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It's in her blood

Three generations of unapologetic Latina activists continue the Lozano family legacy.

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On Tanya Lozano's Instagram story you might see her morning yoga flows, gospel music jams, and video threads blasting corrupt political structures or gushing over Gen Z’s impact while toking on a blunt. - CASEY MITCHELL
  • Casey Mitchell
  • On Tanya Lozano's Instagram story you might see her morning yoga flows, gospel music jams, and video threads blasting corrupt political structures or gushing over Gen Z’s impact while toking on a blunt.

Tanya Lozano danced in the streets. It was election day and We Got Us, an arm of her organization Healthy Hood, was hosting a "Survival Day" on Chicago's south side to encourage local residents to vote and look after their health. We Got Us offered hot meals, flu shots, HIV and COVID-19 testing, and boxes of fresh produce, free of charge to those who showed proof of having voted.

For the last four years, Tanya's life has revolved around Healthy Hood. The nonprofit aims to improve the health of Chicago's most neglected communities, starting with her native Pilsen, through programs addressing education, food security, fitness, and unemployment.

The 31-year-old's commitment to civic activism is a part of a family legacy spanning almost five decades. Her parents are Reverend Slim Coleman and Emma Lozano, pastors at Lincoln Methodist Church in Pilsen. Before establishing the church, Slim aided the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party in creating the Rainbow Coalition, a multicultural organization confronting inequalities faced by marginalized communities. Emma's work focused on education and workplace injustices affecting undocumented and low-income communities. She staged week-long hunger strikes, sit-ins, and protests, barged in on local and national government proceedings, faced numerous arrests, and was threatened by white supremacists at her doorstep.

Much of Emma's work took place alongside her brother, Rudy Lozano. Rudy was a prominent Chicago activist known for his efforts surrounding immigrant workers' rights and key role in the election of Chicago's first Black mayor, Harold Washington. Less than two months after Washington's win, Rudy was assassinated in his home. Although Tanya never met him, Rudy deeply informed her life's purpose. "When I was little, I didn't pray to God," she says. "I prayed to my uncle."

The Lozano legacy, spearheaded by three generations of unapologetic women activists, has not lost its fire. By combining her mother's expertise and long-standing relationships with grassroots political leaders with her own modern intersectional methods, Tanya is pioneering a new wave of activism meant to bridge the struggles of Black and Latinx communities. "[Women of color] have always been at the center of civil rights movements, but have never been recognized," she says. "We are adamant on women being the future of the movement."

As a millennial activist, reverend's daughter, dancer, and single mother of two, Tanya juggles many hats. Her Instagram story doubles as a vlog, documenting the layers of her nonstop life for her 10,000 followers. On any day, you might see her morning yoga flows, gospel music jams with daughter Apollonia, and video threads blasting corrupt political structures or gushing over Gen Z's impact while toking on a blunt from the steps of her family's church. She speaks openly about how weed helped her through postpartum, noting the five marijuana plants in the Lozano home garden.

Tanya's sharp facial features, seemingly effortless fashion sense, and copious tattoos speak volumes before she utters a word. Once a serious five-foot-five ballplayer, she got her first tattoo—the Jordan jumpman—at 15. "It was a pride thing," she tells me. "Proud to come from this city." Fifteen years and 15 tattoos later, her body doubles as a canvas, draped in images from the cultures that made her.

She has a sneaker collection to behold, her closet lined with Jordans: Chicago 1s, Retro 6s, Satin 1s featuring the Shattered Backboard colorway, Los Angeles designer Melody Ehsani's OG Jordan collaboration, Off-White X Jordan 1s retailing at over $2,000, and countless other sold-out styles. While expensive sneakers might be unconventional for a socialist activist, Tanya says that her on-trend street style is activism in itself.

"I don't have to conform to whatever people think activists are supposed to look like," she tells me. "[What I wear] doesn't change what I'm saying . . . it doesn't make what I'm doing any less effective."

Tanya's style-conscious approach has given the Chicana entrepreneur access to corporate spaces. She's been invited to speak at events hosted by Nike, Nordstrom, Champs Sports, and the White Sox. In July, she hosted a TEDx Talk on the construction of resilient communities during crisis. She wore an all-white ensemble, including Fear of God sweatpants, Jordan Retro 6s, and a gold Victorian nameplate necklace. When she spoke with Matthew McConaughey for a Wild Turkey bourbon campaign bringing attention to "local legends," she sat starstruck in a leather jacket with the sleeves rolled up, revealing tattoos from her arms down to her fingertips. Recently, she was named one of Chicago magazine's Chicagoans of the Year. For the spread, Tanya was styled by her 18-year-old niece, Daysha del Valle.

