Carmen Velasquez fights for health care


As printed within the Chicago Solar-Occasions and the Chicago Day by day Information:

On Sept. 22, 1993, President Invoice Clinton delivered a primetime speech outlining his plan for well being care reform. He cited well being care safety as one in every of his prime rules.

“Safety signifies that those that don’t now have well being care protection could have it, and for individuals who have it, it is going to by no means be taken away,” the president mentioned. “We should obtain that safety as quickly as doable.”

However that safety wouldn’t prolong to undocumented immigrants, and that horrified Chicago activist and well being care supplier Carmen Velásquez.

“I’m scandalized,” she informed a Chicago Solar-Occasions reporter two days after Clinton’s speech as she stood outdoors the Alivio Medical Clinic in Pilsen. “This can be a primary human proper.”

For many years, Velásquez fought to higher the standard of life for Spanish-speaking and immigrant communities of Pilsen, Little Village and Again of the Yards. All through her lengthy profession, she based a well being clinic, opened a restaurant and fought for non-English-speaking college students on the Chicago Board of Schooling.

Earlier than Alivio opened in January 1990, Latinos on the South and Southwest Sides confronted quite a few boundaries when making an attempt to entry well being care, Solar-Occasions reporter Graciela Kenig wrote in an October 1990 profile of the brand new clinic. A wants evaluation commissioned by Alivio and carried out by the Latino Institute discovered that 40% of Latino residents in all three Latino-majority Chicago neighborhoods lacked insurance coverage, Kenig wrote, and even amongst those that did have insurance coverage, “a further 20% didn’t have protection past hospitalization and 25% had no household protection.”

One other barrier: language. A scarcity of Spanish-speaking medical personnel brought about fewer Latino residents to hunt well being care, officers informed Kenig. All workers members at Alivio have been bilingual and bicultural.

By giving Pilsen residents a area people clinic, Velásquez hoped to encourage Latinos to hunt medical care usually, not solely when an issue grew to become an emergency.

“Our goal is to vary life, not simply to present pictures,” Velásquez, the middle’s govt director, defined to Kenig. “We provide affected person training and counseling in addition to workshops that promote good well being habits.”

However well being care wasn’t Velásquez’s solely ardour. She and co-owner Rosario Rabiel opened Decima Musa Restaurant at nineteenth and Loomis streets in 1982, which grew to become a haven for Mexican and Chicano artists, writers and creatives. In 1988, Solar-Occasions columnist John Stebbins profiled Velásquez — and he or she didn’t maintain again.

“Stupidity makes me indignant. Ignorance makes me indignant. A——s make me indignant. Individuals who don’t respect different individuals make me indignant,” she informed Stebbins, who credited her with elevating hell and town’s consciousness. “You get indignant while you run into that stuff simply because you’re a Mexican, or a feminine or slightly darker than others.”

Stebbins described Velásquez, who had simply completed serving on the Chicago Board of Schooling, as “a political volcano that erupts alongside society’s faults” and “a Renaissance lady” — one who was “combating trench warfare in opposition to the social ills that multiply within the forgotten elements of town.”

On the time of the interview, the multi-talented activist had already raised $3.1 million for then-Undertaking Alivio. “In our neighborhoods, you see storefront clinic after storefront clinic. There’s amount, however the place is the standard?” she requested.

Mayor Richard J. Daley nominated Velásquez to the Chicago College Board in 1974, which meant she had to surrender her state place and the $16,200 wage.

On the time, she informed Chicago Day by day Information reporter Walter Morrison that she was going through an enormous problem in turning into a member of the board. “It’s time-consuming and energy-consuming, however we are going to strive,” she mentioned.

Her massive focus? The board’s “insufficient” bilingual applications.

Formally, Velásquez retired in 2014. Her restaurant closed in 2018, however she stays a passionate advocate for her neighborhood.