Brenda Leon | Connecticut Public Radio

Brenda Leon

Reporter, Latino/a Community

Brenda León is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.  Brenda covers the Latino/a, Latinx community with an emphasis on wealth-based disparities in health, education and criminal justice. 

Before coming to Connecticut Public, she completed a Master's degree in Spanish-Language Journalism from the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism. She attended Lehman College at the City University of New York (CUNY), where she studied Multimedia Journalism with a concentration in Political Science. While there, she was a presenter at WWRL La Invasora 1600 AM. Her work has been published by The Gothamist, Manhattan Neighborhood Network (MNN), El Deadline and the Mott Haven Herald. 

In her free time, Brenda enjoys cooking, going on long walks with her son Leo and caring for her plants. 

You can email her at and follow her on Twitter at @bleonesx


Hartford Public High School Graduation
Tyler Russell / Connecticut Public

It’s the morning of graduation and Armani Sidik is fixing her bright blue cap over her hijab as she patiently waits for her family. At the entrance of their walk-up apartment in the North End of Hartford, the Sidik family is joyful and neighbors walk by offering congratulations. 

“We gave her all our love, all our guidance, she’s doing really well, that’s our baby,” said Charlette Sidik, Armani’s mother, beaming with pride.  

But her daughter says making it to graduation was not easy. 

Joe Amon / Connecticut Public/NENC

  Some 20 families lined up to receive diapers and other essentials on a recent afternoon in Hartford. Among them was Angela Perez. 

“I’ve been [coming] here because they’ve helped me with food and diapers. Now we found out they’re closing,” Perez said in Spanish. “It’s been a huge help to me and many other moms.” 

Joe Amon / Connecticut Public

  The Puerto Rican Day parade made its way through the streets of Hartford this past Saturday. With traditional live music from the island and colorful floats, the parade honored the pandemic’s essential workers and first responders. Organizers also came with a clear message: “Let’s get the Latino community vaccinated!”  

Tyler Russell / Connecticut Public

Sixty-year-old Conzuela Punto has been working at a McDonald’s rest stop in Connecticut for 18 years without benefits. 

“I’m supporting my colleagues who have been working at McDonald’s for 25 years,” said Punto in Spanish.

Joe Amon / Connecticut Public

Before the coronavirus pandemic shut down Broadway, Bill Whitaker drove every week from his home in Connecticut to New York City, where he performed in “Phantom of the Opera” as a bass trombonist. This was Whitaker’s main gig for 19 years, but he had many others.

Brenda Leon

With signs and chants of support, a small group of Colombians living in Connecticut gathered in front of Hartford’s City Hall on Thursday to denounce the violent response by Colombia’s security forces against demonstrators.

Hartford resident Alina Zúñiga, who moved to Connecticut from Cali, Colombia, 30 years ago, organized the rally. She said ongoing corruption and abuse have been a decadeslong reality for the people in her native country. Zúñiga said young adults are responding on the streets, and she wanted to show her support.

A Hartford HealthCare worker administers a COVID-19 vaccine
Ryan Caron King / Connecticut Public

As soon as COVID-19 vaccines were made available to all age groups, Liany Arroyo knew there was a chance for monumental change.

“We really used that day to go where people would be at,” said Arroyo, director of Hartford’s Health Department. “We knew Walmart would be a good place to go, so we parked ourselves in the Walmart parking lot. We had 260 vaccinations, and we worked with the community to get that out.”

Brenda Leon / Connecticut Public

Hartford police have arrested a teenager in the recent shooting death of a 3-year-old boy in the city’s North End. Jaziah Smith, 19, was charged in the killing of Randell Jones.

Brenda Leon / Connecticut Public Radio

Families of people lost to police violence in Connecticut gathered at the state Capitol in Hartford Friday to share stories of their loved ones. Jazmarie Melendez talked about her brother Jayson Negron, who was shot and killed in 2017 in Bridgeport. He was 15 years old.  

Brenda Leon / Connecticut Public Radio


Immigrants’ rights groups and advocates gathered in Hartford this week to rally in support of Senate Bill 956, legislation that would provide HUSKY health benefits to certain Connecticut residents regardless of immigration status. 


Brenda Leon / Connecticut Public

Balloons, teddy bears and candles decorated the corner of a Hartford street where 3-year-old Randell Jones was shot and killed on Saturday afternoon. 

Families and friends gathered Monday in a vigil organized by Mothers United Against Violence.

As friends and families consoled the boy’s mother, Solmary Cruz, her sister Johanna Vazquez said the family is raising funds to bury her nephew, whom she remembers as a happy child. His family affectionately called the toddler “Jun Jun.” 

As she was raising children with mental health needs, Milagros Vega learned how to access multiple services in Hartford. She moved to the city from Puerto Rico 25 years ago. Now she’s caring for a grandson with similar needs. 

glegorly/iStock / Thinkstock

  It’s been exactly one year since 63-year-old Lucia Romero was laid off from her maintenance job. 

“It was exactly on March 23 last year that I was laid off,” Romero said in Spanish. “I was employed for 33 years with a maintenance company.” 

