CHICAGO – Governor Pat Quinn today proclaimed “Carmen Velásquez Day” throughout Illinois in honor of the pioneering public health advocate who founded Alivio Medical Center. The Governor praised Carmen Velásquez for her 25 years of serving those in Latino communities with little or no health insurance at an event celebrating Latino Heritage Month at the National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago.
“As the State of Illinois embarks upon Get Covered Illinois, the Official Health Marketplace, we honor a true pioneer in public health policy and health care affordability,” Governor Quinn said. “As the immigrant population in the Pilsen neighborhood grew in the 1980s, Carmen Velásquez was among the first to see the crying need for a health clinic, so she went out and built Alivio Medical Center. Hundreds of thousands of Illinoisans are alive today thanks to her, proving that one person truly can make a difference.”
Velásquez, who recently announced plans to retire, founded Alivio Medical Center in 1988 as a nonprofit community health center. It has since grown to six locations, with two more clinics slated to open later this year, serving some 25,000 patients annually.
The daughter of Mexican immigrants – her father harvested beets in South Dakota before coming to Illinois to start a successful jukebox business – Velásquez earned degrees from Loyola University Chicago and the University of the Americas in Puebla, Mexico. Before founding Alivio, she advocated for universal health care and immigration reform as a community organizer. She was also a social worker and bilingual education specialist; it was during her time in bilingual education that she first saw the need for basic health care services in the immigrant community.
Velásquez was recently recognized at halftime by the Chicago Bears with the NFL’s Hispanic Heritage Leadership Award, and has been honored with the MALDEF Lifetime Achievement Award, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Community Health Leadership Award, and Premio Ohtli, the highest honor bestowed by the Government of Mexico on an individual for service to Mexicans living abroad.
Governor Quinn is also honoring Carmen Velásquez as the Latino Heritage Month “Trailblazer of the Day” on his website LatinoHeritage.illinois.gov. The Governor’s website also outlines the “Changing Face of Illinois Latinos”, offers a sketch of each Latino group’s history in Illinois, details the Governor’s successful trade missions to Mexico and Brazil, and explains the many services provided by the Governor’s Office of New Americans.
Governor Quinn has worked to improve life for Illinois’ Latino community since taking office. In 2011, Governor Quinn signed the Illinois DREAM Act, which increases education opportunities to children of immigrants in Illinois. He has also signed legislation ensure sure that all immigrants are able to have a valid driver’s license and to boost minority participation in state construction projects. The Governor has also more than doubled the number of Welcoming Centers, which provide a wide range of services to newcomers.