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

Latino Neighborhoods in Chicago

Latino Neighborhoods in Chicago
The Latino Neighborhoods in Chicago are generally grouped into three areas based on Location and shown in the map below: Far Southeast Side, West Side, and Northwest Side.

A more detailed map showing the neighborhoods described below can be found here.

West Side Latino Neighborhoods:
While only two neighborhoods in southern West Side are generally considered Latino, Pilsen is considered the heart of Latino Chicago and both it and Little Village have extremely high percent Latino populations.

The Pilsen neighborhood is located on the southwest side of downtown Chicago.  Although originally dominated by eastern European immigrants, the neighborhood started to see an influx of Mexican immigrants in the 1970’s as their homes to the North were demolished to make way for the University of Chicago.  The population includes some elderly European immigrants but is predominantly made up of people of Mexican descent, peaking at 89% in 2000.  Recently the neighborhood has seen the return of economic development, and contains many Mexican shops, bakeries, and the Mexican Fine Arts Center Chicago.  The latter was the first and largest Mexican art and Latino culture museum in the Midwest, and Karen Davalos, in an entry for the Encyclopedia of Chicago, says that the museum’s location and focus represents how Mexican culture has no borders.    Unfortunately, the recent developments have begun to push out some of the Pilsen’s lower income residents. 

Little Village:
Little Village is located directly west-southwest of Pilsen and was originally settled by Europeans in the 1930’s, coaxed by the industrial job prospects.  The construction of the University of Illinois Chicago and continued job prospects brought in Mexican immigrants and Mexican-American citizens to the neighborhood.  They brought with them a massive influx of Latino culture, highlighted by a variety of Mexican restaurants and the annual Mexican independence day parade.  There is also a prominent business district running down west 26th street.

Far Southeast Latino Neighborhoods:
The four Latino neighborhoods in far southeast Chicago are those which arose from the steel industry's demand for Mexican labor.

South Chicago:
The home of United States Steel's South Works plant, South Chicago acquired it's Latino population through the steel plant's aggressive hiring of steel workers in the early to mid 20th century.  The promise of jobs continued to attract workers until USX shuttered the plant in the early 1990's, leading the area into a period of decline population and economic depression.

East Side:
Surrounded by the Calumet River, Lake Michigan, and Indiana, with a landscape composing mainly of old steel mills, East Side is somewhat isolated from the rest of Southeastern Chicago.  The area was predominantly European immigrants for the majority of the 20th century, without growing much until 1980, when the area's heavy industry entered a period of massive decline.  The main steel plant, Republic Steel, closed in the 1980's and heavy industry has yet to fully return, however Ford build a new facility on part of the old steel plant.  The area's economic hardships hardly curved Latino immigration though, demonstrating that race's determination and toughness in the face of adversity.

Named after the rolling stock tycoon who founded the town, Hegewisch went through a similar pattern as both East Side and South Chicago: steel mills attracted massive European immigration waves in the early 20th century, but population began to decline in 1980's as the steel mills closed their doors.  However, a massive influx of Mexican immigrants in the 1980's and beyond helped stem the decline in population.  Unlike East Side and South Chicago though, Hegewisch successfully lobbied for an economic stimulus and recovery plan and has found opportunities for its population in nearby casinos and revived industry.

South Deering:
After going through a prolonged but identical boom and bust cycle as the other 3 neighborhoods, South Deering was unable to secure and major investment or growth in jobs, and its population decline continues.  Although Mexicans immigrated here in large numbers, as the neighborhood declined many chose to retire and move back to Mexico.

Northwest Side:
The Northwest Side neighborhoods are characterized by the railroads which crisscross through them, their resilience to the population declines which plagued much of Chicago, and Puerto Ricans being the dominant group of Hispanic origins.

Logan Square:
Started as a residential suburb and then annexed by the city of Chicago, Logan Square remained primarily residential with its population of European immigrants settling along the major avenues and squares.  As highways, subways, and railroads changed the makeup of the neighborhood old immigrant groups moved out and by the 1960's most of the immigrants arriving were from Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Mexico.  This neighborhood avoided the massive population drops which ravaged many Chicago communities, and today is gentrifying and welcoming new people into its fold.

Surrounded by railroad tracks and isolated from the other Northwest Side communities, Hermosa remains industry heavy due to the presence of the railroads.  Furthermore, the isolation has caused a sense of safety for the residents and prevented Hermosa from entering the period of population decline which plagued most of Chicago during the second half of the 20th century.  Currently Hispanics make up the majority of the population, with Puerto Ricans the majority of that group.

A combination of retail and industry drove Belmont-Cragin's growth during the 20th century and Hispanics now make up more than 65% of the population.  Although the area has seen a recent decline in manufacturing and retail, the population continues to rise and housing redevelopment plans are underway.

The section on West Side exclusively reference '"History of...' while the sections on Far Southeast and Northwest exclusively reference 'Reiff, Janica.....'.  To save space and time, they are simply referenced here.

"History of Pilsen and Little Village." San Jose Obrero Mission: History of Pilsen and Little Village.            San Jose Obrero Mission, 2016. Web. 22 Feb. 2016.
Reiff, Janica L., Durkin Keating, and James R. Grossman. Encyclopedia of Chiago. Chicago History            Museum, 2005. Web. 13 Mar. 2016.

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