Exploring the Latino Metropolis: A Brief Urban Cultural History of US Latinos

Centers of Latino Culture and Festivals in Chicago

One of the key factors that distinguishes Chicago's Latino population from the rest of America's is the prominent celebration and display of the humanities within the community. Over time, several different places of cultural significance have opened up that teach the people to be proud of their heritage and prominently display it. A special significance is placed on teaching the children about the humanities and how Latino culture has influenced art, literature, and cinematography. By putting all of this on display, the Latinos in Chicago set themselves apart by making an enormous impact on the culture of the city and ensures that they do not go unnoticed.

By 1950, a great deal of Mexicans and Puerto Ricans began seasonally migrating to the Midwest to find jobs in the more industrial inner city of Chicago. There, they joined a whole slew of Eastern European immigrants already living there, and they began to add the Spanish culture to the melting pot. In 1954, the Casa Central was established in order to provide financial aid and counseling in the traditionally Latino neighborhood. It is now the largest Hispanic Social Services agency in the Midwest region. It provides a community center and various social services to the Hispanic community. The Casa Central acts as a central hub in giving care to the community and helps bring everyone together. Their goal is not to leave any portion of the latino population behind. By providing this aid it helps to keep the community very close together and reminds people of the common experiences they all face as an ethnicity. (1)

Another place that acts as a unifier for the community is the Benito Juarez high school. This public school, located in Pilsen, is the largest in the area and houses the largest percentage of Latino students in the city. The founding of this school was prompted by students having to walk great distances across gang territories to get to their old school. This lead to many issues in the sound education of the youth. The school was finished in 1977 and has since promoted scholastic pursuits in the community. By emphasizing the importance of education about culture, and promoting latino culture in the school, Benito Juarez high school teaches students to be proud of their ethnicity and sets them up to do great things in life. This school carries the hopes of Pilsen as it was their actions that lead to its creation. This fact leads further unifying the community around the school - around education - and promotes learning about all disciplines in Pilsen. (2)

An annual event of great cultural significance is the Chicago Latino Film Festival -which is actually considered the best one of its kind in the United States. Over the period of two weeks, 35,000 people come to see the over 100 films are presented from all across Spanish America – Portugal, Spain, and Latin America. The festival also archives the films in a library for educational purposes. It started in 1985 as a small event with only 14 films being shown, but has since evolved into a cultural icon looked forward to by many each year. This festival shows the impact of Latino culture in movies and reminds the people that they can accomplish these things too. By putting these movies on prominent display, it teaches the entire city about Latino culture and helps bridge the gap between the different ethnic groups in the city. (3)

Another example is the Chicago Humanities festival. Each year, 5 Latino authors from Chicago get together and compose a series of poems about their experiences in the city and then present them to a crowd of attendees. These poems are meant to embody the life of the Latino neighborhoods and should speak to everyone in them. Below is a video of one of the poems from last year's festival. (4)

These festivals are some of the more prominent examples on how Chicago's latino culture is distinct from other cities. It places an enormous emphasis on the humanities and prominently displays these cultural works. The humanities on display cover a plethora of different mediums. This celebration of Latino works of art sets the culture apart as a unique subgroup of Latino America.

1) "Our Story." Casa Central. Web. 21 Feb. 2016.
2) Russo, Alexander W. W. School Reform In Chicago: Lessons In Policy And Practice. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press, 2004.
3) Birringer, Johannes. “La Melancolía De La Jaula (the Melancholy of the Cage)”. Performing Arts Journal 18.1 (1996): 103–128. Web
"Chicago Latino Writers Initiative." Chicago Latino Writers Initiative. N.p., n.d. Web. 8 Mar. 2016.

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