Bienvenido a Pilsen: discovering Pilsen

In this southwest neighborhood of Chicago the city’s reputation as an immigrant city is seen through the history of Pilsen to present day. Once belonging to Czechs, the neighborhood became home to many European immigrants such as Croatians, Italians, Lithuanians, and Poles. The neighborhood attracted these immigrants during the 1930s because many industrial jobs here offered them jobs and the cost of living was low.



Pilsen highlighted in red. [1]

The neighborhood’s current residents, primarily hispanics and predominantly Mexican immigrants and their families, came to Pilsen increasingly in 1960. The Mexican population in the area increased dramatically: from “7,000 to more than 83,000” in just twenty years. This influx was due largely to the new construction of the UIC campus and Eisenhower Expressway. Both construction projects displaced the families that lived in their paths, including many of the Mexican families currently in Pilsen. Now that generations have settled and lived and grew up in the neighborhood, it has a lot of Mexican culture present today.

Unfortunately, gentrification threatens their neighborhood that holds all the good things immigrants brought with them from Mexico. Low housing costs and the way Mexican culture is valued as a commodity has increased interest by outside parties to invest in the neighborhood. While it sounds like a great opportunity, it is hidden by the ugly reality that gentrification often results in the removal of low-income families and small businesses.

While researching Pilsen, you will likely find hostility towards “hipsters” and upper class business people interested in gentrifying the neighborhood. In fact, The Pilsen Alliance is an organization that is fighting gentrification in their neighborhood and working to improve multiple things to help support low-income families living there.


Pilsen Alliance [2]

The fight for Pilsen has three investors: local developers who want to profit by making Pilsen attractive to consumers, the City of Chicago Office of Tourism that seeks to use the neighborhood for advertisement means, and the residents of Pilsen themselves [1].

A sociologist at University of Chicago Terry Clark explains that the way these developers and the City of Chicago Office of Tourism want to portray Pilsen is a “globalization power tool” that would create “taste cultures” for the consumers. The developers would promote Pilsen as a Mexican jewel of the city. However, the developers would not advertise the culture that already exists. No, the developers would “appropriate these cultural symbols into a redevelopment scheme designed to attract middle-class consumers to partake in the ‘local culture'”[1]. The parades and festivals and murals already there for/by the residents would be valuable to the consumers and developers, but much of it would be redesigned to be just the right amount of culture and fun. Kathryn calls this the “Commodification of Culture”.

Their culture should be shared and enjoyed, but it should not be used by outsiders as an avenue for profit.

As we arrived off the pink line to Ashland in Pilsen, immediately you see murals – just like you heard about before you get there, because anyone who has been will tell you they are everywhere! Beautiful, bright colors that remind you of The Road to El Dorado and depict famous Mexican men and women greet you at the station.

Why murals? In Mexican history, many were illiterate until the 1940s. Therefore the movements of the times or passing of information was expressed and explained through murals, which everyone could understand.

The neighborhood was very quiet, everyone already at work by mid morning. It seemed very residential, with a strip of restaurants and shops lining two streets sort of marking the business center. Everywhere you walked, you could find a mural or colorful decorations marking the neighborhood as its own.

Many of the murals have Mexican culture expressed through them, with images of education, family, community, and the heritage of the Mexican residents painted throughout.

The National Museum of Mexican Art is proudly hosted in Pilsen. Here, you can learn more about the Mexican culture through the art it has created. The walls in the museum show off bright colors and boast the beauty of Mexico. There are several beautiful exhibits. The larger exhibit that you walk through leads you through the history with pieces before Spanish and English invasion of Central America.

As we walked around the neighborhood, you could still find hints of past residents. A somewhat-famous attraction in Pilsen is the “Ghost Church“. This church is not a Mexican Catholic church. In fact, it is a German Lutheran church that was destroyed in a fire and left without everything but its front. Thus giving the Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church at 19th and Peoria the nickname Ghost Church.


Ghost Church [3]

Chicago is truly special thanks to its neighborhoods. Pilsen certainly adds to the charm, however the commodification of the neighborhood’s identity will likely remove any authentic beauty. Should we visit this neighborhood to go to a theatrical, forced Mexican cultural center? Or should we visit the neighborhood and experience dining at a restaurant where your waitress barely speaks English and you laugh together as you try to order from a Spanish menu? Who will work in these restaurants when the locals are forced to move due to higher rent resulting from gentrification?

As property taxes go up, the residents are at greater risk of losing their cultural center (again)! From what I have read, the locals are worried that gentrification will do this to their neighborhoods. New businesses that resemble gentrification, such as the fairly new coffee shop Bow Truss, have received large amounts of resentment from the community and even graffiti.

Gentrification of a neighborhood can bring improved municipal services, new business, enhanced police patrols, and greater political influence. The balance is ensuring that the city’s government is not building the neighborhood for “the interests of visitors rather than the concerns of residents”. This could lead to “increased social division and conflict” within the neighborhood and damage residents more.

