La Vida de La Villita Video

An ice cream store owner brings together Mexican flavors — and families — in Chicago’s Little Village

Co-published in the South Side Weekly.

Interview La Vida de La Villita

Light skin, blue eyes and born in Mexico: An artist shares what life is like with two nationalities

Above: Natalie González. Photo provided by Natalie González.

Natalie González is a Mexico-based artist and illustrator. She previously lived in Chicago while attending the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. After Natalie illustrated two stories for Borderless’ La Vida de La Villita issue, we talked to her about her own experiences with immigration.

Borderless: What is your own connection to the issue of immigration?

Gonzalez: I am a dual-national who was born and raised in Mexico. My mother is American and my father is Chicano. I look like my mother, who is light-skinned and blue-eyed. I have the privilege of holding two passports so I can go between countries without a problem. For a lot of people, it’s problematic that I am mixed, fluent in both languages and white. I am Mexican and American but I am not accepted as that in either culture. In Mexico I’m told I’m too white, and it the United States I’m told I’m not brown enough.

Borderless: What do you think most reporters get wrong when they are reporting about immigrants?

Gonzalez: I think that it’s hard to communicate how human the issue is. More specifically, how hard life is for people who are leaving their previous lives and sometimes risking everything for the thought of having a better life. People don’t risk everything if there isn’t something deeply wrong with the conditions in which they are living. I think it’s hard to live in the United States and understand how corrupt, unfair and dangerous it is in many countries around the world.

Borderless: What do you love most about Little Village in Chicago?

Gonzalez: Little Village felt like home when I lived in Chicago. People are out on the street and there is a lively neighborhood life. It’s loud and it feels like a stronger community than the place I’d lived on the North Side.

Borderless: What’s your favorite place to eat or shop in Little Village?

Gonzalez: Los Comales in La Villita is the best one in the chain!

As Told To DACA La Vida de La Villita

An organizer challenges the way we think about — and police — immigration today

Above:Tania Unzueta. Illustration by Dan Rowell

Tania Unzueta is a fierce advocate for the rights of undocumented immigrants around the country. She helped found three organizations that defend the rights of immigrants, including Organized Communities Against Deportation and its predecessor the Immigrant Youth Justice League, and Mijente, a national Latinx organization. She was first arrested for staging a sit-in in Senator John McCain’s office in 2010 in support of the Dream Act. These days, she continues to work with OCAD and serves as the policy director for Mijente, a political hub that calls itself pro-Latinx, pro-Black, pro-woman, pro-queer and pro-poor.

Tania came to the United States from Mexico when she was 10 years old and settled in Little Village. She continues to live in Little Village today. Borderless spoke to Tania over the phone while she was in Texas fighting for the rights of immigrants detained along the border.

Since Trump has been elected, undocumented immigrants have faced a series of pretty sharp attacks in a way that we hadn’t seen before. There’s a lack of accountability to anyone in immigration enforcement in a way that didn’t exist under the Obama administration. There’s a lot of fear with people not knowing whether they’re going to see their loved one soon. A lot of folks who thought they were safe are fearing deportation again.

In Little Village and places like Back of the Yards, there’s times when people are scared. They don’t go to school that day. There’s less people on the street, particularly after immigration raids happen, which have been hitting both of these communities.

But it’s not just all fear. Part of the work we do is to figure out how to organize the community members so that we can fight for policies that actually protect people at the local, state, and national level.

Right now we’re calling for the abolition of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the organization founded in 2003. We don’t want to go back to the the Obama-era immigration enforcement practices, we want to make sure that whatever we get next provides some level of liberation for our people. My long-term vision is a world where people can be happy, can live without fear, and I can organize without fear. And to me that means the abolition of ICE and changing the funding of local police enforcement.

I don’t think Chicago is a sanctuary city right now. Sanctuary is supposed to be a place that you’ve protected. How ever you look at it, Chicago is only a sanctuary because the mayor says it is so. Even the sanctuary city ordinance, the “Welcoming City Ordinance,” has big exceptions that to me are pretty bad, that leave people unprotected. The welcoming city ordinance says that police won’t communicate with ICE unless a person is in the gang database or the person has been charged with a felony, regardless of whether they’ve been convicted or not. Those are categories that are completely dependent on the Chicago police and the police have a bad history of working with communities of color.

The sanctuary city policy only defends people that the police haven’t criminalized. When we have a police force that is corrupt, violent, and has shown that it discriminates against people of color, that is incredibly harmful for communities in Chicago.

The other thing is that everyone deserves sanctuary. Not just immigrants. And immigrants need protection from police, not just ICE. It is pretty clear to me that when we talk about communities of color in Chicago, including immigrant communities, the police and immigration agents are the biggest threat to our community safety.

I think everyone is a target right now for immigration. We literally had people put into deportation proceedings after they talked to newspapers and their story gets published. I feel like I am a target as an activist. But I think everyone who’s undocumented is a target right now.

I think there’s a lot of focus by folks who are not immigrants on children and young people. And I think what they don’t understand is that we actually don’t just want them to care about us. We won’t survive without our parents. The thing that has happened over and over is that people have thrown our parents under the bus in order to be able to get stuff for us, like the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

I think it’s happening now with the children at the border. Their parents are being prosecuted by the Department of Justice and being put into a private prison. The only thing people care about is the children. And it’s like, yeah, who do you think the children are supposed to be with? They’re supposed to be with their parents, who are being criminally prosecuted right now!

I get it. I get chills about babies in jail. But I think you can’t isolate one part of our families without thinking about the other.

The other thing people don’t understand is our anger toward immigration enforcement. They think that it can just be made better or go back to the way it was under Obama. What we’re telling people is that it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter whether they’re being nice or being assholes when they separate our families. We don’t want them to separate our families period.

What we’re trying to get them to understand is that the literal existence of immigration and customs enforcement is to detain people. It’s used as a political arm of the government. It’s the president’s own police force. Whether the president is Democrat or Republican, he’s going to continue to use ICE to separate families.

