New Book Explores Rise of Mexicans, Puerto Ricans in Chicago

Published November 29, 2012


A new book published by the University of Chicago deals with the issue of immigration and integration of Mexicans and Puerto Ricans after World War II in this city.

"Brown In The Windy City: Mexicans and Puerto Ricans in Postwar Chicago" is the work of Lilia Fernandez, a history professor at Ohio State University.

Fernandez tells the story of the growth of these important communities and their difficult integration into the political dynamic of the Midwestern metropolis.

With figures and anecdotes, the author, who is of Mexican descent, details the problems that both communities have had to work through to be able to forge their own identities and carve out political space for themselves.

Both Mexicans and Puerto Ricans encountered racism and the hostility of other ethnic groups when they arrived in the city, and they had to put up with poorly-paid manual jobs, a lack of social services and schools that did not recognize their culture.

Although prior to the 1940s there was a small Mexican community in the city, this group began to arrive in large numbers during the war as guestworkers.

The Puerto Ricans began arriving almost at the same time seeking opportunities that were not available on their native island.

Chicago's Mexican and Puerto Rican communities had to face displacement in the 1950s and '60s under programs of "urban renewal."

The Puerto Ricans were the first, pushed out of the now-exclusive residential zone of Lincoln Park and into poor neighborhoods like Humboldt Park and West Town.

Then, the city also displaced about 4,800 Mexican-Americans who were living in the Near West Side to make room for the campus of the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Fernandez discusses how the community struggles began to orient Hispanics to seek their own path and forge their own identity.

"As a result of these experiences, already by 1980 the majority of the Mexican-Americans and Puerto Ricans in the central neighborhoods like Humboldt Park, West Town, Pilsen and La Villita consciously and intentionally were identifying themselves as 'another' race in the political landscape," she told Efe.

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