"If anything, people who dress like me and who came from the same neighborhood that I came from can see themselves in me and say, 'oh, that's a possibility for me too,'" she says.

Emma Lozano holds her daughter Joline, as Tanya stands to her right - COURTESY TANYA LOZANO
  • Courtesy Tanya Lozano
  • Emma Lozano holds her daughter Joline, as Tanya stands to her right

The side door of the Lozano's blue-grey, two-story Pilsen home provides easy access to the family's church. On the side of the home is a mural of Rudy, a gift from the Lozano family to Emma. Until recently, Tanya, her seven-year-old daughter Apollonia and toddler son Junie, her mother and father, adoptive brother, sister, niece, and the church's maintenance man all lived under one roof.

Entering the Lozano home feels like walking into a history museum. Rather than graduation photos and holiday group shots, frames hold awe-inspiring images of the family in some of Chicago's most iconic socio-political movements: Rudy's political campaign flyers emblazoned with the phrase "registrate y vota"; newspaper clippings boasting controversial headlines about Emma's activism; photos of the Slim embracing Fred Hampton; Emma standing alongside Mayor Washington; a baby Tanya in the arms of Cesar Chavez. For the Lozanos, these images document only a fraction of their legacy.

As far back as Tanya can remember, the church and their home have been a refuge for family, friends, and visiting activists. The most recent houseguest was Miguel Perez, a formerly undocumented U.S. veteran and Chicago activist most remembered for his high-profile deportation case following his return home from war. The Lozanos worked closely with Perez's legal team in the fight to bring him back to the nation following his deportation. After a long legal battle, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker granted Perez clemency, in part due to Pritzker's political relationship with the Lozano family.

"They literally threw him away like fucking trash," says Tanya. She explains that through advocacy, her family is simply fulfilling their responsibility to the community. "It's to be blessed with a burden. I was so aware from such a young age of injustice and I've been taught so many ways to combat injustice that I feel like it would be fucking neglectful not to use that to help people."

In 2016, Tanya converted the upstairs level of the church into the headquarters for Healthy Hood. What began as one-dollar Zumba classes is now a nonprofit that aims to "exercise the body, educate the mind and awaken the conscious" of marginalized communities. It is home to fitness classes (kickboxing, yoga, dance, among others), a community garden complete with cooking lessons, medical resources like HIV testing, and community feeding initiatives. Fitness classes at Healthy Hood come at a discounted rate of $5, while most services are completely free of charge.

Tanya, along with co-founder and best friend Seobia Rivers, says that marginalized communities taking ownership of their health is a revolutionary act in itself. "In underserved communities . . . fitness and lifestyle guidance is super inaccessible or scarce," Tanya says. There is a 20-year life expectancy gap between affluent communities and communities of color in Chicago, making it the largest disparity in the nation. While wealthy residents of Streeterville live to be 90, residents of Englewood, only nine miles away, live to 60 on average. Healthy Hood wants to close this gap.

When the pandemic began, Tanya says health disparities already faced by low-income residents of her neighborhood were exacerbated and government resources proved inadequate. Healthy Hood shifted focus to We Got Us and since March the organization has fed over 10,000 families through a biweekly food delivery program. Healthy Hood's Chief Strategist Estelle Lozano says that in addition to providing food and resources, the nonprofit has, in collaboration with other local organizations, conducted over 30,000 free COVID-19 tests in some of Chicago's most vulnerable communities.

COURTESY TANYA LOZANO
  • Courtesy Tanya Lozano

"How do you expect to control this virus if these people are scared to even go to the doctor?" says Tanya. "You can't keep people in the shadows if you're trying to eradicate a pandemic."

Between the pandemic and national uprising against police brutality, Tanya says that in the last four months, Healthy Hood, which had 30 or so part-time employees funded by state grants, has grown by over 1,000 volunteers. "Social justice wasn't a trend, it wasn't popular," says Tanya. "And now the community has grown exponentially, so many more people have awakened their conscience and want to contribute."