I need people to stop saying, “Keep families together.” If they want to help us, I need them to start saying, “Abolish ICE.” And get rid of the ways that police help out law enforcement.


Tania Unzueta

Una organizadora nos hace cuestionarnos la forma en que pensamos — y vigilamos — la migración en la actualidad

Tania Unzueta es una aguerrida activista que ha luchado por los derechos de migrantes indocumentados en los Estados Unidos. Ayudó a fundar tres organizaciones que defienden derechos migratorios, como La Liga de la Justicia de Jóvenes Migrantes, o la organización que la sucedió: Las Comunidades Organizadas en contra de las Deportaciones (OCAD, por sus siglas en inglés), e incluso la organización Latina, Mijente. Unzueta fue arrestada por primera vez cuando participó en una sentada en apoyo y solidaridad con el Dream Act afuera de las oficinas del senador John McCain en el año 2010. Hoy en día, continúa trabajando en OCAD y es la directora de políticas públicas para Mijente, una organización nodal que expresa apoyo de la comunidad negra, mujeres, queer y gente en situación de pobreza.

Tania llegó a los Estados Unidos cuando tenía 10 años, tras dejar a su tierra en México. Se estableció con su familia en La Villita donde hoy sigue viviendo. Borderless platicó con Tania por teléfono cuando ella se encontraba en Texas defendiendo los derechos de migrantes que han sido detenidos en la frontera.

Desde el momento en que Trump fue electo, los migrantes indocumentados han sufrido ataques sumamente agresivos que de cierta forma nunca habíamos visto. No se hace responsable a ninguna de las autoridades migratorias, sucede de una manera que no se veía durante la administración de Obama. Hay mucho miedo gracias a que la gente no sabe si podrán ver pronto a sus seres queridos. Mucha gente que creía estar a salvo hoy teme ser deportada.

En La Villita, y en lugares como Back of the Yards, hay días en que a la gente le entra el miedo. En esos momentos, no van a la escuela y hay menos gente en la calle. Especialmente después de que han habido redadas contra migrantes, que han sido un golpe contra ambos vecindarios.

Pero no todo lo que sienten es miedo. Parte de lo que nos enfrentamos es averiguar cómo organizar a miembros de la comunidad para que puedan luchar para impulsar políticas que los protejan en un nivel local, estatal y nacional.

En este momento estamos haciendo el llamado para abolir el Servicio de Inmigración y Control de Aduanas de los Estados Unidos (o ICE, por sus siglas en inglés), una organización fundada en el año 2003. Nosotros no queremos regresar a las prácticas policiacas y de vigilancia contra migrantes de la era de Obama, lo que queremos es asegurarnos de que lo que sea que venga, garantice un nivel de liberación para nuestra gente. Mi visión a largo plazo es un mundo donde la gente pueda ser feliz, donde la gente pueda vivir sin miedo y que yo pueda organizar sin miedo. Y para mi, eso es lo que significa abolir ICE y cambiar la forma en que adquieren fondos los cuerpos locales de la policía.

Yo no creo que Chicago sea una ciudad santuario en este momento. Un santuario es un lugar donde estás protegido. No importa cómo lo veas, pero Chicago es una ciudad santuario sólo porque el alcalde dice que lo es. Incluso la ordenanza que le da estatus de ciudad santuario a Chicago, la “Welcoming City Ordinance,” tiene grandes excepciones que para mi son bastante graves y dejan a la gente en una posición vulnerable. La “Welcoming City Ordinance” dice que la policía no se puede comunicar con ICE a menos que la persona se encuentre en la base de datos de pandillas o que haya cometido algún delito, sin importar si fue condenado o no. Todas esas son categorías que dependen completamente de la policía de Chicago que tiene una mala reputación cuando se trata de trabajar con comunidades no blancas.

La política de ciudad santuario sólo defiende a la gente que la policía aún no ha criminalizado. Cuando tenemos un cuerpo policiaco que es corrupto, violento y que ha demostrado que discrimina a gente que no es blanca, se convierte en algo sumamente dañino para las comunidades en Chicago.

La otra cuestión es que todos merecen un santuario, no sólo los migrantes. Y los migrantes necesitan ser protegidos no sólo de ICE, sino también de la policía. Para mi es muy claro que cuando hablamos sobre comunidades no blancas en Chicago, incluyendo a las comunidades de migrantes, la policía y las autoridades migratorias representan el mayor riesgo para el bienestar de nuestras comunidades.

Yo pienso que todos son un objetivo para las autoridades migratorias hoy en día. Hemos tenido a gente que literalmente la ponen en procesos de deportación inmediatamente después de que cuentan su historia a los medios y sus historias son publicadas. Yo me siento como un objetivo como activista. Pero creo que toda aquella persona que esté indocumentada es un objetivo en este momento.

Yo creo que quienes no son migrantes se han enfocado mucho en los niños y los jóvenes. Yo creo que lo que no entienden es que queremos que no sólo se preocupen por nosotros. No vamos a sobrevivir sin nuestros padres. Y lo que ha sucedido una y otra vez es que la gente ha sacrificado a nuestros padres con tal de que sea posible que nos den ciertas cosas, como el programa de la Acción Diferida para los Llegados en la Infancia (DACA, por sus siglas en inglés).

Pienso que está pasando en este momento con los niños que están siendo separados en la frontera. Sus padres están siendo procesados por el Departamento de Justicia y los están metiendo en prisiones privadas. La cosa aquí es que a la gente le importan los niños. Y es como de “Sí, ¿y con quién piensan que deberían estar los niños?” ¡Ellos deberían estar con sus padres, que están siendo procesados como criminales en este momento!

Lo entiendo. La idea de tener niños en la cárcel me da escalofríos. Pero creo que no puedes aislar una parte de las familias sin pensar en la otra.

Otra cuestión que la gente no entiende es la ira que existe hacia la policía migratoria. Creen que se puede mejorar o que se puede regresar a cómo funcionaba bajo la administración de Obama. Lo que le estamos diciendo a la gente es que eso no importa. No importa si son amables o si son unos culeros cuando están separando familias. No queremos que ellos separen a las familias. Punto.