As Chicago’s government considers the future of Pilsen, I fear the residents have to repeat the cries from the 1960s:  “Respeten nuestros hogares” (Respect our homes).



Photo Resources:



  1. Selling Chicago as a Global City: Redevelopment and Ethnic Neighborhoods by Kathryn Saclarides
  2. Swept from their homes, Chicago’s Latinos built new community by Chip Mitchell
  3. New Anti-Gentrification Signs Demand, ‘White People Out of Pilsen’ by  Stephanie Lulay
  • For other information about movements in Pilsen check out The Pilsen Alliance
  • Want to explore Pilsen? Check out the Mural Locator to find some the neighborhood’s artwork!

Chicago: swamp to global city.

Taking this class, I knew I would be exposed to the history of this “foreign” city and many things I simply never noticed. I call it foreign, because I truly never thought of the Midwest, growing up in Texas, and I certainly did not expect to attend college here. So when I learned Chicago was once a putrid swamp, I was amazed! Hard to believe, isn’t it?

I laughed as we read about it and discussed it in class. I thought, “how [U.S.] American of us.” We competed with the British and the French for this swampy, cold land. We let the Native Americans take us there, so we could claim it for ourselves.

I’d like to focus on how we made Chicago happen. Chicago didn’t have many attributes, but it did have one powerful enough to make three countries swoon: it could connect the East to the Mississippi. This passageway wasn’t actually desirable. It wasn’t a beautiful, flowing river welcoming us to pass on by to the Mississippi. It was a portage, always changing with the seasons. Travelers would have to carry supplies and the boat they traveled in, until they reached deeper water.

But that didn’t stop us, it didn’t stop the founders of “The City with Broad Shoulders”.

Today, Chicago is ranked 7th in A.T. Kearney’s Global Cities 2015 and 9th in a report from the Economist Intelligence Unit Hot spots 2025: Benchmarking competitiveness the future of cities. Amazing how we built up a city from swamp, to a muddy town, to a polluted cow town, to a revived city, and now a Global City.

Richard Florida is an American urban studies theorist who focuses on social and economic theories. He defines, “today’s three major classes [as] the shrinking middle [class] of blue-collar workers; the rising ranks of the knowledge, professional, and creative class; and the even larger and faster-growing ranks of lower-paid, service workers [class]”. Three classes to sum up our cities: the service class, the working class, and the creative class. Based on his definitions, it is hard to give a strict explanation of the creative class. However, I think by process-of-elimination through the service and working classes, you can get an idea of who is in the creative class.

The service class are workers who do routine labor for low wages. Richard gives the examples “food service and preparation, retail sales, and clerical and administrative positions” and claims this class is the largest of the three in Chicago.

The working class are workers who wear uniformed service shirts, sometimes literally blue-collared. Richard says they are employed in jobs like, “factory jobs as well as transportation and construction”. According to him, “The City of Big Shoulders” is losing their once prized class.

So, what is the creative class? I did say process of elimination. However, I’m sure it is easy to find workers who could fit in two class types. Through his definition, the creative class are “people who work in science and technology, business and management, arts, culture, media, and entertainment, law, and healthcare professions”. This class doesn’t leave much out, right?

Now that we have simply defined our elaborate, complex city into just three types of workers, what does it take for us to become a Global City? Richard would tell you a successful city needs three things, the three T’s to success: Technology, Talent, and Tolerance.

You may be reading this thinking, “Duh!” You wouldn’t be wrong either. However, many cities that get left behind, like Detroit, were left behind because they focused on industry. Richard Florida would say something like they didn’t invest in talent or technology. Why would a creative class person go to Detroit?

There is the answer. How does Chicago maintain or improve its global ranking? Bring in the creative class! The creative class needs technology, so a city should have many quality universities to study and improve technology. Chicago is home to so many universities. There is plenty of opportunity here to study and grow in this city!

The city will need jobs to employ these creative people. What is truly important, is that the creative class needs to be welcomed and comfortable in your city. That is why tolerance is one of the three T’s to success. Creative people aren’t always conventional- and they shouldn’t be.

Once the creative class is established in your city, they will offer the service class jobs. Creative class people are active in the economy, which is beneficial to the city, but also means the city needs music centers, restaurants, and other places service class can work.

Richard Florida may have the trick to retaining and inviting citizens to your city, but if only U.S. citizens are investing in your city, is it a global city? The Hot Spots 2025 study, “assessed 32 indicators across eight thematic categories: economic strength, physical capital, financial maturity, institutional character, social and cultural character, human capital, environment and natural hazards and global appeal” for each city involved in their global city study. In their study, social and cultural character only contributed 5% to a city’s ranking, and human capital only 15%. Economic strength leads the categories at 30%, however I believe that if a city invests in gl0bal appeal (10%), that city will become more economically sound.

