Suburban Mosaic: Maine West students immerse themselves in Latino culture

  • Maine West High School students fill the commons area in Des Plaines.

    Maine West High School students fill the commons area in Des Plaines. Courtesy of Maine West High school

Updated 10/5/2022 11:09 AM
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story should have read Maine West's student population is 41% Latino.

Maine West High School students are celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month by immersing themselves in Latinx culture, starting with a field trip today to Chicago's "Little Village" neighborhood.

Students in Maine West's Latinx-American literature classes and Latinx Club will kick off the day with a visit to the National Museum of Mexican Art downtown, taking a guided tour of the "Día de los Muertos" exhibition. Then they will walk to Los Comales in Pilsen to see its famous murals depicting Latin culture.


Once back at the Des Plaines school, students will meet with Gabriel Chacón, a Maine West graduate who now is the equity director for the Ándale program at Oakton Community College in Des Plaines.

Ándale supports students who identify as Latinx in their transition to college, said Jenny Gustavson, an English teacher and academic literacy specialist at Maine West who is co-sponsor of the Latinx Club.

Maine West's student population is roughly 41% Latino, the school's largest ethnic group.

"There is a ton of research about how when students are able to take a course or multiple courses in ethnic studies in their heritage or background, there is an increase in the probability of graduation, academic success, engagement in school," Gustavson said. "When we connect to students' lives, their background knowledge and experiences ... they are more engaged, invested in school and can see the relevance of it in their lives."

A Mariachi band will perform in the Maine West Lower Commons from 7:30 to 8:15 a.m. Friday, with Mexican hot chocolate and conchas (sweet bread). And to cap off Hispanic Heritage Month, the school will host an after-school Latin dance lesson for students led by a parent on Oct. 14.

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Muslim achievers:

The Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago is seeking nominations of deserving community members for its annual Muslim Achievers award.

Submissions will be reviewed and a winner announced at the council's 30th annual gala on Nov. 19. The deadline for submissions is Oct. 8.

Eligible nominees will be recognized based upon their success and contribution in the fields of sports, sciences, medicine, engineering, academia, journalism, law and law enforcement, finance/business and entrepreneurship, among other professions. Up to three awards may be presented based upon the meritorious achievements of the candidates.

To nominate an individual, visit

The Episcopal Diocese of Chicago recently consecrated its first Black female bishop, the Rev. Paula E. Clark
The Episcopal Diocese of Chicago recently consecrated its first Black female bishop, the Rev. Paula E. Clark - Courtesy of Episcopal Diocese of Chicago
Trailblazing bishop:

The Episcopal Diocese of Chicago recently consecrated its first Black female bishop, the Rev. Paula E. Clark.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry led nearly 1000 worshippers, including more than 25 Episcopal bishops, in a worship service during which Clark was seated at St. James Cathedral in Chicago.


Clark was elected as the bishop of Chicago in December 2020. Her consecration, originally scheduled for April 24, 2021, was postponed after the bishop-elect underwent surgery on April 15, 2021, to remove an arteriovenous malformation in her brain. "In the last several months, many of you have asked me what my priorities as your bishop will be," Clark wrote in a Sept. 30 letter to the diocese, which serves churches across the Chicago area and suburbs. "I have responded the same way each time: The most important thing to me right now is to learn more about you. I want to learn about what your congregations need to respond to the complicated world in which we find ourselves, and what you need most from a bishop in these times. I want to hear your stories, ask questions about your ministries, and find out what you need to respond to God's call in your communities."

She added, she is committed to two shared priorities -- bearing witness against violence on the streets and in communities and "advocating for policies, practices, and initiatives that honor and safeguard the abundance and diversity of God's creation."

Elmhurst University alumna Afaaf Amatullah of Bloomingdale recently received a prestigious Phi Kappa Phi Fellowship award.
Elmhurst University alumna Afaaf Amatullah of Bloomingdale recently received a prestigious Phi Kappa Phi Fellowship award. - Courtesy of Afaaf Amatullah
Elmhurst alumna fellow:

Elmhurst University alumna Afaaf Amatullah of Bloomingdale has received the prestigious Phi Kappa Phi Fellowship award.

Amatullah, a 2021 graduate, recently started her first year of law school at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

"This fellowship provides me with the opportunity to pursue my legal career while being connected to a network of highly motivated students," she said.

Established in 1932, the Phi Kappa Phi Fellowship Program annually provides funding to first-year graduate students pursuing post-baccalaureate degrees across academic disciplines.

Amatullah, who received $8,500, was among only about 50 applicants nationwide to receive the award. She has done research and written articles on racial discrimination and unfair housing practices, and earned three awards from the Illinois College Press Association. Her article "The Black Press and Black Agency: Responses from the Defender to Chicago's Urban Renewal Policies" was published in The Macksey Journal in September of 2021.

As a student, Amatullah has volunteered at Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) Relief's free mobile health and COVID-19 vaccine clinics, conducting patient intake and providing Urdu/Hindi translation services. She also helped underrepresented people dealing with housing crises with Chicago's Emergency Rental Assistance Program and hopes eventually to provide legal services to underserved communities.

Filipino market:

Oakton Community College in Des Plaines will celebrate Filipino American History Month with Para Sa Kultura (for the culture) night market on Oct. 14.

The outdoor market will run from 5 to 9 p.m. near the Lee Center on Oakton's Des Plaines campus, 1600 Golf Road. It will feature Chicago-area Filipino-owned microbusinesses, live music and food vendors.

Filipino American History Month is observed in October to mark the anniversary of the first recorded evidence of Filipinos in America.

Para Sa Kultura is being held in collaboration with Everybody's Market and supported by Oakton's Center for Organizing Minority Programs to Advance Student Success (COMPASS).

The Oakton night market will include live performances featuring Jake Gatsby and at least 15 Filipino-owned and operated vendors selling food, drinks and merchandise.

In 2020, Oakton received a $1.5 million Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institutions grant from the U.S. Department of Education. It was the first Illinois community college to receive this designation, due to its large Asian American and Pacific Islander student population.

The grant helped Oakton establish COMPASS, which seeks to improve student success rates by engaging them in high-impact activities and help them make informed decisions about course and program design.

"We have a large presence of Filipino Americans in our district," said Dear Aunaetitrakul, COMPASS senior program manager at Oakton. "The Para Sa Kultura night market is about honoring the community's resilience and bringing people together."

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