While unorthodox for a church family, the Lozanos view informed access to marijuana as a part of a healthy lifestyle. Tanya says that explaining the war on drugs, the way marijuana has been used as a tool to disenfranchise and oppress Black and Brown populations, is important to her. "Now that [marijuana] is legal," she says, "we're educating people on it, and not to abuse it, to make sure that we're respecting it just like we should respect anything that comes from Mother Earth." In addition to educating community members on the plant and utilizing it to combat opioid addiction, Healthy Hood helps individuals find a route to obtaining medical marijuana cards by connecting them with doctors, says Estelle.

While her efforts to improve health care are concentrated locally, Tanya says that the answers to domestic problems may actually lie internationally. Healthy Hood has been in regular contact with doctors from the University of Havana, learning about the ways health care is implemented in their communities, with plans to apply those methods locally.

For years, Cuba's health care system has been revered as one of the most comprehensive in Latin America due to its preventive measures, community-based approach, and free access to resources. Tanya notes Cuba's emphasis on treating physical, psychological, and social ills collectively, rather than with a fragmented approach. "They really get to the bottom of why people get sick, not just dealing with people's symptoms after they get sick, and I think that's where our health care system fails people," she says.

Healthy Hood is preparing to pilot a program that adopts Cuban methods including regular at-home checkups and mental wellness screenings with the 500 families they've been feeding over the course of the pandemic. "We're going to pilot it with COVID testing but we're also going to do screening for hypertension, diabetes, and asthma," says Tanya. Healthy Hood's COVID relief program is set to lose funding. The organization has set up a petition, hoping to pressure state officials not to cut "the lifeline" to Black and Brown communities. 

Daysha del Valle and Emma Lozano - COURTESY TANYA LOZANO
  • Courtesy Tanya Lozano
  • Daysha del Valle and Emma Lozano

Sitting at a round wooden table tucked in the corner of her kitchen, Emma remembers her most horrific encounter with law enforcement. Her leg, injured in a recent fall, is halfway submerged in a hot pink cast that matches her toenails. The 66-year-old activist, pastor, and two-time breast cancer survivor is surrounded by eclectic relics: traditional art from Cuba and Mexico, crosses and ornaments bearing Bible passages, and a painting of her granddaughter Apollonia dressed up as Frida Kahlo, unibrow and all. It is obvious that this isn't Emma's first time telling this story. She sweeps her bleached blonde hair behind her ear and lets out a short sigh.

She begins telling me about the time she and a group of mothers, referred to collectively as the comadres, attended a meeting at the Daley Center about overcrowding in Wicker Park's Kosciuszko School, which was 500 children over capacity. Classes were being taught in hallways, the gymnasium, boiler room, and cafeteria, the Tribune reported.

Two officers attempted to deny the group access to a public meeting. Inches away from the officers and holding one-year-old Tanya, Emma stood her ground. She says the weight of the mothers lined up against her back pushed her into the officers. The comadres and three men who accompanied the group pushed past the officers and scattered in, filling the available seats in the meeting space, many with their small children. Within minutes, two elevators full of officers stormed the crowd. "The [officers] didn't know what to do with us, many of us being women breastfeeding and with kids in strollers," Emma says. "So they went directly to the three men." According to Emma's account, the men were handcuffed and beaten by the police. Some comadres, undocumented and at risk for deportation, rushed to defend them.

The women eventually retreated. While exiting, Emma was suddenly surrounded by a gang of officers. "They told me that if I did not turn [Tanya] over to someone that she would be taken to the Department of Children and Family Services," says Emma. "I was refusing to give her up and I was refusing to be arrested."

Out of fear for her child, Emma surrendered and was taken to the basement of the Daley Center. "I go, 'Everybody knows I'm down here, fucking try and touch me,'" she says, the usual hint of her Chicago accent swelling. "I said, 'You's a bunch of lying sons of bitches.'" Luckily, the story ended with a victory. A new school was built and named in honor of her brother Rudy.

Entering the kitchen at 11 AM, Daysha del Valle sluggishly makes a cup of coffee for her grandfather. Her 3B curls are stuffed into a hair tie at the top of her head, revealing shaved sides underneath. She apologizes for her disheveled appearance. Dragging her feet across the tiled floor, Daysha is the last member of the Lozano home to make it out of bed. She takes a seat next to her grandmother. Despite having heard the story "like 30 times," the recent high school graduate listens attentively, reacting to every twist and turn as if she is hearing them for the first time. "We've all gone through the same stuff," she says. "Remember the time they arrested us?"

Emma chuckles before transitioning to her next story. In 2007, a five-year-old Daysha accompanied her grandmother and three buses full of Latinx activists to the Rayburn Building in Washington to lobby Congress about the case of Elvira Arellano. Arellano, a young undocumented mother, was at risk of deportation after being discovered working at O'Hare International Airport without authorization. To avoid deportation, she took refuge in the Lozano family's Humboldt Park church for over a year.