Lo que estamos intentando hacer que la gente entienda es que, literalmente, el propósito de la existencia de ICE es detener gente. Está siendo utilizado por el gobierno como un brazo político. Es la policía del presidente. Sea demócrata o republicano, el presidente seguirá utilizando el ICE para separar a las familias.

Necesito que dejen de decir “Hay que mantener juntas a las familias.” Si la gente quiere ayudarnos, hay que dejar de decir “Hay que mantener juntas a las familias” y empezar a decir ‘hay que abolir el ICE.”

Tal como fue contado a Nissa Rhee; Traducción de Sebastián González de León

As Told To La Vida de La Villita

Little Village’s first Mexican alderman on the neighborhood’s transformation over the decades

Above:Jesús “Chuy” García. Illustrated by Ellen Hao

Earlier this year Jesús “Chuy” García scored a victory in the Democratic primary for Illinois’ lone Latinx-majority congressional seat. Born in a village in Durango, Mexico, if he’s elected to the seat of retiring U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez in November he’ll be the first Mexican-American to represent Illinois in Congress. García’s been a Cook County commissioner representing the Southwest Side for the past seven years and forced a runoff mayoral election in 2015 between himself and incumbent Rahm Emanuel. García spoke to Borderless about his personal connection to La Villita and what he sees as its future.

My father came to the U.S. in the late 1940s. He first came through the bracero program to do work in the fields, agriculture. He did that in Texas and California. At some point the program or his status expired so he wound up undocumented. He went from the Southwest to Kansas and then to Chicago. He worked his way up here because he learned there were better paying jobs in Chicago and that there were people here from Durango. That’s where we’re from. Relatives who were living here already also encouraged him to come to Chicago.

So he came and got his residency established in about 1964. After he became a resident he was able to send for us. We came in 1965 when there was a growing Mexican immigrant community in Chicago.

We first arrived in Pilsen and it was February. I was nine years old, going on ten at the time, and I remember the hardship of leaving my dog. Leaving my almost brand-new bike that my father had brought me the prior Christmas. I remember the morning we left vividly. Getting on the bus and feeling so sad and so empty. It was still dark outside. The bus took us to the train station in the Tepehuanes Municipality in Durango.

My next memory was of crossing the border and eating my first bologna sandwich at a gas station in El Paso while we were fueling up. I remember my two sisters and brother did not like the bologna sandwich. But I liked it. My Tío Chuy, who came to pick us up to transport us to Chicago from Texas, told me, “You like that bologna sandwich? You’re going to do great in the U.S.” And he was right.

We arrived in Chicago a day-and-a-half later. I remember it was freezing. I had never seen snow before, so seeing a winter wonderland from the highway was quite an experience. Stepping out of the station wagon that we were in on Allport Street, on 16th and Allport, was a real cultural shock. I had a small jacket. I remember the wind just came through it. Just cutting to the bone, so to speak. That was my welcome to Chicago in February of ’65. The Hawk at its worst.

I used to catch the 26th Street bus to Western and then another bus down to 63rd Street to get to Saint Rita High School. I remember walking down 26th Street and seeing it changing before my very eyes. There were a lot of Czech and Polish businesses — bakeries, restaurants, and delis — that had boarded up storefronts at that time. The neighborhood was was in transition.

And you saw that transition playing out on 26th Street business-wise, but you also saw it on the residential blocks. We were like the first Mexican family on 28th and Pulaski. Within four years it was probably eighty percent Mexican. It happened that fast. I remember older folks complaining about the change, that “these people” have too many kids and the kids are running around. They’re stepping on our lawns.

Some of my most fond memories include getting my first car when I was in high school. My brother bought me a car. It was a big Oldsmobile. We called it The Wolf Mobile and we used to like to buy little cigars, Wolf Brothers Cigars, and cruise around in the car smoking a cigar. That’s why we called it The Wolf Mobile. I have fond memories of just cruising up and down 26th Street in this gas guzzler feeling just great about adolescence and growing up and being able to have your own car.

Later, I remember cruising down the street with a newer car. This was after I graduated, like 1974, when I worked at Brach’s Confections. Driving down 26th Street with my Malibu with rims on it. This was after a couple of paychecks. With my girlfriend in the car, jamming to my big 8-track tapes that I bought at Maxwell Street with some of the latest hits on them. It was soul music, R&B. Just cruising down 26th Street back and forth listening to the jams and feeling all proud and having a pretty girlfriend driving with me. She turned out to be my wife.

So you saw the transition in the neighborhood and some of the tension from that played out with people in stores and the street speaking Spanish while other people told them to “Speak English.”

One of the great places to see that transition playing out was at the former Atlantic Theater, near 26th and Pulaski. Today it’s the Atlantic Mall. That was a theater where we would go see English movies, which were American movies, of course. But they were in English, and they had Spanish language movies there at the same time. You still had some of the old, longtime residents going to see the English movies. Mexicans going to see the Spanish-language movies. And then the younger Mexican-Americans going to both because they were bilingual.

I remember some of the first movies that I saw there were some of the blaxploitation movies, “Shaft” and “Superfly,” and some of those other movies. The guys going into the movies with their girlfriends would try to dress up like the artists of the day, the lead actor. It was a great moment.

Interestingly enough, it was the Atlantic Theater where I sort of got my start in organizing. When I took my girlfriend to the movies there for the first time, I was already in college. We had a rat encounter, people jumping on top of the seats, which lead to my becoming upset enough to try to do something about it. We organized a picket line. We got the owners of the theater to fix it up and clean it up.

I also remember my parents sending me to buy tortillas and walking all the way from 2852 S. Pulaski to La Justicia at 26th and Millard just to get four dozen tortillas. It was the only place that had them, or the closest to us at any rate. I remember walking at least twice a week to get tortillas. And that’s where I learned who Lupe Martinez was, the owner of La Justicia, who later ran for alderman. We were opponents in that race.

