Academic journal article Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society

Brown in the Windy City: Mexicans and Puerto Ricans in Postwar Chicago

Academic journal article Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society

Brown in the Windy City: Mexicans and Puerto Ricans in Postwar Chicago

Article excerpt

Brown in the Windy City: Mexicans and Puerto Ricans in Postwar Chicago. By Lilia Fernandez. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012. Pp. xiii, 376, illustrations, notes, index. Cloth, $45.00.)

Lilia Fernandez concludes her new book observing, "In the twenty-first century, Latinos/as have become much more visible in American popular culture, politics, the media, and, specifically, in debates over contemporary immigration. Yet as Americans, we still struggle to fully grasp just who this population is" (p. 268). Fernandez' attempt to inform who this population is-by exploring the lives of Mexicans and Puerto Ricans in postwar Chicago-is as welcomed an addition to the ever-growing historiography of the Windy City as it is an ambitious contribution to the continually evolving interpretations of Latino and Hispanic populations in the United States.

Brown in the Windy City is most notable for the two significant contributions it makes to historiography and our historical understanding. The first of these is to the history of race and ethnicity. For some time now, narratives written on a black-white binary have guided historical interpretations of Chicago; many, if not most of which, are the intellectual heirs to Arnold Hirsch and his seminal text Making the Second Ghetto (1983). This racial-binary narrative, however, obviously omits cultures or heritages that descend from neither African American nor European American origins. Fernandez serves as a corrective to this binary interpretation by examining the postwar migration and settlement of Mexicans and Puerto Ricans. Fernandez' exploration of these populations who defy immediate categorization on a binary racial continuum illuminates how sociospatial relations of everyday urban life contributes to the race-making process. As such, Chicago's Mexican and Puerto Rican populations "articulated a distinct racial subject position, one that was admittedly flexible and fluid, neither black nor white" (p. 7). Fernandez explores the sociospatial relations in four Chicago neighborhoods (the Lower West Side, South Lawndale, West Town, and Humboldt Park) over issues of housing, labor, and gender. Fernandez' most illuminating moments are in her middle chapters (Chapters Three, Four, and Five), where she traces city leaders' urban development efforts in these neighborhoods and the response of the community residents most affected by these plans. …

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