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

Latinos in Chicago

To understand Chicago Latino heritage, it is first important to know the city that would shape it. Located in the Midwest and ranked as the third largest city in the United States of America, it is a huge, sprawling metropolis known for it's blues, jazz and theatre scene as well as it's vibrant food culture and art. The city was the land of the Potawatomi Tribe and mostly marsh alongside Lake Michigan. In 1803, European settles established Fort Dearborn. Since then, Chicago has been called different things: The Windy City, The White City, Hog Butcher for the World, City of the Big Shoulders, The City that Works, etc., (“Chicago”). But most importantly, it has always been a city of immigrants. By 1870, about 48% of the city's population was made up of immigrants (Paral). It wouldn't be until World War 1 that the first Latino immigrants would find their way to The Windy City (Padilla, 7).

Today Chicago boosts the 5th largest Latino population in the US ("Hispanic Population in Select U.S. Metropolitan Areas, 2011"). The Latino population in Chicago is mostly made up of Mexicans and Puerto Ricans who live in barrios spread out across the city. And, as historian Felix M. Padilla writes, these immigrants have created an entirely new “ethnic-conscious identity and behavior, distinct and separate from the individual ethnic identity of Mexican Americans [and] Puerto Ricans…” thanks to a variety of “internal and external factors and conditions,” unique to the Chicago Urban experience (1). Externally, he emphasizes, the struggle of integration that Latinos faced in Chicago (6). While internal factors focused on the struggle of identity and having to adapt and do away with certain cultural practices to settle in Chicago (8). Of course this is not to say that Puerto Rican Chicagoans and Mexican Chicagoans have developed the same Latino-Chicago identity. Rather thanks to different political influences, historical events, and geographical locations, these two distinct immigrant groups have carved out their own space and culture in The Windy City.  

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