He was sort of hooked up with the local powers, the neighborhood powers like the alderman and the chamber of commerce at that time. The Little Village Community Council. The local newspaper essentially was owned by the alderman. These were all experiences that taught me who the power players were and who I would wind up challenging to open it up for the election of Latinos and Latinas as we moved forward.

By the time I was elected alderman in 1986, I had paraded down 26th Street as an elected official, as the first “mexicano” alderman in the community. That’s what drove the conversation about what we could do to make 26th Street stand out. When people go to Chinatown, the arch that they have there was an icon. “That’s Chinatown!” We thought, “What can we build here?” From those conversations came the concept of the 26th Street arch. We talked to the city about the concept. We discussed it with the architect who also designed the National Museum of Mexican Art.

The biggest critics when the arch started going up, or most of my friends and the folks in my circles, said “Why are you building such an expensive monument there when you could be feeding people, clothing people? Social services?” Well you can’t use this money for those things. It was for street-scaping, for commercial area improvement.

Ironically, only a few years later, a lot of my nonprofit friends who had made that critique started putting the arch on their letterheads and their promotional materials. It did become that instant icon where you know you’re in Little Village. Musical groups put it on their new CD releases, their cassettes at that time. It’s been wonderful.

This is kind of the heart of Mexican community in the Midwest and people come from all over for the Mexican Independence parade or even just for a Sunday visit. States as far as Minnesota, Nebraska, and Mississippi. They drive down to 26th Street to eat, to just feel and smell and listen to all the sounds and sights and flavors of the community. It’s still that experience. Of course it sort of culminates with the Mexican Independence Parade.

As I look at what’s going on in the city, I’m concerned about the future of neighborhoods that immigrants have built, have reinvented, and have redefined. They made these communities very livable and they’re facing challenges in their ability to stay in these communities. We’ve seen it happen to a good part of Pilsen. The concern is that it’s not repeated in Little Village.

I think it’s important that the city be a really diverse place for all people who want to continue to live there. That’s my worry as I approach my fiftieth anniversary in Little Village.

Nationally, it’s very tragic to have people in the highest levels of power seeking to paint a false image and reality of immigrant communities that have brought so much vitality across the country, across Illinois, across the metro area. If it weren’t for immigrants and Latinas and Latinos, there wouldn’t be the type of vibrancy that you see in commercial arteries all over the metro area.

You also see it on the greater Southwest Side, the vitality of hardworking, entrepreneurial people wanting to send their kids to colleges and universities, integrating into society and having so many positive impacts across the land.

I’m hoping that this false narrative, this twisted distortion, projection, of a community is just a passing moment in our history. I think the community has the resiliency, the staying power, to overcome that. I think that when this passes, and I don’t know how much longer it will last, that it will be a part of a renaissance that puts the country in a better place as it relates to racial minorities, as it relates to women and the #MeToo phenomenon that is sweeping the country. The experience of the Muslim community.

We have to endure this difficult period, but those are really the contrasts that need to be examined.


Chuy García

El primer concejal mexicano de La Villita recuenta la transformación del vecindario a través de las décadas

A principios de este año, Jesús “Chuy” García logró una victoria en las primarias en Illinois del Partido Demócrata donde contenderá por un distrito con mayoría latina en la Casa de Representantes. Oriundo de Durango, México, si es electo para tomar un escaño, ocupado por el representante Luis Gutiérrez — quien está por retirarse en Noviembre — sería el primer mexicano-americano en representar a Illinois en el Congreso. García ha sido un comisionado en el condado de Cook, representando el lado sudoeste por los últimos siete años. Compitió electoralmente por la alcaldía en el año 2015 contra Rahm Emanuel. García platicó con Borderless sobre su conexión personal con La Villita y lo que él ve como su futuro.

Mi padre llegó a los Estados Unidos durante la segunda mitad de los años cuarenta. Llegó al principio por medio del Programa Bracero para trabajar en el campo. En agricultura. Laboró en Texas y California. En algún punto el programa o su estatus, uno de los dos, expiró dejándolo indocumentado. Se movió desde el sudoeste hacia Kansas y de ahí, a Chicago. Se abrió su propio camino porque aprendió que en Chicago habían trabajos mejor pagados y que habían también personas que venían de Durango. De ahí somos nosotros. También había familia que vivía aquí y que le decía que viniera.

Así que se vino y consiguió su residencia y en 1964, se estableció. Después de adquirir su residencia fue que mandó por nosotros. Nosotros vinimos en 1965 cuando había una comunidad de migrantes mexicanos en Chicago que estaba creciendo.

Primero llegamos a Pilsen en febrero. Yo sólo tenía nueve, casi diez años de edad. Recuerdo lo duro que fue dejar a mi perro. Dejar mi bici nueva que mi padre me había comprado la Navidad anterior. Me acuerdo claramente de la mañana en que nos fuimos. Subirme al camión. Sentirme tan solo y vacío. Aún estaba oscuro afuera. El camión nos llevó a la estación del tren en el municipio de Tepehuanes en Durango.

Mi siguiente memoria es de cuando estaba cruzando la frontera. Comí ahí mi primer sándwich de bolonia en una gasolinería en El Paso mientras cargábamos el tanque. Recuerdo que ni a mis hermanas y ni a mi hermano les gustó el sándwich de bolonia. Pero a mi sí, a mi me gustó. El Tío Chuy, pasó a recogernos para llevarnos a Chicago desde Texas. Y el Tío Chuy me dijo “¿Con que te gusta el sándwich de bolonia? Te va a ir muy bien en los Estados Unidos.” Y sí, tenía razón.

Después de un día y medio, llegamos a Chicago. Recuerdo que me estaba helando. Nunca había visto la nieve, así que ver todo cubierto, mientras seguía en la autopista fue toda una experiencia. Cuando nos bajamos de la camioneta, en la calle Allport — en la 16 y Allport — fue un verdadero shock cultural. Yo tenía una chamarra pequeña. Recuerdo que el viento la atravesaba como si nada. Me llegaba hasta los huesos, por decirlo de algún modo. Esa fue mi bienvenida en aquel febrero de 1965 a Chicago. El Hawk en su peor momento.