Chicago is not a destination city. Tourists from around the world go to other cities in the U.S. before they come to this matured cow-town. How can we retain our global status if we do not bring in more business and people from around the world? The city has recognized this issue, and we are trying to attract more businesses and tourism. It will take time to change the image of “America’s most dangerous city”. Many nations still think of us that way. The city has a lot to offer: beautiful lakefront property, mild summers, port access, and a large international airport. According to an article (about a study done by the Economic Intelligence Unit) written by Nick Timiraos in the Wall Street Journal called The Most Expensive Cities in the World to Live, Chicago is relatively cheap to live here, considering it is ranked 21st of the U.S. cities and New York is ranked 7th.

I believe there is hope for Chicago. The city is moving in the right directions to encourage creative people to invest here, following the three T’s of technology, tolerance, and talent. The city is also investing globally, encouraging others to plant their overseas businesses here and visit our many festivals or historical sites. Hot Spots 2025 would agree, as we are projected to move up 3 spots in their Overall 2025 City Competitiveness rankings table.

Chicago may have been built by broad shoulders and overcome many obstacles, but the city must keep looking forward and keep improving in order to compete with cities around the world. I think the city’s history and roots are desirable traits for a rising Global City.



Photo Resources:

  1. Settlers
  2. Old Chicago
  3. Loyola Ramblers
  4. Illinois Tech
  5. Northwestern U
  6. UIC
  7. Booth
  8. Skyline


  1. Florida, Richard. “Class-Divided Cities: Chicago Edition.” CityLab. The Atlantic Monthly Group, 4 Feb. 2013. Web. 28 Mar. 2016.
  2. Timiraos, Nick. “The Most Expensive Cities in the World to Live.” WSJ. Dow Jones & Company, Inc., 10 Mar. 2016. Web. 28 Mar. 2016.
  3. Kearney, A.T. “Global Cities 2015: The Race Accelerates.” A.T. Kearney. N.p., Nov. 2015. Web. 10 Apr. 2016. Link.
  4. Florida, Richard. “The Rise of the Creative Class.” Washington Monthly. The Washington Monthly, May 2002. Web. 28 Mar. 2016.
  5. Hot Spots 2025: Link.

Bronzeville: a jewel left in the dust.

Bronzeville is a neighborhood I often ignored. In fact, I believe ever since thrill-seeking white people could no longer venture to the Black Metropolis for a brief night of fun, the neighborhood has been ignored a great deal. Often compared to Harlem, Bronzeville was a place where white people could have their fun and leave that life behind. It wasn’t the same for the black people confined to this neighborhood.

Bronzeville was where black people were pushed by the surrounding neighborhoods. Sure, many had escaped slavery, segregation, and racism of the South, but Chicagoans had planted their stakes in the ground. This was their city, the city of Broad Shoulders. The people of the South Side had built it, and they weren’t going to give it up.

The people of Bronzeville didn’t need the entertainment of everyone else. They built their own clubs, diners, and even recording studios for their new sound. This turned Bronzeville into a popular place! Although white people largely disapproved of the clubs, rock and roll music, and new style of dancing, many took weekend trips to the Black Metropolis. It was detested during the day and enjoyed at night.

One of the most famous clubs was the Sunset Cafe.


The Carroll Dickerson Band in Sunset Cafe in 1922 [1]

Today, the club is an Ace Hardware store. It has been since the ’60s. This “black and tan” club was unique. Many famous musicians played here including: Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, and Earl Hines.


Location of Sunset Cafe now Ace Hardware at 315 E. 35th St [2]

Although the owner is very kind and willing to show the mural that remains of the old cafe, the store is a representation of the rest of the neighborhood. Bronzeville was once a place where powerful activists like Ida B. Wells lived, where record labels began recording a new sound, and where artists like Archibald Motley found their muse.


Bronzeville at Night.jpg

Bronzeville at Night by Archibald Motley [3]

As we walked around the neighborhood, it seemed obvious that it had lost its charm. Many shops have bars on the windows, the sidewalks were lined with cracks, and chain restaurants and businesses are predominant. But then, we turned onto South Martin Luther King Drive. The street greets you with a map of all that it meant to be Bronzeville, and The Victory Monument dedicated to the Eighth Regiment of the Illinois National Guard who fought in World War I.

This street is lined with homes, many old, that show the beauty the neighborhood once held. It’s tragic, many of these beautiful homes are left standing next to empty lots, or crumbling structures. To me, it seems like the restoration of the neighborhood is struggling. The neighborhood itself is rather large, and the homes are being renovated sporadically, by individuals rather than a community bound by one cause.

I wish I could say I feel hope when it comes to restoring the art, life, and beauty to Bronzeville. The overwhelming amount of empty lots and old buildings was disheartening. A new boutique, the historical recognitions, and some murals are shadowed by what still needs to be done in the neighborhood.

The restoration of the neighborhood can’t be achieved  by the current residents alone.  The neighborhood is isolated. You can tell a lot by looking at a neighborhood’s presence on Facebook. The Bronzeville Boutique by Lady Mocha is located at 4259 S King Drive.

