Chicago’s Little Mexico

Mexican culture has contributed greatly to the American melting pot. We now celebrate as a country Cinco Dey Mayo, and major cities see festivities during the Day of the Dead each year. Mexican style restaurants line most major streets in any town in America, and Mexicans are always featured in our American westerns. Most Mexican Americans live in major cities like Chicago according to demographics surveys, and this trend started in the early 20th century. Mexican immigrants who moved into Texas around 1900 faced racism even as they established communities in the state. Hearing of opportunity for work in a less biased part of the country, they took the rail lines up from Texas through the Midwest to settle in Chicago. This trend continued until the Great Depression wiped out the incentive to move from Mexico.

Since the economy started booming again in the 1950s, Chicago has seen an influx of immigration from Mexico. The reason they choose this city today is because of the family ties with a number of Mexican towns that Mexican Americans in Chicago have. Many generations of Mexican families live in predominantly the south side of Chicago today, and these blood ties draw immigrants who cross the southern border right up to Chicago as soon as they arrive. Mexican people in Chicago have a history of discrimination in the city. In the 1910s, Mexican immigrants had just arrived at the union strikes of steel mills and other industrial factories. Having come all the way north for work, they were known to end the strikes by going to work along with African American workers who were coming up from the south for the same reasons as Mexican immigrants; to escape racism in the south and enjoy Chicago’s booming industrial job market. Unfortunately, they ended up offending the largely European immigrant composed unions. Specifically, the Irish led unions came into conflict with Mexican and African American workers over the strikes leading to the 1919 race riots in Chicago. This was a trend reminiscent of the Draft Riots in New York City 1863.

The riots in Chicago were a contributing faction to the 1924 cutoff of immigration from Mexico. An exemption to the hold on immigration was quickly made for Mexican immigrants to provide labor to a struggling market, but it ended up doing no good for the market when the Great Depression hit, and all immigration to Chicago came to a halt for several years. Today Little Mexico is the focal point of the Mexican history of Chicago, but its culture and people are throughout the city due to their history there. Besides the southeastern United States, Chicago stands out as the American city with the longest Mexican history, as families were moving there around the same time immigration first began again in the early 1900s. It can be argued that the Mexican people of Chicago are responsible for the long-standing holiday tradition of Cinco De Mayo and the ubiquitous site of Mexican cuisine.

Works Cited

Arredondo, Gabriela F., and Derek Vaillant. “Mexicans.” Encyclopedia of Chicago,

Misra, Tanvi. “Why Chicago Is Still the No. 2 U.S. City for Mexican Immigrants.” CityLab, 9 Oct. 2014,

Little Mexico isn’t just a saying, they have a real gate entering the neighborhood, making one feel like crossing over the Mexican border.
This Dio De Los Muertos mural was too good to be stopped by Chicago’s zoning laws against bright colors.
Chicago’s diverse cultures provide one of the most concentrated areas of authentic Mexican, Italian, or Chinese food you can find in America.

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