Solía tomar el camión en la calle 26 hacia Western y luego otro camión para bajar a la calle 63 y llegar a la Saint Rita High School. Recuerdo bajar por la calle 26 y ver cómo cambiaba frente a mis propios ojos. Habían muchísimos negocios de checos y polacos — panaderías, restaurantes y tiendas — que habían sido tapadas con tablas en el frente en esos tiempos. El vecindario estaba en un momento de transición.

En cuanto a los negocios, tú ahí veías cómo se desplegaba esta transformación. Pero también lo veías en las calles residenciales. Éramos casi la primera familia mexicana en la calle 28 y Pulaski. Después de cuatro años, probablemente los mexicanos eran el ochenta por ciento. Todo sucedió muy rápido. Recuerdo que los hombres de la tercera edad se quejaban del cambio, de que “esta gente” tiene demasiados hijos y que los hijos se andaban correteando. Se quejaban de que estaban pisando su césped.

Una de mis memorias más preciadas fue de cuando obtuve mi primer carro cuando estaba en high school. Mi hermano me compró el coche. Era un Oldsmobile grande. Lo llamábamos The Wolf Mobile y nos gustaba ir a comprar pequeños puros. Puros Wolf Brothers y nos paseábamos por el barrio fumandolos. Por eso le pusimos The Wolf Mobile. Yo tengo buenas memorias subiendo y bajando por la 26 con toda la actitud en este carrazo mientras me sentía muy bien con mi adolescencia, mientras crecía y siendo capaz de tener tu propio carro.

Más adelante, recuerdo que me paseaba por la calle en un nuevo carro. Esto fue después de mi graduación, por ahí de 1974, cuando trabajaba en Confecciones Brach. Manejaba por la calle 26 en mi Malibu con todo y sus rines. Esto fue después de un par de cheques. Escuchaba música con mi novia en mis cassettes de 8 tracks que había comprado en la calle Maxwell con algunas de las mejores canciones de la época. Era música soul, R&B. Sólo paseando por la calle 26, de arriba para abajo, escuchando música y sintiéndome todo orgulloso y teniendo a mi novia a un lado manejando conmigo. Ella ahora es mi esposa.

Así que veías la transición del vecindario y una parte de la tensión comenzó con la gente en las tiendas y en las calles que hablaba español mientras que unas personas les decían a ellos “¡Habla inglés!”

El antiguo Cine Atlantic, cerca de la calle 26 y Pulaski, fue uno de los grandes lugares para observar estos cambios. En esos cines era donde íbamos a ver películas en inglés, eran estadounidenses, por supuesto. Pero estaban en inglés, y al mismo tiempo ponían películas en español en otras salas. Ahí todavía iban algunos de los antiguos residentes a ver películas en inglés. Los mexicanos iban a ver películas en español. Y los más jóvenes, los mexicanos-americanos iban a ver ambas porque eran bilingües.

Yo me acuerdo de algunas de las primeras películas que vi ahí, que eran del cine de blaxploitation, como “Shaft” y “Superfly” y algunas de esas otras de ese estilo. Los que iban con sus novias al cine, se intentaban vestir como el actor del momento, como el protagonista. Era una gran época.

Curiosamente, fue en el Atlantic donde como que empecé a organizar. Cuando llevé a mi novia por primera vez a las películas, yo ya estaba en la universidad. De pronto apareció una rata y la gente pegaba brincos desde su asiento. Esto llevó a que me enojara lo suficiente como para intentar hacer algo. Nos organizamos para cercar el lugar. Logramos que los dueños del Cine Atlantic arreglaran y limpiaran el lugar.

Mis padres me mandaban a comprar tortillas, también me acuerdo de eso. Caminaba desde 2852 S Pulaski a La Justicia en la calle 26 y Millard para conseguir cuatro docenas de tortillas. Era el único lugar que las tenía, o al menos era la más cercana. Recuerdo caminar al menos dos veces a la semana para conseguir tortillas. Y ahí fue donde aprendí quién era Lupe Martínez, dueño de La Justicia, quien más tarde se lanzaría para ser concejal. Ambos contendimos por ese puesto.

Él estaba medio enganchado con los poderes locales, los poderes del barrio, como lo eran en esos tiempo el ser concejal y la Cámara de comercio. El Consejo Comunitario de La Villita. El periódico local básicamente le pertenecía al concejal. Todas estas fueron experiencias que me enseñaron quiénes son los que ejercen el poder y los actores políticos y contra quién me enfrentaría yo para abrirle espacio en las elecciones a latinas y latinos para seguir avanzando.

Para cuando fui votado concejal en 1986, ya había ido a visitar, en calidad de oficial electo, como el primer concejal Mexicano en el barrio. Eso fue lo que condujo la conversación sobre qué podíamos hacer para que la calle 26 destacara. Cuando la gente iba a Chinatown, el arco que tienen ahí era icónico. “Eso es Chinatown.” Entonces pensamos “¿Qué podemos hacer aquí?” De esas pláticas fue de donde salió la idea de que la calle 26 tuviera un arco. Hablamos con la ciudad sobre ese concepto y lo discutimos con el mismo arquitecto que diseñó el Museo Nacional de Arte Mexicano.

Las críticas más grandes que recibí mientras construía este arco, o lo que más me cuestionaban mis amigos y gente de círculos cercanos, era “¿Por qué estás construyendo un monumento tan caro cuando podrías estar alimentando gente, arropando? ¿Asistiendo con programas sociales?” Y bueno, ese dinero no se podía usar para esas cosas, estaba destinado para el desarrollo urbano, para mejorar el área comercial.

Irónicamente, tan sólo unos cuántos años después, muchas organizaciones amigas sin fines de lucro que habían hecho críticas, comenzaron a poner el arco en sus encabezados y en sus materiales promocionales. Se convirtió instantáneamente en un ícono que te indica que estás en La Villita. Bandas musicales lo han puesto en la portada de sus discos y en esos tiempos, en la portada de sus cassettes. Ha sido increíble.

