Ethnic Chicago: A Multicultural Portrait

Ethnic Chicago: A Multicultural Portrait

Ethnic Chicago: A Multicultural Portrait

Ethnic Chicago: A Multicultural Portrait

Excerpt

History offers very few clear, simple moral battles. Ethnic history is no exception. The complex history of the medley of ethnic groups that live in Chicago is played against the backdrop of United States ethnic history as a whole. This kaleidoscopic story cannot be understood without an even wider stage set of world ethnic history.

In the very recent past, the national revolutions of 1989–1992 in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union remind us how fragile the political world is. Most nations are constructed of imperfect confederations, ethnic groups tied together out of habit, convenience, and economic necessity. When some nations fall apart, ancient ethnic hostilities come out into the open air. Even in the United States, where the national tradition is the "Melting Pot," the fortunes of ethnicity rise and fall with each trend of political life. For instance, the issues in the debate on multiculturalism in America (and "political correctness") fill the screen in the early 1990s.

The editors of this book on ethnic Chicago had to contend with the "ethnic revival" of the 1970s and early 1980s, which spread doubts about the "myth" of the Melting Pot and put firmly in place the rival "myth" of Cultural Pluralism. Though out of fashion for a time, the Melting Pot still remains. The FrenchIndian metis (described by Jacqueline Peterson) were lost without a trace; ethnic cultures of the Italians, the Irish, and the Germans were in the process of being melted; but the sturdier cultures of the Poles, Jews, Ukrainians, Greeks, and Mexicans (although within a "Hispanic" form) still endure. Even when they meet or integrate into a national civilization, ethnic cultures leave a lasting impression: witness the evolving impact of Chicago's Germans on the city's industry and technology, which defies time, and on high culture, exemplified by Chicago's symphony orchestra. The Irish have shaped the character of Chicago's urban politics and the Catholic Church for what appears to be a long time. That is what the Melting Pot was all about: it never prescribed total . . .

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