What does this say about the neighborhood? Are the businesses and residents here working together to improve and promote the area? If so, are they using the right mediums and tools to access neighboring communities as well as their own? To me, there is a disconnect between those who are frequenting local businesses and liking them on Facebook; as shown by the lack of likes of the neighborhood page. It is also evident in The Forum’s renovation attempt.

We stumbled across this project trying to get on the Green Line at 43rd. What a location! Or at least, it used to be. The building faces a large, empty lot. The empty chalkboard screams to me. It speaks to how the community has abandoned this iconic building. The Forum was a dancehall and community center in a once thriving part of the neighborhood. Now, the restoration project is struggling to capture the attention it needs in order to become a place for the Bronzeville community again.

I feel like Bronzeville was used and abused by its rich, white visitors; left in the dust once white musicians began covering popular black music. Since, it has struggled to be remembered. Plaques and information posts on buildings are not the way to give back to this community the way it deserves or restore it to the wonderful place it once was.


Websites related to this post:

  1. Bronzeville Boutique Website
  2. The Forum’s Website

Photo Resources:

  1. Picture 1
  2. Picture 2
  3. Picture 3

Bridgeport & Positive Gentrification

Bridgeport has come to be my home away from home. I live on 35th Place, a quiet block of mostly single family homes or small, multi-unit homes. However, at the end of my street, a condo building, built in 1913 and converted in 2004, known as Union Lofts Condominium Association foreshadows the future of Bridgeport. Younger, diverse generations are expanding from downtown Chicago, looking for a “cute” place to stay.

Bridgeport was a result of the Irish immigrants, who came to Chicago for [cheap] labor, settling here on the south side of the city. Bridgeport attracted other white immigrants such as Italians, Poles, and Germans. Gentrification of the neighborhood is slowly leading to more and more cultures being represented here.

Gentrification is defined as, “the buying and renovation of houses and stores in deteriorated urban neighborhoods by upper or middle-income families or individuals,thus improving property values but often displacing low-income families and small businesses”[1]. It makes sense that gentrification often has a negative connotation. Local businesses and families feel the pressure of change to their neighborhoods. Despite the definition of gentrification, I believe Bridgeport is benefitting from its metamorphosis. Bridgeport has had many faces: from Irish homestead, immigrant destination, political symbol, and racist seclusion. What is Bridgeport today? I think it’s in transition towards a more welcoming, diverse culture being cultivated by the Millennials a.k.a. Generation Y.

For my trip, I decided to leave my car in front of my apartment, and experience my neighborhood on foot. In doing so, I was able to notice things I drive past everyday. As I walked around the neighborhood, I thought about what my experience in Chinatown was like. In Chinatown, I felt very obviously out of place. Here, I feel like a part of the community. But I am also white. No one questions what I am doing walking around at any given time. After living in Bridgeport for nearly a year, I was surprised to learn it has a history of being a predominantly white, racist neighborhood and unwelcoming to outsiders. Learning about Bridgeport’s history of racism made it easier to understand the stark contrast between Bridgeport and its neighbor, Bronzeville. Cross State Street heading East into Bronzeville and you will find many beautiful, old and new buildings standing next to empty lots and crumbling, boarded buildings.

I started at the Bridgeport Coffeehouse at 31st and Morgan. The little coffee shop is a place that young and old can feel comfortable. It has hip, “fancy” coffee and treats, while maintaining the simple beauty of Chicago’s old, brick buildings. It has warm colors and a design on the ceiling that we call “tin tiles” back home. They were painted a warm vanilla, so I don’t actually know if they are the same tin tiles we use. I noticed these tiles in other ships around the area as well, all painted over.


The coffeehouse. [1]

From the coffeehouse, I walked down Morgan, a street I only used when avoiding traffic to get to my apartment. As I walked down Morgan, I came across the Mediterranean restaurant called Zaytune. It is on the seemingly random corner of Morgan and 31st Place. The restaurant’s presence and location made me think that it is a part of the gentrification of the neighborhood.


Zaytune Mediterranean Restaurant [3]

It speaks to how slow or new the process is, because it is not on a main street such as Halsted; when in fact there are multiple Chinese and Mexican restaurants on Halsted, two cultures that might seem more local due to the presence of Mexicans in Pilsen nearby and Chinatown just North of us.

As I continued down Morgan, bright colors caught the corner of my eye through the space in my sunglasses. BAM. There it was, a pop of many colors and designs spread across multiple buildings at the corner of West 32nd Place and South Morgan.

I don’t know a lot about art, even less about graffiti art, so I stood there and looked at, wondering what it said or meant. It was on both sides of 32nd Place, but I only got pictures of the South side of the street. It seemed like it was allowed to be there. Art is finding roots here in Bridgeport, brought by the Bridgeport Art Center and the Zhou Brothers. Both turned old warehouses into a place for expression and culture. The Zhou B Art Center is warm, but you wouldn’t know it from the outside looking in. The space is open, and the artwork is highlighted wonderfully with the lighting. I didn’t have a chance to visit the Bridgeport Art Center, however my classmates said it’s impressive inside and a great place to host events. It warms my heart and excites me to see these old buildings bring different views of life and color to this neighborhood I now call home.