Es como si este fuera el corazón de la comunidad mexicana en el Midwest y la gente viene de todas parte para el desfile del día de la Independencia de México, o aunque sea para una visita en un domingo. Vienen de estados como Minnesota, Nebraska y Mississippi. Manejan por la calle 26 para comer, sólo para sentir, oler y escuchar todos los sonidos y las vistas y sabores de la comunidad. Siguen teniendo esa experiencia. Y por supuesto, todo como que culmina en el desfile del día de la Independencia de México.

Así como yo veo lo que sucede en la ciudad, me preocupo por el futuro de los barrios que los migrantes han construido, que han reinventado y que han redefinido. Ellos hicieron estas comunidades habitables y van a enfrentarse con muchos retos en su habilidad para permanecer en estas comunidades. Ya hemos visto que ha pasado en una buena parte de Pilsen. La preocupación es que sea inevitable en La Villita.

Yo creo que es importante que la ciudad sea un lugar muy diverso para todos los que quieren seguir viviendo aquí. Esa es mi preocupación mientras me aproximo a mi aniversario número 50 en La Villita.

En un nivel nacional, es una tragedia tener a gente en los niveles más altos de poder buscando crear una falsa imagen y falsa realidad de las comunidades migrantes que han traído tanta vida al país, a Illinois y al área metropolitana. Si no fuera por los migrantes, por las latinas y por los latinos, no podrías tener la vitalidad de la que gozan las arterias comerciales del área metropolitana.

También lo ves en el gran lado del sudoeste. La vitalidad de la gente que trabaja duro, que es emprendedora y que quieren mandar a sus hijos a universidades. Ves que se integran a una sociedad con un impacto muy positivo en esta tierra.

Espero que termine pronto. Que las falsas narrativas, las distorsiones y proyecciones erróneas sobre una comunidad se terminen y sean sólo un momento pasajero en nuestra historia. Yo creo que la comunidad es muy resistente. Tiene el poder para sobrellevar esto que vive.

Yo pienso que cuando pase este momento, y no sé cuánto tiempo más vaya a durar, habrá una especie de renacimiento que ponga al país en un mejor lugar mientras se relaciona con minorías raciales, mientras se relaciona con mujeres, con el fenómeno de #MeToo que está cambiando al país. Con la experiencia que ha tenido la comunidad musulmana.

Tenemos que aguantar este tortuoso periodo, pero en realidad son todos estos contrastes que aparecen los que debemos examinar.

Como fue contado a Alex V. Hernández; Traducción de Sebastián González de León

As Told To La Vida de La Villita

Little Village speaks out: How the police gang database is impacting their community

Comic La Vida de La Villita

Inside the Chicago Police Department’s ‘gang database’

As Told To La Vida de La Villita

A Little Village leader on neighborhood resilience and innovation

Above.Fanny Diego-Alvarez. Illustrated by Natalie Gonzalez

Fanny Diego-Alvarez was born in the state of Guerrero in Mexico and moved with her family to Little Village when she was six years old. She comes from a long line of community organizers and is a familiar face at political rallies and neighborhood events. Between 2005 and 2017 she worked at Enlace, a capacity building organization in Little Village. She now works as the sustainable community schools project manager at Chicago Public Schools. This initiative, jointly created by the Chicago Teachers Union and Chicago Public Schools, aims to support neighborhood schools by investing in wraparound services, restorative justice practices, culturally relevant curricula, and family engagement.

Borderless sat down with Fanny to talk about the challenges facing immigrants in Little Village today.

In Little Village, our community struggles with the issue of status, because we have such a large immigrant population. Our community faces other challenges too. For example, our schools are not adequately resourced and yet schools and students are our greatest assets. I’ve been a strong advocate of neighborhood schools for the last fifteen years. I have seen them work for students, I have also seen them fail students. I know that if we have strong schools, our community is stronger.

I had amazing teachers in grammar school and high school, people that really focused on validating my experiences and my identity. One teacher, in particular, I remember she had us write out our story, whatever we wanted to share. Then after each of us read it out loud in front of class, she would tell us that we were destined for greatness. If you’re told that in fifth grade, you start believing it. Yeah, my story is full of courage.

Meanwhile, in fourth grade, there was a program where they would set you up with a bank account. I remember this speaker coming in and saying, to set up your bank account, you’re going to need your social security number. As an undocumented person, I was quiet about it, especially back then. But there was this one young lady, naïve and bold at fourth grade, she was like, what if you don’t have a social security number? The guy told her, you shouldn’t be here if you don’t have a social security number. He said this to fourth graders. It was acceptable back then for someone to just say things like that to children. I know it happens today too, we just hear less about it.

So to have a fifth grade teacher tell you completely the opposite — saying this is who you are and there’s nothing bad about it. That you’re courageous and beautiful. I came across a lot of that, a lot of people saying, so what if you’re an immigrant? So what if you’re undocumented? You have something to contribute, you have a powerful voice. Even if you can’t vote, if you can turn out 100 voters, you did your part. I was a precinct captain way before I could vote.

I think that is something unique to Little Village. People here are really part of a larger community, and we are here to stay. Years ago, there were times when immigration officers would stop by and before even a community based organization would know about it, all the tamale sellers had already called their neighbors and spread the news. Within 20 minutes everybody knew immigration was here. That was before any of the nonprofits opened their doors for the morning. Today we have a rapid response team, all volunteer, who lead the charge of investigating and verifying potential ICE raids and then connecting people to resources. You don’t see that group claiming recognition, because it is not about that, it is about caring for one another. I am proud to be from this community.

The neighborhood continues to be a hub for innovation and resistance. We went for Bernie Sanders and voted for for Kim Foxx. Chuy Garcia is from Little Village. It’s because there’s a lot of political education happening all the time. It isn’t perfect, but we work hard at it.

