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

The History of Chicago

The first wave of Latino immigrants to Chicago were Mexicans making their up through Texas and into the Midwest and finally into Chicago. Bought to the Windy City by job prospects, the first wave was mostly made up of young, unskilled men who were promised permanent employment (though that was seldom true) (23). The population grew quickly, going from 1,000 in 1916 to 20,000 in 1930 (20). They mostly settled in the other dominantly immigrant, minority neighborhoods in the city where the industrial factories dominated the landscape: South Chicago (Steel), Back of the Yard (packing houses), and Near West Side (railroad) (21-22). 

Unlike their Mexican counterparts, Puerto Ricans started immigrating to Chicago in the late 1940s. Though they to immigrated for financial reasons as Puerto Rico suffered from massive unemployment and rampant poverty. But it wouldn’t be until the 1950s and 60s that Puerto Ricans would start immigrating to Chicago in mass. In 1960, the census read 32, 371. By 1970, that number had more than doubled to 78,963 (Padilla, 39). Puerto Ricans did not move into the already existing immigrant, minority neighborhoods. Instead they carved out their own barrios in dominantly white neighborhoods in the middle of the city (42). This may be because by the time Puerto Ricans reached Chicago, the industrial factories that provided the majority of the unskilled labor jobs for immigrants were on the decline, leaving restaurant work, janitorial work, and delivery boys/stockroom workers for corporations as the major income for most Puerto Ricans (43). 

Despite both group’s different backgrounds and initial starts in the city, they would face similar challenges and pushbacks from already established neighborhoods and communities. They would need to fight to have their voices heard in the political climate and education systems. As historian Felix M. Padilla writes, after being forced to assimilate and change the way they view familial ties, work, and religion, Latinos of Chicago created a new Latino ethnic-conscious identity as a way to “integrate” their “past and present,” (7).

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