Culture, Inequality and the Power of Photography, Why Three Youth are Pursuing Journalism



As the leaves change and fall all around us, Cicero Independiente is excited to share a change of our own—three incredible young people have joined the team as part of our paid reporting fellowship program. 

Jorge Martínez, Olivia Salazar and Efrain Soriano are all Cicero and Berwyn residents who will be working with the new fellowship coordinator, Jessica Villagomez, to report on local issues over the next few weeks.

The fellowship program started last year and is our way of ensuring that more Cicero and Berwyn residents pursue community-oriented journalism that equips others to become civically engaged. The three reporting fellows will receive training, mentorship and work on a collaborative reporting project over the next ten weeks. Read more about them below. 


Cicero Independiente 2021 Fall Fellow: Jorge Martínez

By Efrain Soriano

Inspired by the insurmountable civil unrest and traumatic experiences the country faced in 2020, Jorge Martínez, pronounced Horh-heh, 16, has been leading the charge in the deconstruction of antiquated systems in his community. 

Martínez admits he did not always feel comfortable going by Jorge (Horh-heh), opting to pronounce his name more like ‘George’ to appease the strong societal pressures he felt in schools and non-Spanish speaking communities. 

However, Martínez’s pride in his culture and identity were far too strong to be subdued as he advocated for himself and his peers. 

“I moved to Cicero from Joliet, I felt I carried over some of the pressures from a majority white suburb,” Martínez said. “But, by moving to Cicero, that flipped. Every weekend we were having parties and carne asadas and I felt more in tune with my culture. I felt so seen, so visible.” 

Martínez’s persistence and drive was evident early in his pursuit of education. Martinez graduated from Unity Junior High and then applied to several high schools. 

“My parents could barely get through their W2s or open a computer, they didn’t know anything but public schools,” Martínez said. “But even after finding the help I needed, I got there and realized I was not on an even playing field. Seeing the price tags of these schools I knew my parents would never make that much in a hundred years.”

It was through these experiences, specifically researching for resources and scholarships, that Martínez’s appreciation for the spread of information was fostered. As well as ultimately what led to his interest in journalism.

“You shouldn’t gatekeep information. It’s why whenever I find such a cool opportunity, I print a million little flyers and hang them everywhere. I remind my friends ‘You need to apply’. It never hurts to just help each other out,” Martínez said. 


Cicero Independiente 2021 Fall Fellow: Olivia Salazar

By Jessica Villagomez

For Olivia Salazar, 21, her interest in political systems and inequality has grown while being a member of the Berwyn community.

Salazar, who is a student at Roosevelt University, has been a resident of Berwyn since her early childhood. Over time, she took notice of community issues in Berwyn and Cicero and wanted to learn about the political system

“When you start to learn more formally about how these systems are set up and where people get their news, you realize there isn’t a lot of representation,” she said.

In an effort to increase community engagement, Salazar hopes to study the impact of misinformation and become more involved in local news.

“Locally speaking there is a lot of info spread on social media which we can’t rely on solely,” she said. “Cicero Independiente is creating raw news that most people don’t know about,” Salazar referred to newsletters and informational materials published in both Spanish and English as a means for accurate and reliable community news.

Salazar plans to continue her studies in a policy, journalism and potentially, law related field. In expanding her skills, she hopes to continue conducting interviews and contributing to the “bigger” picture by creating a more sufficient source of information for people.


Cicero Independiente 2021 Fall Fellow: Efrain Soriano

By Jorge Martínez 

Efrain Soriano always wanted a camera. But their dreams of taking photographs and directing short films were soon grounded by their family’s financial circumstances. 

“Being working class, I never really had the luxury to be able to buy a lot of technology and I fell in love with photography when I was fourteen,” Soriano said. “I dreamed about buying a camera and I was finally able to buy my own.”

Soriano bought their first camera by the time they were 21 years old. 

“It was beautiful, actually, it was like a turning point in my life. I cried a little bit that night when I pushed the ‘purchase’ button.”

Photography first began as a hobby for Soriano, but soon became a profession and a craft. Soriano has shot weddings, events and serves as a freelance photographer with Cicero Independiente.

Soriano balances a full-time job at a brewery on top of being a student at Concordia University Chicago, yet Soriano insists on keeping their passion for photography alive. 

Soriano hopes to work as a photojournalist in the future, and is determined to take their time, learn all that they can, and take it one step at a time. 

“I go with the flow and whatever the next day brings me, I just go with it. I’ve never really been one to set super rigid schedules. I feel like that’s what life is, and just go from there.”


Cicero Independiente 2021 Fall Fellowship Coordinator: Jessica Villagomez

By Olivia Salazar 

Jessica Villagomez is a Chicago-based reporter and professor at Northwestern University.  Villagomez completed her undergraduate degree at DePaul University in 2017 and continued her graduate education at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. Villagomez’s guiding influence on journalism gravitates from her interest in writing, general curiosity and being a “full-time gossip.” 

Her passion for journalism stems from her experience in reporting ranging from covering crime, breaking news, and topics of immigration, education and Latine/x communities on the Southwest Side of Chicago.

Villagomez recognizes there is much work to be done in the media space. She’d like to see an increase in diversity in newsrooms, which means rewriting the narrative for Black, Brown, Indigenous, people of color (BIPOC) communities, expanding on their experiences and empowering the new generation to call out injustices.

As the fellowship coordinator this year for Cicero Independente, Villagomez will bring an impactful influence and unique perspective as a teacher and mentor to the mission of Cicero Independiente. Her passion for journalism strengthens community building and holds elected officials accountable. 

Cicero Independiente’s paid reporting fellowship program is for young people interested in learning more about journalism and reporting on topics that matter to them. You can help us create more opportunities for young people in Cicero and Berwyn by making a donation here.

Culture, Inequality and the Power of Photography, Why Three Youth are Pursuing Journalism was first published on Cicero Independiente.

Illinois Latino News partners with Cicero Independiente in best serving the Hispanic-Latino community.

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