Continuing South on this forgotten street, a large green dome called to me over the many apartments and houses. Intrigued, I followed it to its base. Suddenly, a large Catholic church burst from the houses around it. Two men were outside, clearly construction workers, and the church was wrapped in scaffolding. I came up on the church so quickly, that I had to back up to take it all in. Before me stood the Saint Mary of Perpetual Help church, completed in 1892.

This beautiful Roman Catholic church stands thanks to the Polish immigrants to Bridgeport in need of a large place to worship and center their community around. I was disappointed that I could not enter and explore the historic church. To see their pictures of their current restoration process: restoration link. You can find the church at 1039 West 32nd Street.

Just down the street from my apartment, I had the wonderful opportunity of receiving a tour from a generous man by the name of Bill Dennis in a little-known shop called Decorators Supply Corporation. This business uses old, hand-made carvings to continue production of the same charming pieces that are key to some classic architecture. They still work everything by hand, and their work is truly delightful. Surprisingly, Dennis said that roughly only 10% of their business is in Illinois.

I ended my tour of Bridgeport with Halsted Street. This street is basically my “last turn home,” and hosts some of my favorite restaurants, like Buffalo Wings and Rings. Although I like to frequent one or two restaurants and the convenient Family Dollar, there are many places on Halsted I never went. For example, when I moved into my apartment and had to get parking passes for game day, I stopped in the 11th Ward District building. I didn’t even notice the pump across the street. Makes you wonder what the historic Schaller’s Pump, opened in Irish Bridgeport in 1881, is doing so close to the political building.

I visited two shops on Halsted that I found interesting: Augustine’s Spiritual Goods ( and Hardscrabble. I’ll admit, I never knew what Augustine’s actually was – I thought it was a Christian book store. I was right and wrong. This store is an impressive shop where many different spiritual relics, candles, cards, and pendants mingle with each other. There are so many elements to this store, I highly suggest you visit to take it all in. In Hardscrabble, you will find the Chicagoan pride and hometown feel of Bridgeport represented in posters, t-shirts, decor, and books.


Hardscrabble, a [local] shop on Halsted.

The store has a spirit; it’s fun and represents historic parts of Bridgeport and new proverbs like “Straight Outta Bridgeport”.

What I find interesting and alluring about Bridgeport is that it holds to its Irish heritage with pride, whereas in the past Irish were considered vulgar and a nuisance. Often shops have Irish or Celtic advertisements, regardless of my many neighbors actually being Italian. Gentrification of this neighborhood has a lot of potential. I believe the gentrification of Bridgeport won’t threaten locals as long as it doesn’t attack the historic heritage we like to hold up and be proud of here. Improving old warehouses or parks is harmful. This community wants to stay a neighborhood where you grow up and return to buy the house right next to your mom and dad; where your sister lives in your childhood home on Union and your family lives on Emerald. The families here cling to that identity of Bridgeport, and that identity is what makes Bridgeport seem safe and inviting

File_000 (2)

My home away from home.



Photo Resources:


Assimilation: The Melting Pot of Losing Your Heritage

Some of the synonyms of assimilation seem to grant the term a softer complexion: acclimation, familiarization, and adaptation. However, the synonym conformity acknowledges my perception of the word.

Growing up, I lived in a place where there was a majority of white people. The “other” were the Mexicans: some immigrants, first generation, second generation, and so on. Therefore, many of the racism older individuals felt and instilled in their children was towards Mexicans. I remember hearing terrible names like “wet-backs” and harsh conversations about immigrants regarding the Texas-Mexico border.

My family didn’t say the worst of the things I heard, but they certainly have the angry, racist views imprinted on them by the repetition of these comments. If you look at my Facebook feed since the Presidential Campaigns began, it is a constant battle between many of my Southern Conservative friends and my new Liberal friends. What saddens me the most is that so many who repost these memes about Hillary Clinton being a liar or that immigrants are taking our jobs were never given the chance to make-up their own minds about these topics. They are raised hearing the same thing I heard. They never left Texas or changed the type of people they surrounded themselves with. They never broadened their horizons.

I never planned on moving to Chicago, Illinois. I don’t like large cities, crowds, and had never been around homeless. The transition was a rough one, and I struggled my freshman year. I ended up at Illinois Tech on a full ride scholarship. Reflecting as the wise 3rd Year that I am, I realize how much I have learned, experienced, and changed since moving here. Sure, I miss Texas and the things I love of my hometown. Nonetheless, I have found myself between the Southern raising and the Liberal move.

Assimilation would be a hot topic in my hometown. We base our town’s income on tourism to a small town “rich with the culture of German pioneers”. Therefore, when Spanish signs or foods find themselves in our grocery stores or banks, some have a tendency to proclaim this is America! We speak English here! Yet speaking German is respected and encouraged in Fredericksburg. See how the heritage of white, dominant culture is revered as American?

