Pictured from left to right, Community Engagement Specialist Stephanie Mendoza, Board Member Chandra Palmer, Board Member Jesus Vega, Board Member Rebeca Mendoza and Board Member Dolores Ayala.

For Evanston Latinos President Rebeca Mendoza, change begins when adversity looms over communities of color.

The pandemic spurred her into action, inspiring her to create a non-profit focused on delivering accessible information to non-English speaking residents in Evanston.

Mendoza founded Evanston Latinos after preliminary census data revealed racial health disparities. Last May, the positivity rate for Latino residents hit 18.3%, significantly higher than the City average. As the number of COVID-19 cases climbed during that period, her team implemented a COVID-19 response program where they provided COVID supplies and resources to help families.

Mendoza’s organization is questioning whether the census data is accurate. There was a general mistrust of providing that information to the census because of past administrations said they would use personal information to determine if a person was undocumented or not, Mendoza said. Evanston residents felt apprehensive when they received misinformation that the U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement agents (ICE) were disguised as census counters. “I think that this sparked fear. Even when news outlets said that it wasn’t going to be done, I think [Latino residents] chose not to be included in the census,” she said.

She believes there is great need for more Latino representation in government and in health data. She also illustrates a growing need for public City language to be accessible for residents who do not have strong digital literacy skills.

Mendoza’s organization took it upon themselves to advise organizations on ways that they can better service Spanish-speaking residents in Evanston.

“We are doing the work that a lot of other organizations are not doing,” Mendoza said. “We worked to build connections with them and share that information.”

A lot of information that was made available to the City of Evanston during the pandemic was not translated during that time. In April and May, the Mayor’s Task Force sent COVID-19 updates. At the height of the pandemic, Mendoza’s group translated the information from the task force and provided it to the community through a private Facebook group called “Hechos en Evanston.” Their group’s Facebook page grew from 125 members in the beginning to around 600 members today. The page has become an outlet for information for the Latino community.

The organization also created a five-day course for Latinos that taught them ways to make their households more resistant during the pandemic. Participants also received cleaning supplies and medication. Additionally, it showed them how to manage household finances, use electronics and technology, learn about their local government and connect with community partners. The Chicago Community Trust provided participants a $500 stipend.

The organization is now meeting monthly with other parents and Latino leaders. Stephanie Mendoza, as the first Latina as City Clerk, will help pave the way for more Latino government leaders in Evanston.