Steel Barrio: The Great Mexican Migration to South Chicago, 1915-1940

Steel Barrio: The Great Mexican Migration to South Chicago, 1915-1940

Steel Barrio: The Great Mexican Migration to South Chicago, 1915-1940

Steel Barrio: The Great Mexican Migration to South Chicago, 1915-1940


"The richly documented history of Mexican South Chicago here yields a sophisticated, rounded, and compelling study of the evolution of an immigrant place. Attentive to structural factors shaping migration and assimilation, Innis-Jiménez also tells textured human stories of the work, play, and solidarity that created and recreated an enduring community, snatching life from discrimination and hardship." - David Roediger, University of Illinois Since the early twentieth century, thousands of Mexican Americans have lived, worked, and formed communities in Chicago's steel mill neighborhoods. Drawing on individual stories and oral histories, Michael Innis-Jiménez tells the story of a vibrant, active community that continues to play a central role in American politics and society. Examining how the fortunes of Mexicans in South Chicago were linked to the environment they helped to build, Steel Barrio offers new insights into how and why Mexican Americans created community. This book investigates the years between the World Wars, the period that witnessed the first, massive influx of Mexicans into Chicago. South Chicago Mexicans lived in a neighborhood whose literal and figurative boundaries were defined by steel mills, which dominated economic life for Mexican immigrants. Yet while the mills provided jobs for Mexican men, they were neither the center of community life nor the source of collective identity. Steel Barrio argues that the Mexican immigrant and Mexican American men and women who came to South Chicago created physical and imagined community not only to defend against the ever-present social, political, and economic harassment and discrimination, but to grow in a foreign, polluted environment. Steel Barrio reconstructs the everyday strategies the working-class Mexican American community adopted to survive in areas from labor to sports to activism. This book links a particular community in South Chicago to broader issues in twentieth-century U.S. history, including race and labor, urban immigration, and the segregation of cities. Michael Innis-Jiménez is a native of Laredo, Texas and Assistant Professor in the Department of American Studies at the University of Alabama. He lives in Tuscaloosa where he working on his next book on Latino/a immigration to the American South. In the Culture, Labor, History series


This book is about first-wave immigrants to a new area. It is about those who left danger for opportunity despite uncertainty. It is about individual people who worked, lived, died, played, and organized in and around the Chicago neighborhood called South Chicago. It is about the individual people coming together by creating clubs, societies, and teams to advocate, socialize, play, and endure despite harassment and discrimination. This story of early Mexican immigration to South Chicago is as relevant today as it was nearly a century ago.

On March 10, 2006, ninety years after the first significant Mexican immigration to the Windy City, somewhere between 100,000 and 300,000 Latino immigrants and their supporters took to the streets to protest the Sensenbrenner Bill. The U.S. House of Representatives had passed the bill three months earlier. The Sensenbrenner Bill made it a felony for undocumented immigrants to live in the United States or for anyone to “aid, abet,” or “counsel” an undocumented immigrant. Immigrant advocates credit this Chicago protest march as the event that galvanized a nationwide protest movement, taking place a full two weeks before 500,000 Latinos and their supporters rallied in Los Angeles. Chicago’s largely Mexican immigrant population, with the support of Mexican Americans and other immigrant allies, reacted against a bill that targeted non-white immigrants. The first organizing meeting was held February 15, at headquarters of Casa Michoacán.

Today, Casa Michoacán is one of the most prominent Chicago-based Mexican hometown associations. Working much like mutual aid societies, these hometown associations were originally informal groups created by immigrants to “function as social networks as well as transmitters of culture and values to the U.S.-born generation.” Many associations that matured around the turn of the twenty-first-century have focused on larger, more politicized goals. Casa Michoacán and affiliated Chicago-based Michoacáno hometown associations have arguably led the way in advocating for social development projects back home in their communities of origin as well as in actively defending Mexican immigrant rights in the Chicago area.

Like the Mexican immigrants who sought support from the Mexican consul against harassment and discrimination during the interwar years, Chicago Mexican activists during the 2006 protests requested support from Mexico . . .

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