Should immigrants be required to assimilate? If you think so, I have to ask: how would you claim assimilation fully into America? Further, what is the definition of an American? Some of the definitions of an American: “a citizen of the United States of America, a native or inhabitant of the Western Hemisphere, an Indian of North or South America”. Interesting, isn’t it? An American could be a citizen of the U.S. Okay, well if that is all it takes, then those with citizenship have assimilated, have they not? Well, the Americas extend from North America, including Canada, to Central and South America. Are they Americans? What about the Native Americans, who did not believe in owning land, but we took it from them anyway?

Today, assimilation means fitting to the majority of the population of the United States. The white population; conforming to what they deem it takes to be an American. In different areas of the country, this means different things. In Chicago, it even means different parts of the city. There are places where you only need be a contributing member of society. There are places where you may never be considered an American based on how you look, speak, dress, or your religion.

Immigration should not be about assimilation. There are obvious things immigrants have to abide by in our laws that may not agree with parts of their culture, but immigrants should not have to mold to a majority’s definition of an American. The Melting Pot is an attempt to claim that America is an inviting, rich country of many backgrounds. When I hear melting pot, I think of many ingredients being melted down and mixed into a homogeneous mixture- that cannot be separated. I never liked this idea. I like to be identified as more than just “white”, although my family isn’t totally sure. I know my dad’s side of our family is very German, and I enjoy knowing that. I understand that a Mexican-American identifies that way for the same reasons I like knowing I am part German. If we seek to create one type of American, this country will never have opportunities to change or grow. Immigrants should not lose their heritage while trying to be American. Instead, they should be allowed to add to our country by introducing new ideas, customs, traditions, and experiences. So when the idea of a salad was introduced to me, I knew this was a better way of thinking about immigration to the United States. We should seek to create something that has individual ingredients, but come together to make something wonderful.




Photo Resources:


Texan in Chinatown, Chicago

I had been to Chinatown before, several times. However, this trip was more than an adventure in search of food, although we did stop to enjoy some! After learning a little about Chinatown through my Global Chicago course, I was excited to walk the streets and really notice the shops, people, and the overall vibe I got of the neighborhood.

As soon as you step off the train, you best be moving. Chicago is a bustling city, sure. Still, when we stepped out of the shelter of the Cermak-Chinatown Redline stop, we were quickly swept away by the movement of many people rushing this way and that. We caught our breath at our first stop: The Nine Dragon Wall.


The Nine Dragon Wall (S. Wentworth and W. Cermak)

Standing in front of this artistic display of culture is truly amazing. If you look closely, you can see the many tiles and pieces that were fitted together for the wall’s construction. The bright colors and sacred dragons remind me of Chinese New Year, something I now want to experience. This wall is one of three like it outside of China. The pieces were made in China and sent to Chicago for construction of the wall. It is said that this wall aides Chinatown’s feng shui. The awe I felt when traveling through Chinatown began here. What a beautiful culture.

Of course from here we turned around to the symbolic Chinatown Gate. This gate looks bold and welcoming with it’s large size and wide girth. I love it, because it says, “We are here. This is our place. We are Chinese. We are American. Welcome!” And I believe that is what it was meant to say! It is wonderful that Chinatown is so prevalent and steadfast in this area, improving continuously as was shown to us by their new library! (Which we will talk about soon.)


Chinatown Gate (S. Wentworth and 22nd St/Cermak)

Then, we crossed the street. As we passed over Cermak, a few women were in such a hurry, they began running. Everyone else was pushing along at a quick pace. I noticed immediately everyone around us were Asian. In fact, even though our class was spread around in many small groups, you could spot each other right away. All of the signs and advertisements were in another language first, followed or underlined by English. That was a first for me- certainly do not see that in my part of Texas. Looking around, I saw how advertisements used many colors and large signs. It seemed normal to push advertising here; an apartment building even had advertisements on it. We continued so fast down Wentworth, that we initially missed the Pui Tak Center.

To me, the Pui Tak Center looks like a mash up of older, brick buildings of early 20th century Chicago and pagoda-style roofing. It is very detailed and stands proudly near the entrance of the gate. We walked around it for a little while, trying to find a way in. Unfortunately, the doors were locked.

Across the street, I was excited when I saw the Won Kow restaurant. It opened in 1928, and, “is the oldest continuously operated restaurant in Chinatown”[2].


Won Kow (2237 S. Wentworth)

As we continued down Wentworth, I observed many different restaurants: Cantonese, Vietnamese, Mongolian, and others. It reminded me that China is a huge country, with many different cultures spread throughout, and Chinatown is made up of many different Chinese cultures as well as other Asian cultures. I also noted there were multiple lawyer offices. It made me wonder what made lawyers in Chinatown such a common service: is it a revered occupation to have in their culture, a necessity for those seeking citizenship, or is it hard to be a Chinese American immigrant working with other lawyers? I’m not sure.