Her eight-year-old U.S.-born son, Saul, was cared for in part by the Lozano family and grew very close to Daysha. He became the poster child for a border-transcending movement that opposed the separation of undocumented parents from their citizen children. Despite his age, Saul delivered heartfelt speeches at government hearings in America and Mexico, in hopes of keeping his mother by his side, on American soil.

Upon arrival at the Rayburn Building, tensions between Emma's group of activists and government officials were brimming. "I've got young people, high school students, their adrenaline and their spirit to battle was too high," Emma explains. She decided it was best to leave.

With Saul clinging onto Emma with one hand and Daysha with the other, they scurried to lead almost 200 activists out of the building. After taking a few wrong turns, part of the group ended up in the building's basement. Emma says they found themselves sandwiched between the D.C. Police and the Department of Homeland Security.

"We just wanted to leave the building," says Emma. DCPD had other plans. The officer declared that they were all under arrest. "And then this little girl," says Emma pointing to Daysha, who bashfully holds her head in her hands, with a grin on her face. "She passes out, she falls on the floor." Emma says that while Homeland Security and DCPD argued over what to do, she revived her granddaughter and they left the building unscathed.

Although Daysha is Tanya's niece, the two resemble sisters. Because her aunt Tanya played basketball and went to Pedro Albizu Campos High School, so did Daysha. While Tanya was pregnant with Apollonia, 12-year-old Daysha would accompany her to every Zumba class, lugging her aunt's 30-pound amplifier. She now runs Healthy Hood's social media accounts and sometimes gives speeches to the press at events. "I feel like it was my duty as the one Afro-Latina in the family to keep following in their footsteps and do the same thing, but for the African American community," she says. "I'm trying to get there but it's baby steps."

Daysha del Valle, Tanya Lozano, Jose Lopez, and Emma Lozano at the Survival Day event - COURTESY TANYA LOZANO
  • Courtesy Tanya Lozano
  • Daysha del Valle, Tanya Lozano, Jose Lopez, and Emma Lozano at the Survival Day event

One week after the brutal death of George Floyd at the hands of law enforcement officers, Chicago's west side reached its boiling point. Looting that was mostly concentrated downtown trickled into surrounding neighborhoods. While other, whiter parts of Chicago saw the ebb and flow of police officers, forming human walls protecting commercial businesses from protestors, many shop owners in Black and Brown communities had to fend for themselves. Residents of the largely Latinx Little Village, Cicero, and Pilsen assumed the role of vigilantes. Small business owners, gang members, and lifelong residents lined the streets, some with bats, hammers, and pistols.

The following day, tweets began to pour in sharing horrific accounts of attacks against Black residents and passersby, carried out by Latinx residents. "I just got attacked by 5 Mexicans in Cicero! Please check on your people & refrain from going to Little Village, anything on or by Cermak and most importantly Cicero. THEY ARE ATTACKING BLACK PEOPLE," read one tweet. Videos, including one showing a crowd of mostly men in the street blocking off a car of Black women and attempting to bust in the windows, accumulated thousands of retweets and likes. The tension in the streets was reflected on social media, Black and Latinx users going back and forth in heated arguments about where blame should be placed. Many dubbed it a "race war."

We Got Us quickly organized a unity rally with the hope that veteran activists would inspire the incoming crowd and stress the importance of Black and Brown solidarity. Three thousand people attended. Musicians pounded drums and repeated calls for resistance, while small cardboard platters filled with tapas were passed around. "Lift Every Voice and Sing," also known as the Black National Anthem, was recited with fists held high. A cluster of Chicago police officers kept watch from a distance.

Reverend Jesse Jackson, Congressman Bobby Rush, 25th Ward alderman Byron Sigcho-Lopez, Puerto Rican activist Jose Lopez, Slim, Healthy Hood co-founder Rivers, and Tanya herself gave stirring speeches emphasizing common goals between marginalized communities. "Freedom from the violence of mass incarceration," Tanya yelled over the microphone, the grit in her voice echoing through the block. "Freedom!" the crowd yelled back.