We have people here who have deep roots in the community. Because there hasn’t been a way to fix papers or it’s been too dangerous to call attention to yourself, you have people who have been living here for 30 years without documentation. But people understand that they deserve better and see self-representation and self-determination as an important part of the immigrant experience.

I was recently asked about my proudest accomplishment for an interview. My response was that I am part of a larger narrative and that I am not individually successful. We don’t need successful people, we need leaders. We’ve always had talented individuals that “make it.’ I’ve decided to make it with my people, that we have collective progress. Being part of a collective narrative is who I am and what drives my life’s work.

Comic La Vida de La Villita

Viento: Running in Little Village

Interview La Vida de La Villita

An artist shares his love for La Villita

Above. Omar Magana. Illustrated by Natalie Gonzalez

From the traditional dances to the colorful murals, Little Village is all about art, says Omar Magana. The self-taught sculptor has long been a figure in the neighborhood’s art community. His building on 22nd and Sacramento was home to the grassroots art collective Expresiones Artisticas from 2004 until a fire burnt down the building in 2008. Today, he runs the OPEN Center for the Arts, a space where artists can come together to showcase, refine, and develop their talents. Magana took some time to speak to Borderless about the art of La Villita.

Borderless: If you could take someone on a walking tour of the art in the area, what would you point out to them to say “that’s La Villita”?

Magana: There’s a lot of taco stands, there’s a lot of quinceañera stores. It just brings this energy, this livelihood. The colors of the dresses. The tortillas. The elotes, you know, how something that’s yellow just all of a sudden gets transformed to white and red. Everything is so colorful and vibrant. As far as all the murals and all that stuff, that’s awesome too. But I think art is not something that’s just in one place. In Mexico, the signs are created by hand. So it’s almost like a mural and you see that in grocery stores that are Spanish-owned here, too. To have a combination of all that, it’s amazing.

Borderless: Why is it so important to have that kind of cultural footprint in Chicago?

Magana: When my parents came over here, they were fortunate enough to have some brothers that supported them when they got to Chicago. But if you were someone that just arrived here for the first time, with La Villita at least you get a sense of that feeling of being in Mexico. Of not being the outcast. That’s especially important now because of how we’re being portrayed by the Trump administration. So it’s important to know you’re able to come here to Little Village and be okay.

Borderless: How has the neighborhood changed since Donald Trump was elected president?

Magana: It puts people on edge to be picked out like that, which I guess is something that has happened in the United States since the beginning. To be brought up on TV and categorized as [drug dealers, criminals, and rapists], you sort of feel like cattle. The Trump administration is choosing who they are going to single out so everyone can focus on them. The thing is, it’s not just happening in our neighborhood and it’s not just mexicanos. It’s a lot of different nationalities and nations they’re singling out.

People are worried. Stress levels have gone up, because you do not know what’s going to happen. The students, their stress levels have gone up too, because they’re afraid and asking, “Are my parents still going to be here? Am I still going to be here?” It’s creating a lot of fear.

Borderless: What do you think the arts can do to make people feel less sectioned off?

Magana: We are going to be doing an exhibition, which is going to be in five of the schools around here, called “We Are All Migrants.” It’s showcasing that it’s not just us, it’s the whole world. Someone always gets picked. Right now it may be us, and there may be others who get singled out too. But someone always gets picked. Someone’s always migrant.

Borderless: Everybody’s from somewhere.

Magana: Everyone is from somewhere. Unless you’re native to this land, which the majority of the people in this country are not, you’re a migrant. This administration, they’re all migrants too. So I think art is just bringing awareness. And as an artist, I always look at the past. So artists can showcase the past and what we see now, and then they can create something that shows ways to move forward.


Omar Magana

Un artista comparte su amor por La Villita

Illustrated by Natalie Gonzalez

Pasando por la danza tradicional y los murales llenos de color, La Villita se trata de arte, de acuerdo con Omar Magana. Este escultor autodidacta ha sido una figura durante mucho tiempo de la comunidad artística del barrio. Su edificio, ubicado en la calle 22 y Sacramento fue hogar y punto de partida del colectivo artístico “Expresiones artísticas” desde el año 2004 hasta que un incendio lo destruyó en el año 2008. Hoy, dirige el Centro para las Artes OPEN, un espacio donde artistas pueden reunirse para exhibir, refinar y trabajar sus talentos. Magana concedió una entrevista a Borderless para hablar sobre el arte en La Villita.

Borderless: Si pudieras llevar a alguien en un recorrido artístico a pie en el área ¿Qué le mostrarías para decirle “Eso es La Villita”?

Magana: Pues hay muchos puestos de tacos, hay muchas tiendas de quinceañeras. Esto crea una energía, una vitalidad. Los colores de los vestidos. Las tortillas. Los elotes, ya sabes, cómo algo que es amarillo, de repente se hace blanco y rojo. Todo es tan colorido y vibrante. En tanto a los murales y todas esas cosas, eso también es increíble. Pero yo creo que el arte no es algo que esté en un solo lugar. En México, los letreros son hechos a mano. Así que es casi como si fuera un mural, y eso lo ves aquí en las tienditas donde los dueños son hispanos. Tener una mezcla de todo eso, es increíble.

Borderless: ¿Por qué es tan importante contar con ese tipo de huella cultural en Chicago?

Magana: Cuando mis padres se vinieron para acá, tuvieron la fortuna de contar con hermanos que los apoyaran cuando llegaron a Chicago. Pero si tú eres alguien que llegó por primera vez, al menos con La Villita, tienes la sensación de que estás en México, de que no estás en el margen. Eso es especialmente importante hoy por la forma en que nos pinta la administración de Trump. Así que es importante que sepas que si vienes a La Villita, puedes estar bien.

Borderless: ¿Cómo ha cambiado el barrio desde que Donald Trump fue electo como presidente?

