiting in the wings.  But Cubans on the diamond are nothing new in Chicago, which has long been a haven for talented “peloteros.”

From the Dodger’s acrobatic Yasiel Puig, blessed with grace, power and a fiery temperament to 103 MPH Cincinnati flamethrower Aroldis Chapman and many others, Cuban players are emerging like never before.

It is no surprise to Alexei Ramirez.

“We were born with baseball,” the Sox shortstop explains.  “We play baseball and we play with lots of passion.  And that’s what, makes us better everyday.”

Cubans are soaring across the Major Leagues and on Chicago’s Southside.  But the slugging Ramirez, and his counterpart, 24-year-old outfielder Dayan Viciedo, are not the first Cubanos to don the Black & White.  Both men are just the latest in a long, proud tradition of Cubanos in Chicago.  You’ll love this fun and musical look at the beautiful game of Cuban “beisbol!”

When the World Series ends in October, you can watch the Cuban league which starts November 3rd.   And here’s the best part, it’s free.  Watch live games or highlights on the “Baseball de Cuba” here:

quinnGovernor Pat Quinn is honoring Latino Trailblazers.

A new website,, will feature a different trailblazer everyday from now until October 13th in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month.

The site will also correspond with an exhibit in the Thompson Center next month.

The Spanish phrase   “Si Sa Puede”  has become synonymous  with  groups advocating for change.   The literal translation is:   “It can be done.”

But -where and when  did that phrase  work its way into the  protest lexicon?

Dolores Huerta worked with Cesar Chavez   in fighting for  farm workers’ rights.  During the Grape Boycott, when Chavez was on another hunger strike trying to get Arizona  to allow migrant workers to organize, Huerta  says everyone kept telling her,  “No se puede,”or, “ it can’t be done.”

Her response? “Como que no se puede. Si se puede.”  -   “It can be done.”

Elgin Community College is celebrating Hispanic Heritage and  Thursday, their student group OLAS  - the Organization of Latin American Students,  hosted  Huerta.    Now 83 years old, Huerta remains active in educating citizens of all colors  to know their rights  and exercise those rights.