The next morning, Tanya arose to a social media storm. While many sung Healthy Hood's praises, others were displeased and took to Instagram to voice their criticism. Rivers named the complaints brought up by attendees: not enough attention on Black issues, not enough attention on Brown issues, not enough Black speakers, the dialogue was not "real" enough, the environment was too celebratory, the names of some police brutality victims were mispronounced. She says she understands the frustrations and that if she could go back in time, she'd take the critiques into consideration while providing a platform for both Black and Brown issues. "If we all get under the umbrella and fight together, we will all win," she says.

Tanya also understands the criticism and wants to be better. She says that the intention of the rally, to educate the new generation of activists on the history of Black and Brown solidarity, was not properly communicated. "To say that we can't talk about the kids in cages right now, because Black Lives Matter has a spotlight, to me doesn't make sense," she says. "I think that the issue overall is systemic racism, structural inequality. And those are both results of colonialism."

Tanya Lozano chats on FaceTime outside of her family home with daughter Apollonia Jackson in her lap. - NEENA ROUHANI
  • Neena Rouhani
  • Tanya Lozano chats on FaceTime outside of her family home with daughter Apollonia Jackson in her lap.

It's 9 AM and Tanya is seated in the garden in her front yard, making calls in preparation for Apollonia's seventh birthday party that evening. She is barefaced, drawing attention to her round, chocolate brown eyes and pronounced cheekbones. Apollonia takes style notes from her mom, donning a matching black and white tie-dye sweatsuit, Nike sneakers, and ombre press-on nails. Her curly mane is pulled into a half-up ponytail secured with a teal scrunchie.

The Lozano heiress rests on her mother's lap, nibbling on her temporary nails. Her unicorn backpack sits nearby. Apollonia is homeschooled because of the pandemic. "This whole process has made me feel like a shitty mom," says Tanya. "It's mom guilt. I don't spend enough time with my kids. I don't give them enough attention." While Apollonia and Junie's father is a part of their lives, Tanya says their custody schedule lacks consistency, which adds another layer of instability to her life.

Tanya notices parallels between herself and Emma when it comes to parenting. She says that growing up, Emma was constantly on edge from juggling motherhood and activism, projecting her frustrations onto Tanya and her siblings. "I see that shit in myself sometimes," she says. "I don't want to be like that, but it's hard."

As a result of her activism work, Tanya's fear for her life and the lives of her children has intensified. In September of 2019, a caravan of Donald Trump supporters traveled from Fresno, California, to the steps of the Lozano church after a Facebook page from Frontline America, a conservative Christian extremist organization with 153,000 followers, published the address. Emma says her family is frequently targeted by conservatives for their role in providing resources to undocumented immigrants at risk of deportation like Elvira Arellano and Miguel Perez. "They put a target on my back and the back of the church so that white supremacists know exactly where we are," Emma said in an interview with Block Club Chicago.

In a tearful Instagram post, Tanya recapped the confrontation and thanked community members for their support. "I think it's important to let everyone know that these are the kind of things that my family and I deal with because of the work that we do," she said, wiping tears from her eyes. "It's a very very scary thing to experience."

Because of Rudy's assassination, Tanya is haunted by fears surrounding her family. "I would be scared to walk up the stairs to go see my kids because I'd have visions that they were dead in the bed," she says. "I don't want to turn anyone off to this," Tanya says about activism. "The more people that can do this the better because that's how we'll be successful in and having a revolution."

Tanya will soon move into a two-bedroom apartment a mile away from her family home. "I need to be close in case something happens," she explains. Both Slim and Emma were temporarily immobile for several months—he had a heart attack and subsequent coma, she fell and broke her leg—leaning on Tanya as their primary caregiver.

She says that while living on the grounds, she was "too accessible." Tanya hopes the new space will create more room for self-care. "I yearn for a level of support that goes beyond work stuff," she says. "I would love to have someone to be like, 'Do you need to go get your eyebrows done? I could stay with the kids.'"

Sitting in the kitchen of her parents' home, she swipes through photos of the two bedroom apartment, detailing her decor plans for Apollonia and Junie's room. "It's going to be half unicorns and half dinosaurs," says Apollonia, a smile across her face.

Despite past and present obstacles, Tanya remains undeterred. "There's no happier place to be," she says. "You'll always find more fulfillment in your own community."

For Tanya, the greatest fulfillment comes from her parents. She says that at first, they didn't understand the connection between her work and theirs. "They're such larger than life people," she says, "And it was always kind of a battle trying to prove to them that I'm on this path so that we can meet."

"I mean I could cry about it because it's all I ever wanted," Tanya says, her voice breaking between phrases. "For them to recognize that I am a reflection of them."   v

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