Magana: Pone muy mal a la gente el hecho de que sean perseguidos. Supongo que es algo que ha pasado en los Estados Unidos desde el principio. Presentar y encasillar a gente en la televisión como si fueran [narcomenudistas, criminales, violadores]. Hace que te sientas como si fueras ganado. La administración de Trump está escogiendo a quienes van a marginar para que se puedan enfocar en ellos. La cosa es que no sólo está pasando en nuestro barrio, y no sólo a los mexicanos. Hay muchas nacionalidades y naciones que están siendo marginadas.

La gente está preocupada. El estrés ha aumentado porque uno no sabe qué es lo que va a pasar. Los estudiantes tienen sus niveles de estrés altísimos porque tienen miedo y ahora están preguntando: “¿Seguirán estando aquí mis padres? ¿Seguiré estando yo aquí?” Está provocando mucho miedo.

Borderless: ¿En tu opinión, qué es lo que el arte puede hacer para que la gente se sienta menos aislada?

Magana: Vamos a estar haciendo una exposición en cinco escuelas por aquí. Se llama “Todos somos migrantes.” Plantea que no sólo nosotros somos migrantes, sino que todo el mundo lo es. Siempre se escoge a alguien para marginar. Hoy puede que sea a nosotros y puede que a otros también les esté pasando. Siempre se señala a alguien. Alguien siempre es migrante.

Borderless: Todo mundo viene de algún lado.

Magana: Todo mundo es de alguna parte. A menos que seas nativo de esta tierra. Y con la mayoría de la gente que vive en este país, ese no es el caso. Con esta administración, todos son migrantes. Así que creo que el arte puede hacer consciente a la gente sobre esto. Y como un artista, yo siempre busco en el pasado. Así que los artistas mostramos el pasado y lo que vemos en el presente, para que después podamos crear algo que nos muestre el camino hacia el futuro.

Entrevista por Alex V. Hernandez; Traducción de Sebastián González de León

As Told To La Vida de La Villita

An avid runner on how she came to the United States

Above: Faustina MontoyaIllustrated by Ellen Hao

Faustina Montoya is from the Mexican state of Guerrero and has lived in Chicago for twenty-seven years. She has five children and can be seen running down the sidewalks of Little Village three times a week as part of Viento, the local running group. Borderless sat down with her to hear about her decision to come to the United States and settle in Little Village.

My husband and I wanted to come to the United States for the opportunities, for a better life, and for a better education for our children.

At the time, I only had three children, the youngest being a baby. My husband had spent a year in California working as a gardener. He saw that we could live better here. When he returned from working in California for a year he brought back so many things we didn’t have in our home at the time, like a washing machine and a microwave.

But about fifteen days after he had returned to us, he told me he had to go back to work in the United States. I told him no, I waited here because you said you were only going to be gone for one year. I asked him why he had to go again, why I had to wait another year for him to come back. I told him we should save money and bring our whole family with him when he goes back to work.

He said he hadn’t come back to bring his whole family back to the United States and that crossing the border was too difficult. I told him no, you either stay here with us or we all go. I didn’t want to stay in Mexico with the children without him.

He said it wasn’t that he didn’t want us to come with him, but the money he had sent us while he was gone had been the money he made in California. What they paid him he had sent to us. He hadn’t saved any of it. I kept quiet and started thinking.

So it’s because we don’t have the money to cross the border? He said yes. So I told him I had all the money he had been sending me because I had been selling bread and tortillas. All the money he had sent I had put in the bank. So that same day we went to the bank, withdrew the money and headed to the United States with our kids.

When we went through Tijuana, I only had a tiny bag of clothes. That bag was stolen because I had not kept an eye on it. I was more concerned with my children. So we entered California wearing the clothes we had on when we decided to leave Mexico. We walked so much to cross the border. At one point, one of my children got sick from drinking unsafe water. It was hard, but we crossed.

That same night we crossed, we got to the home where my mother lived in California. And we lived in my mother’s house. The next day we went to a church, like its Salvation Army store I think, where they gave us clothes and food. From there, we got to work.

When I first arrived in California, the first thing I noticed was the the number of opportunities that we had. Like, you can basically eat whatever you want, whenever you want. But at the same time I felt bad because my oldest daughter would say, “Mom, I don’t understand anything here.” And at her school, it was a question of her learning the language, and there were some days she didn’t feel like going to school. But I told her she needed to go. So we enrolled her in a bilingual program.

In California, we had to live more frugally because we could barely make rent. It’s very expensive there and we only had a one bedroom apartment. I started to think that maybe we should return to Mexico, mainly because it was a lot of people living in that apartment and we felt like we were stacked on top of one another. It was difficult, because even though we were with my mom we didn’t have separate rooms like my children had become accustomed to in Mexico. We didn’t have a lot of space in Mexico either, but at least each child had their own little room. But in California that wasn’t the case.

It was hard to move into a new house that wasn’t ours. It was a lot of changes at the same time. I started working from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. to start saving money so we could be a little better off. But it was very hard.

I had another brother who already lived in Chicago. He told us that we should go there because there was a better chance to rent and live in tranquility. So we went to Chicago and got our first apartment without anything to put inside it. Not one plate or glass even. And so we started again, working and building our life. Sending our children to school.

I told my children to study. That it was the proper path for them. To always put their education first. I worked at night and took care of my children during the day. And my husband worked during the day and took care of our children at night. That’s how we worked and saved money while living in an apartment for nearly 10 years. We saved enough to buy a small home. And now we have our little house.

We feel very comfortable in La Villita. You can go outside and just speak to people in your language. It feels like a part of Mexico. There are some things that are different of course, but almost everyone speaks Spanish. And you feel very comfortable.

Here in La Villita there are so many things that are great, but it would be better if there was less violence and less gangs. But we need more educational opportunities for kids to deal with that, so they spend less time on the street.

But here you can find everything you’d be able to find in Mexico. Like candy! And you can find clothes from Mexico. Everything. And the Discount Mall, I’ve been going there for so many years. I can’t think of another store like it. For years I never knew about JC Penny or other kinds of stores, because I could find nearly everything I needed there. Be it clothes, things for your car, food, toys, everything. You could find everything there, even a haircut.

As told to Alex. V. Hernandez