Ana Paula with the Senator Omar Aquino, Ivan Gonzales his staff and Dr. Layla Suleiman. Also, the founder of the Puerto Rican Cultural Center in Humboldt Park and his staff. 

Above Photo: Ana Paula with the Senator Omar Aquino, Ivan Gonzales, his staff and Dr. Layla Suleiman. Also, the founder of the Puerto Rican Cultural Center in Humboldt Park and his staff. 

As an ISP Fellow, Ana Paula Sanchez Bustamente Bailon works with Senator Omar Aquino and the Illinois Legislative Latino Caucus to research public policy in underserved communities with a focus on Latino/a issues. This includes examining environmental science issues surrounding a planned coal plant smokestack demolition in April 2020 that blanketed Little Village in dust cloud, a South Side Chicago neighborhood that’s home to a majority of the Latino population. Ana Paula's appointment is funded in part by PepisCo and the Office of Government Relations.

Ana Paula is also working with Illinois Extension Educator, Sonia Lopez, with the Community Health Team to design and prepare materials in Spanish on the importance of nutrition to reduce lead absorption  for distribution throughout Latino communities.

Ana Paula’s position is supported in part by the Illinois Office of Government Relations and by PepsiCo.

I caught up with Ana Paula so she could share her story in her own words.

Why did you apply for the Illini Science Policy Program?
When I got the email about this opportunity it resonated with me especially the emphasis of the program, which is contributing to public service using science as a tool. I always have been interested in protecting the environment, and as I go through my career, I realize this issue cannot be tackled without having community engagement on the plate. I think this is a wonderful opportunity to contribute to Latino communities using the research skills I have learned in graduate school while also learning more about policy and project development.

Tell us a bit about what you hope to do as a result of being a fellow?
I am learning about community outreach, program development, partnerships building, policy analysis, environmental justice and governance. In this fellowship, I am fulfilling my interest on learning about different topics I am passionate about. With the knowledge acquired in this fellowship, I strive to work in community development integrating my experience in agriculture, environmental science and the new set of skills and knowledge I’ll be learning thorough this year.

Describe how you and your host determined what project(s) you would work on?
Since I studied environmental science my host thought this background would bring an interesting approach to the Illinois Latino Caucus. They proposed a project focused in Environmental Justice, which perfectly fits my interests. I am also reviewing a bill which aims to increase renewable energy use in Illinois to further evaluate if it brings enough opportunities to Latino communities. We are also developing a proposal to increase urban farming in the Humboldt Park neighborhood. This third project initiative came from the interest of a community member who has a long history of contributing to the community. My host agency and I discussed it and concluded it was a great fit for me. I am excited to work on a project with a community-based organization that has been looking forward to developing it for a while.

What is one thing you learned from your host mentor so far?
I have wonderful mentors. Dr. Layla Suleiman has introduced me to how the Illinois Latino Caucus works, I have learned about governance, the issues Latinos are facing in Chicago, public relationships, Latino culture in Chicago. It has been amazing! Senator Omar Aquino and Rep. Elizabeth Hernandez have also been very open and in our meetings. They are always ready to further explain any doubts that I have. They are just amazing people to work with!

Why is your issue important?
Protecting the environment is an issue in Latino communities which a lot of them face as environmental racism. It is crucial to include underserved communities in sustainable development agendas. Policies that strive for environmental sustainability must also include better jobs and a good transition for workers and communities that are the most vulnerable to pollution, climate change, economic instability and that work in industries impacted by these reforms.

Who is impacted by the issue you are working on?
Latino communities in Illinois and Chicago, with a special emphasis in the Little Village and Humboldt Park neighborhoods.

What is one thing you want people to know about this issue?
Latino communities needs should be included in sustainable development agendas.

Describe how you and your host and Extension Mentor determined what project you would work on?
With my Extension Mentor, Sonia Lopez, we have explored different topics. I wanted to do something related to my work with the Illinois Latino Caucus but that also related to her expertise in health, community outreach and nutrition. Reading about the impact of lead in human health for the environmental justice project I found that nutrition could impact the amount of lead that the body absorbs. My mentor happened to have worked in this topic area, so it is a great match. Acknowledging that so much more needs to be done to protect households from lead poisoning, we thought developing a workshop to improve nutritional literacy and the understanding of lead absorption could contribute to reducing the negative health effect this element has on human health. 

If you’ve had the chance to work with your Extension Mentor, what have you learned from them so far?
She has shared her work experience with me, and we have discussed the project through Zoom meetings. We still have a lot of work to do together and I am looking forward to learning more from her.

What is the most unexpected thing about this program so far?
I have realized how important partnership building and public relations are when trying to develop projects for the communities. Coalition building and networking among different institutions is crucial to translate the needs voiced in grassroots movements to actual policy changes.

If you could do one thing through this program and think, “Wow, I did that,” what would it be?
Develop a successful proposal to install greenhouses in rooftops of the Humboldt Park neighborhood. Hopefully we will create a proposal that attracts funding for this project that will include food security, mental health, community building and more as it’s core components.

Anything else you’d like the readers to know about you time so far? No, I think I have said everything important.
This has been a wonderful learning experience so far which integrates fields and skills necessary to work in and for underserved communities. I am looking forward to building my capacities to meaningfully contribute to more inclusive and thriving societies.

More information about the Illini Science Policy Program is available here. Keep reading to learn more about Ana Paula's colleagues in the inaugural class of 2020 ISP Fellows.