So, we continued down Wentworth. The traffic on such a small street was incredible. Everyone was honking at each other. Pedestrians were racing across all different ways. Once, we crossed and nearly were hit because a woman just did not want to stop for us, regardless of the fact that we were in the middle of the crosswalk! Searching for 23rd St, we stumbled across a church.

The Chinese Christian Union Church was surprising to me. It’s design did not cry out church, especially not Christian. There was no steeple, no cross. It had the pagoda style roofing on it’s main entrance and plain, brick throughout. I wondered how Chinese Americans initially converting to Christianity and why. This church was also just down the street from a Buddhist worship sanctuary.

From there, we headed to the Chinese-American Museum of Chicago on 23rd Street. Finally! This street was practically empty and gave us a chance to slow down. That is when Chinatown began to appear dirty to me.

To be fair, I must admit anytime it snows and then melts away, a lot of trash is revealed. However, it caught my attention quickly. Maybe I understand why: there are no trash cans! I made the mistake of carrying around a coffee at the beginning of our adventure (also a good thing, because you cannot find a coffee shop here). By the time I had finished it, I could not find a single street trash can for public use. I had to take many of my pictures holding the empty cup. I finally disposed of it in a business dumpster. For such a bustling, shopping center, I could not understand why there were no trash cans.

At a seemingly random corner down 23rd Street, we spotted the Chinese-American Museum of Chicago, announced by two impressive, stone lions out front. The door was opened by a cheerful, young woman with a strong accent. She gave us a brochure and a equally cheerful man came out of a door to our right and took us upstairs to the exhibit. The museum is truly a humble, little building. We watched their 16 minute video, where I learned about Dim Sum, Chinese culture, a few experiences of Chinese-American immigrants, and the beginning of Chinatown. After visiting the museum, I realized there is a restaurant I took a picture of that advertised Dim Sum all day!

Next we checked out the newest addition to Chinatown: their new public library. This stoic building stands out from the traditional feel of Chinatown. It is an interesting sight. It shows how the tradition of Chinatown is being introduced to the innovation of today through younger generations returning to improve where they grew up. The building itself is a statement. Round, sleek, and sporting a ton of windows, it screams Chicago. Inside, we were startled by the brightness of the building, the new style of furniture, the movement the interior had, and the technology available to the public. I think this library provides the community with a new, up-to-date center that is going to benefit the youth of Chinatown, as well as accommodate it’s more-senior citizens. There were many students meeting there, along with adults coming and going. I want to go study there!


The rest of our time in Chinatown was spent exploring the outdoor mall in Chinatown Square and the Ping Tom Memorial Park. The outdoor mall seems traditional, yet has the ability to attract tourists. We saw many restaurants, a few business (including another lawyer), and even children visiting for a field trip. In the square, the zodiac statues were bold. My favorite design was the bull, but I am the year of the pig. The square seems like a wonderful accolade to China, calling home from Chicago.

In Ping Tom Memorial Park, once again in an off-the-path location, we took a pleasant stroll through a flat area near the South End of the Chicago River. I did not expect the park to be empty, but we could have been there at an unpopular time. Right by the entrance is a playground and a Chinese-style pavilion. It gives the community a safe place to enjoy time outdoors, exercise, and come together. The park is excellent, planned well, and I would love to run there.

My experience in Chinatown was one filled with appreciation for a culture upheld by it’s people, awe in the beauty of their designs, and overwhelm by their pace. I enjoyed my visit. I intend to return to try increasingly more authentic food. We finished our adventure by eating at Joy Yee, a restaurant inside the outdoor mall. This is a restaurant with a very modern design, but also an Asian atmosphere. Their menu is a mile long! The staff was pleasant and patient with us. I decided to continue my adventure by trying something new: Chicken and Shrimp Pad Thai. It was citrus-y and delicious! I was unable to eat the pad thai with my chopsticks, but I gave it a try.


I will certainly be back. Perhaps I will stop to try some tea next time.






Tools for Building Chicago: Invention, Innovation, & Industry

Growing up in rural Texas, I never thought about Chicago. It was just a mystical place in the movies. I did not intend to visit such an intimidating, bustling city. I grew up in a small town, in the countryside, and that was enough for me. Flashforward and here I am: attending college on 31st and State near the southside of Chicago, taking classes to learn more about this popular, lakeside center of the Midwest!

What surprises me most is the start of Chicago. Looking at Chicago today, it is hard to believe that the area was a dirty, muddy bog where people did not choose to stay for extended periods of time. In the 17th century, the Native Americans and French trappers in the area only stopped by for trading and brief visits, not knowing the location’s economic and strategic value. Between the end of the 17th century and the early 18th century, the race for expansion westward between France and England in North America was frantic. Be that as it may, the United States of America gained independence from England in the late 1700’s. By now, the industrial revolution was advancing rapidly with the passing of each year. With the industrial boom and founding of our new country, the U.S. knew we needed to continue our race Westward and find the connection between our newly claimed lands and our booming Eastern cities. Recognizing the connection between the East to the Midwest to the Mississippi, we succeeded in marking this new territory in 1803, by building a small military post called Fort Dearborn.

fort dearborn

Early drawing of Chicago in 1831. [5]

After a meager start, wars with many Native Americans, and reconstruction in 1817 of Fort Dearborn, Chicago was on the map. The value of Chicago’s location could not be argued. However, as innovation continued to chase better transportation designs, the small town needed to act quickly in order improve its harbors and route to the Mississippi River before it was left in the dust of the railroads.