Connecticut Public

When the pandemic arrived in Connecticut last year, Zully was eight months pregnant. It wasn't long before she became infected with the coronavirus, though she's not sure exactly how she contracted it.

“My son caught the virus, and we thought it was a common cold. Then my husband caught it,” Zully said in Spanish. 

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Tony Spinelli / Connecticut Public

Kim Steinberg had already registered her business in January on the state’s website so she could get her employees vaccinated. Now most won't qualify until May. 

Connecticut Education Association

Though Connecticut educators are considered essential workers, they are not yet eligible for vaccination against COVID-19. To address this, the Connecticut Education Association has launched a TV ad featuring Connecticut teachers of the year calling on the state to “Vaccinate educators now!” 

Brenda Leon / Connecticut Public Radio

Gender violence in Puerto Rico has increased in recent years, so much so that newly sworn-in Gov. Pedro Pierluisi has declared a state of emergency in response to calls by activists on the island.  

Last October in Connecticut, Nina Vázquez joined other Puerto Rican women in the diaspora to rally in Hartford in support of activists on the island who demanded the state of emergency. During the rally, Vázquez, a graduate student at the University of Connecticut, read the names of women murdered in her homeland of Puerto Rico in 2020.  

Joe Amon / Connecticut Public

Distrust of the medical system for Deicin Garcia goes back to when she arrived from Mexico 15 years ago as an undocumented teenager. She and her family came to pick tobacco on a ranch about half an hour’s drive north of Hartford. 

Courtesy: Cristian Padilla Romero

Just days into his term, President Joe Biden has moved swiftly on a couple of fronts in addressing immigration issues. Immigrants in Connecticut call Biden’s efforts to protect the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program a great first step. They’ve also welcomed the announcement from the Department of Homeland Security of a 100-day moratorium on deportations.

A Hartford HealthCare worker administers a COVID-19 vaccine
Ryan Caron King / Connecticut Public


As Connecticut prepares to transition into Phase 1B of the vaccine rollout, there’s growing concern about reaching diverse communities who have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 illness and death. To address the problem, Dr. Jorge Moreno, an internist and assistant professor at the Yale School of Medicine, posted a video about his experience with the vaccine. 

Chion Wolf photo

The coronavirus has taken the lives of over 5,600 Connecticut residents. Urbano Sifuentes of West Hartford was among them. For 25 years, Sifuentes worked as a janitor at the University of Hartford.

Speaking in Spanish, his daughter Rosemary Torres remembered him as a generous man who worked hard and had a great sense of humor.

“He was a very, very loving, very tender man. It has been difficult because it was very surprising the way he left us. It was so sudden. He was always cheerful and always joking around.”

Chion Wolf / Connecticut Public

President-elect Joe Biden’s pick to lead the federal Department of Education -- Miguel Cardona -- has deep roots in Connecticut public schools.

Ingmar Riveros (left) and Peruvian refugee Xiomy De la Cruz (right) serve 150 families from their food pantry in a store basement in Hartford on Nov. 19. Many of the families are undocumented and severely impacted by the pandemic.
Joe Amon / Connecticut Public/NENC

Early in the pandemic, Xiomy De la Cruz was working at a fast-food restaurant when her work hours were cut back. She is a Peruvian refugee and a single mother with two children and another on the way. Like many families, she found herself in various pantry lines to make ends meet.

Early in the pandemic, Xiomy De la Cruz was working at a fast food restaurant, but her work hours were cut back. She is a Peruvian refugee single mother with two children and another on the way. Like many families, she found herself in various pantry lines to make ends meet.

"So I said to myself one day, 'why not fill up my car with food and take it to my house?' There are so many moms who don't have access to a car for transportation," De la Cruz said. "I filled up my van and put a 'free food' sign on my door."

Asnuntuck Community College

Completion rates for low-income Black and Latinx students enrolled in Connecticut’s two-year public colleges were already low before COVID-19 hit, and the pandemic has exacerbated the challenges they face.

The Hartford Foundation for Public Giving is helping out some of those students through grants it has awarded to five community colleges.

Héctor Valdez / Bou Group

There is still time left to sign-up for this weekend’s Latino and Iberian Film Festival, at Yale.

The festival features films online from countries including Chile, Cuba and the Dominican Republic.

Contributed Photo

Nina Vázquez left her hometown of Aguada, Puerto Rico, when she was 13 years old, moving to Meriden with her family. 

“I consider my family an economic refugee,” said Vázquez. “The reason why we left was because of an economic downfall in Puerto Rico. We were planning to go back a few years later, but it never could happen.” 

danielfela/iStock / Thinkstock

When Victoria van Basten began putting together her paperwork to apply for U.S. citizenship, her plan was to have one consultation with an immigration lawyer, to keep costs as low as possible. 

“We just knew there was no way to pay for a lawyer’s time,” van Basten said. “Not with all the filing fees and things that go along with immigration.”

And those fees soon may nearly double under the Trump administration. 

Ryan Caron King / Connecticut Public

Hartford Public Schools will continue to offer an in-person learning option for at least two more weeks. Since September, there have been 52 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the city’s schools but only one probable case of in-school transmission, officials said.