Burritos, Pasta and Polish Hot Dogs – On the trail of ethnic communities of Chicago

Chicago is full of different facets. Those facets get reflected not only in the very diverse architecture but also in all the different ethnicities that live in the third largest US city. On the other hand the architecture also reflects the multi-ethnical communities of the city as we have learned last Saturday. Professor Dominic Pacyga who teaches at the Columbia University in Chicago took us on a very interesting and enriching tour through different ethnic neighborhoods of the city of Chicago.

the study tour group in the bus

This tour impressively showed that ethnic groups often create their own small towns within a big city. Besides their own stores these communities also have a very close-knit social life. Moreover, certain ethnic backgrounds are also reflected in their way of life and the architecture of the district.

After Chicago was founded in 1833 the city nearly exploded because of huge European immigration waves, firstly French. Along with the French and other European nationalities also arrived and settled down in the hope for a better life. The biggest groups were Irish and Germans, later on huge waves of Poles arrived.

After one third of the city was destroyed by the Great Fire in 1871, some of the ethnic communities moved to other parts of the city to built up their original structures again. Others climbed up the social ladder and started to move out of the inner city into the suburbs in rather mixed communities. For instance the Czechs moved out of the district of Pilsen where mainly Mexicans live today. And this is just one example of a whole lot of ethnical moving within Chicago which we could experience on Prof. Pacygas tour. Throughout this moving process also churches were sold among the ethnical group and then used for their religious worshiping.

That also clearly shows that a lot happened during the settlement and moving process of ethnic groups within Chicago. Not only that some places were adjusted to special needs and ideas but some had also been destroyed in the process of modernization. Thus, for the Dan Ryan highway a whole neighborhood was torn down and so the original buildings and memories got lost.

Professor Pacygas, himself of polish origin, showed us where his mother lived and in which house he grew up around Davis Square Park.

Now and then, in this neighborhood lived Poles and Lithuanians which makes up a nice and mixed atmosphere in this district. Walking around in the park and exploring the neighborhood by foot and seeing all the special details that distinguish ethnic shaped neighborhoods and so produce a small town or even country within the huge city of Chicago.

Here in Chinatown Chicago were we live we can experience these phenomena day after day.


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