Open House Set for Rohingya Cultural Center

The Rohingya community will host an open house at its new Cultural Center on Saturday, April 9, 2016, from 1-4 p.m.  Approximately 1,000 Rohingya have chosen to make West Ridge their American home.

Formerly Burmese citizens, the Rohingya have become stateless as a result of official government policy in their homeland. They are a Muslim minority in a majority-Buddhist country (Burma, now known as Myanmar), caught up in the international refugee crisis, and, like other refugees, find it difficult to persuade other countries to grant them asylum.

The United States Holocaust Museum’s Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide issued a report citing “mass atrocities” committed against the Rohingya in Burma, including loss of citizenship and confiscation of property without recompense. The report warns of the possibility of genocide against the Rohingya remaining in Myanmar. [Officially, the United States Government does not consider the Rohingya to be victims of genocide.]

The Zakat Foundation of America is helping the Rohingya set up their Cultural Center. This international charitable organization provides support for deprived persons around the world, helping them transition from poverty and helplessness to independent and productive lives. Zakat officials will be attending the open house.

The Rohingya will be offering traditional foods to visitors and are looking forward to meeting their new neighbors and introducing West Ridge residents to Rohingya culture.

The Center is located at 2740 West Devon Avenue (between Fairfield and California Avenues).

For more information on the Rohingya, please click here for RohingyaBlogger, which provides news stories from around the world on the Rohingya plight.

Please join the Rohingya in celebrating their new lives in America, and help welcome them to West Ridge.

Street Sweeping Shortcut

There’s a quick and easy way to find out when your street will be swept: Click here for Sweep Around Us and type in your address. You’ll know in seconds what the schedule is.

You can register your e-mail address to receive reminders in advance.

It’s also faster than using the City’s site.


Business & Community Fair in West Ridge

The West Ridge Chamber of Commerce is partnering with Republic Bank to sponsor an event built around the theme “Protecting Your Financial and Personal Health,” set to take place on Wednesday, April 6, from 5:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at Republic Bank (2720 West Devon).

Vendors include the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners, the Devon Avenue SSA (Special Services Area) #43, the Small Business Majority, an advocacy group with ties to the Democratic Party, and vendors championing immigrant rights: The Indo-American Center (various services); Apna Ghar (Our Home, fighting gender-based violence in immigrant communities); the South Asian American Policy and Research Institute (SAAPRI), as well as the Pak-American Medical Center (free health services).

The selection of vendors does not necessarily suggest that business owners and entrepreneurs as well as residents from other communities within West Ridge would be unwelcome. The event’s flyer notes that information will be provided about “…many services that are offered free to the public,”  and we all have an interest in utilizing the services provided by our tax dollars.

The SSA, for example, covers both sides of Devon from Damen on the east to Kedzie on the west as well as Western Avenue from Arthur to Granville. Quietly renewed (meaning no public notice to residents)  in 2014, the SSA impacts property taxes for residents as well as business owners, and overlaps with the current Devon-Western TIF district.

Perhaps the next fair could broaden its offerings, thus attracting business owners and residents from various other ethnic groups.  We can’t celebrate the diversity we talk about if we exclude 80% of the neighborhood.

Building community is everybody’s business.



Resident Service Fairs

The City of Chicago is sponsoring four Resident Service Fairs, opportunities for residents to learn about and gain access to community services such as programs for youth and seniors, job training, and the City’s new Home Buyer Assistance Program. This article from The Beverly Review provides a solid overview of this program as well as a link to the City’s “Choose to Own” program offered to Section 8 voucher recipients through the Chicago Housing Authority.

Only one fair has been scheduled for the City’s North Side. It will be held at Wilbur Wright College, 4300 N. Naragansett Avenue, on Saturday, April 2, from 10:00 a.m.  until 2:00 p.m.

Rats, Dogs, and Pigs

The Mayor now admits that Chicago’s rat problem is serious enough to warrant “preventive work,” like baiting before tearing up an area for utility and other construction.

Chicago is way behind the times. Pre-construction baiting is routine in other cities, large and small. Here’s the ordinance for Alexandria, Virginia. It requires that an area be baited for seven days before construction work begins.  Boston requires that proof of anti-pest measures be furnished before building permits are issued.

The Mayor is also supporting a proposed ordinance that would extend responsibility for cleaning up dog poop to property owners. This being Chicago, no program can go forward unless it includes a way to extract fines and/or fees from residents.

Existing ordinances require dog owners to clean up after their pets, but far too many don’t. Alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa has proposed making property owners and/or managers responsible for what pet owners refuse to do. Fines would be the same as those levied on irresponsible owners ($50 – $500). They, of course, can’t be found, but the building isn’t going anywhere. This makes it easy to identify and fine an owner who is in no way responsible for the pigs who won’t clean up after their pets.