This is when the genesis of Chicago becomes a whirlwind of new ideas, fast money, and inexpensive expansion. First thing on the city’s to-do-list was dig the ninety-six mile canal that would link the Illinois River to the Chicago River, giving access from New York to the Great Lakes to the Mississippi. This innovative idea, springing from the construction of the Erie Canal, had the potential to “to make Chicago a commercial center overnight” (Spinney 32). A booming city in the making attracted economically savvy gamblers seeking to make a quick profit on the vastly empty land in Chicago. This speculation and booming land prices, driven by the excitement of the promising new city, led to the invention of the futures market.

Sadly, the expedited growth of the city did not allow for much more than wooden shacks and sidewalks being thrown together board by board. As more and more flocked to the city, the sewage system, muddy streets, and cheap foundation took its toll on Chicago. A sewage system needed to be implemented, but the area’s swampy identity hindered the installation of underground pipes. By truly impressive means, the city took this issue head on and crank by crank lifted each building ten feet, using a fleet of hand-turned jacks. Amazing as it seems, lifting the city was only another symptom of Chicago’s fast cash and inexpensive infrastructure atmosphere that was being developed alongside the city. When the city later realized the sewage was festering in the slow-moving river directly into the lake and water source, the city attempted to alleviate the issue by devising a tunnel system and pump far from the pollution. The solution did not suffice. Once again, Chicago decided to change the natural identity of the area: reverse the river. In another inspiring fight to keep the city on the up-and-up, Chicago changed the direction the lazy river flowed in order to direct the sewage away from the lake, allowing the city to continue pursuit of its Eastern counterparts.

Completion of the canal helped Chicago escape fully addressing another issue: bad roads. The road conditions were so poor to and in the city that farmers often struggled to make it to market. With the implementation of the new canal, farmers could easily navigate to a port closer to them to drop off their crops with the ships that would then transport it to the city. In the 1850s, Chicago was quick to come up with another fast-cash way to enhance profit by perfecting the steam-powered grain elevator and building them high above the barges alongside the river banks.


In 1900, a barge floats in the foreground, while the Chicago sky is clouded with smoke from the growing industries in the city. [3]



In another blink of an eye, the railroad brought the real money to Chicago. The railroad bolstered the connection this midwest center had to all of the merchandise already coming by barge to the city. The rivers extending lazily from Chicago, but the railroad spread aggressively like arteries from the heart. And that’s what Chicago became, the heart of “the grain trade, the lumber industry, the meatpacking business, and the mail-order catalog business” (Spinney 51).



Railroads in the Bridgeport area of Chicago 1880. [2]

Inventions like the McCormick reaper, the grain elevator, the butchers’ wheel, the disassembly line, the refrigerated railroad car, and Ward’s catalogue fostered these industries. These industries funded the city, were products of the dreams of many, and the foundation for the metropolis soon known as the “Gateway to the West” (Spinney 68). Chicago’s foundation is inspiring yet seems almost idiotic. Learning about the upbringing of a place like Chicago makes it hard to tell what the “American Dream” really is. It is exhilarating knowing how powerful we are as a country, that we made a dream into reality in an area otherwise uninhabitable. Still, it is disheartening to think that we are so hard headed as Americans that we gobble up this land, change its natural identity, and make quick fixes along the way until we successfully “fake it ‘til we make it”. I think my thoughts are best summed up by the final sentence of chapter four, “as Garry Wills has written, ‘The city was an act of will … an imposition, a triumph over circumstance’ ” (Spinney 69).


  1. M, Jill, Brandon K, and Lev N. “Urbanization – A.” WCMSUrbanization. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Jan. 2016. <>.
  2. “Bridgeport Industrial Scene, Ca. 1880.” Bridgeport Industrial Scene, Ca. 1880. © Queens Borough Public Library, 08 Jan. 2002. Web. 22 Jan. 2016. <>.
  3. Reporter, Daily Mail. “America Steams Ahead: Incredible Black-and-white Pictures Capture How Railroads and Steamboats Helped Forge Its Future at the Turn of the 20th Century.” Mail Online. Associated Newspapers, 19 July 2012. Web. 22 Jan. 2016. <>.
  4. “Chicago.” Travel Channel. N.p., 2016. Web. 22 Jan. 2016. <>.
  5. “Chicago, Illinois, 1831.” Wisconsin Electronic Reader. State Historical Society of Wisconsin Visual Archives, n.d. Web. 22 Jan. 2016. <>.
  6. Spinney, Robert G. City of Big Shoulders: A History of Chicago. DeKalb, IL: Northern Illinois UP, 2000. Print.