It’s a bad idea.

By all means let’s require pre-construction baiting for city services and utility work, and let’s include construction work, like streetscapes and building renovation.

But leave the property owners alone when it comes to dog poop. Responsible owners have enough to do picking up the oceans of garbage dumped on lawns and parkways every day.

The very least pet owners can do is clean up after their dogs. The City should find a way to identify irresponsible pet owners and fine them. It should do the same with the people who dump their garbage all over our streets.

To control the rodents, we have to start controlling the pigs who feed them.



Tobacco Paan and Tobacco Masala

Unless you’re 21 years old you can’t buy tobacco in Chicago, and the City has now outlawed the use of chewing tobacco at sporting events. But what about other products made for chewing that contain tobacco, like tobacco paan and tobacco masala? Both products are readily available on Devon Avenue, and both are as dangerous o health as chewing tobacco.

Tobacco in Food, Devon Avenue, March 17, 2016Paan and masala are dry mixtures of betel leaf, a known carcinogen, with nuts, herbs, and spices, meant to be chewed. Tobacco is sometimes added. There’s been a lot of research over the years on health effects from regular use of both products, especially those containing tobacco. It’s been well-documented that the effects range from anemia to oral cancers.

Some research indicates that the health effect of chewing either product is the same even when tobacco is not one of the ingredients. Many states in India ban or restrict their use for both health and sanitary reasons, since the products are spit out or swallowed after chewing.

It’s not clear if tobacco paan and tobacco masala are banned under Chicago’s new ordinance, but it might not be a bad idea for the City Council to consider doing so, or at least consider raising the age to buy these products to 21.

The Illinois Voter Project

Last week the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform (ICPR) unveiled its newest information weapon: The Illinois Voter Project.

Using information that has never before been available to the general public, ICPR has put together a report and free downloadable maps that detail the behavior of voters in Illinois since 2008. The information is available at

Among the interesting findings is that in that time period only about 22% of registered voters in Illinois bothered to vote in primary elections.

The Project breaks down the data by age, gender, location, and other specific details, and also provides county-by-county information about unregistered voters.

Sebastian Ellison, Director of BallotReady, presented information on this organization’s free online voter guide to the upcoming primary.  Just type in your address to access information on all candidates whose names will appear on the ballot in your area.

I attended the ICPR / BallotReady presentations and have since reviewed the report and its maps as well as used the BallotReady service. I hope you’ll do the same. Both are invaluable to citizens serious about reforming our political system.

Rohingya Cultural Center to Open on Devon

Few people in West Ridge are aware that our neighborhood has become home to more than one thousand refugees who have escaped religious and political persecution in Myanmar.

The Rohingya are eager to share their history and culture with their neighbors, and will soon open the Rohingya Cultural Center at 2604 West Devon Avenue. The grand opening is schedule for this Spring. Details will be posted here as they are finalized.

I visited the site yesterday. There’s a lot to be done, but the transformation of the long-vacant one-story building is impressive. The Center’s founders and organizers plan to keep their culture alive and to make a place for themselves in America. With that in mind, they will soon be recruiting volunteers to each English and help the Rohingya learn about Chicago and American culture.

The Rohingya are a distinct ethnic minority in Myanmar (formerly Burma). There are fewer than two million Rohingya worldwide; about a million live outside Myanmar. They are Muslims in a country that is perhaps 90% Buddhist. Myanmar’s government has branded the Rohingya as Bengali (coming from Bangladesh), and in 1982 refused to recognize Rohingya as citizens, thus making them stateless.

Government policies deny them health care, education, and humanitarian aid. Laws limit travel, marriage, and the right to have children, and Rohingya property is subject to confiscation without compensation. Journalists reported that Rohingya were excluded from the country’s 2015 census.

If you’re struck by the parallels with the Nuremburg Laws (by which the Nazis excluded the Jews from civic and cultural life and encouraged violence and terrorism against them),you’re not alone. In May of 2015, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum issues a report on the plight of the Rohingya, “They Want Us All To Go Away: Early Warning Signs of Genocide in Burma.”  The U.N. has also taken notice.

Let’s welcome them to West Ridge.





Crime Prevention Tips from CAPS

The following crime-prevention tips were offered at the CAPS Beat 2412 meeting on Tuesday, March 1:

If you’re on the bus or train and hear somebody refer to “going apple-picking,” BEWARE!  It means stealing phones, so hold on to yours or put it away.

One way to keep sports equipment and gardening tools safe is to lock them to a ladder in the garage or basement.

Be sure to put your driver’s license number on bikes, scooters, lawn mowers, and like items. The police recover a lot of stolen merchandise, and this helps identify the proper owner.

FYI:  Police bike patrols will start on Memorial Day.