Since 1965, Vito and Nick’s Pizzeria has been serving thin crust pizza on the corner of 84th and Pulaski. When it opened, Ashburn was a predominantly white community, home to a large Irish-Catholic population. In the 1990s, those white residents started leaving and black and Hispanic newcomers arrived, attracted to the neighborhood’s affordable single-family homes.
Rose George, owner of her family’s long surviving pizzeria, says she began noticing Ashburn’s racial change about ten years ago. She takes pride in the neighborhood’s diversity and says her restaurant is a place where all races
“Ashburn is a multicultural area,” said George. “We're close-knit, really, when you think about it. Everybody here is family and they've been coming here
Perhaps no location tells the story of demographic change in Ashburn better than the St. Denis Church. Opened in 1966, the pews were once packed with Irish, Polish and German residents. But, as the church’s white population began moving away or aging out, they have been replaced by a new demographic: Hispanics. Between 1990 and 2014, the Hispanic population in Ashburn has more than quintupled and, as a result, St. Denis launched a Spanish language mass 2012.
Katy Ewers, who works at the religious education center at St. Denis, has welcomed the new faces at her church, but is hesitant to use the word “integrated” when describing Ashburn. In her mind, the neighborhood that she has called home for 62 years is instead “transitioning.” Now, as Hispanic visitors far outnumber whites at St. Denis, Ewers says the church has struggled to adapt. “The trouble is that we have a mass in Spanish and we don't actually associate with these people that much, because we go the Anglo mass and they go to the Spanish mass,” she said. “In our women's guild, we invite these Hispanic ladies to come, but they don't feel comfortable because we're speaking English. That's still a problem.”
On one hand, however, Ewers sympathizes with the white flight she has witnessed in recent years. “I think if I had little children, though, I wouldn't raise them here because it wouldn't really be fair to them. They wouldn't grow up with kids like themselves.” - Katy Ewers, longtime Ashburn resident.
For the last six years, Fernando Serna, 45, has owned Auto Flash auto body shop, located just a block from Vito and Nick’s pizzeria. He says he landed in Ashburn as a way to connect with fellow Hispanic customers who had been moving into the area. Similar to Ewers, he enjoys the diversity in the area, but has also sensed some issues with integration, particularly between Hispanics and
“When I see six or seven kids, African American, walking toward a couple Hispanic people, I sense it: that they feel like, ‘be careful,’ and they shouldn’t,” Serna said. “But sometimes, I think it’s because if you live in a neighborhood with a Hispanic community only and you move away from that community and you become part of a place where you’re in contact with some other cultures, you’re not prepared - you feel like you’re exposed.”
On the Eastern border of Ashburn, Dolph Norris has been serving up soul food at Dan's Soul Food for 30 years. When he first opened up his shop in 1982, he remembers being one of the first black store owners along 79th Street in an area that he describes as “98 percent white.” As years went on and more blacks moved in, Norris recalls a time when white residents were leaving the neighborhood seemingly overnight.
“If you just had the data, I think moving vans made more money than any other business in Ashburn during that 1982 to 1985 timeframe,” Dolph recalls.
Norris refutes the idea that Ashburn is integrated at all. He points westward towards Cicero Avenue to indicate where he says most Hispanics live, while his restaurant is situated on the eastern side of the neighborhood, which is more than 90 percent black. “Animals of the same breed like to hang with themselves - that’s just the law of nature,” he said. “But as we mature spiritually as a race of human beings, we’re going to learn that it don’t really matter who we live with.”
Luis Arroyo, 56, moved to Ashburn two years ago with his wife and their kids ages five and 10. When it comes to the racial composition in Ashburn, Arroyo says “you see a little of everything; Arabs, blacks, Puerto Rican, Mexicans, whites, Filipinos, Chinese in this area.” He hears from longtime Ashburn residents that the neighborhood is worse than it was 30 years ago for reasons ranging from unfixed streetlights and rampant potholes to crime and gangs. Arroyo hopes that new 18th Ward Alderman Derrick Curtis can address some of the problems in the area — otherwise he might be moving out of Chicago.
Arroyo thinks the community could stand to benefit from more unity.
“Because united we stand, divided we fall; that’s my philosophy and I think if the community stay[s] together we can get things done,” Arroyo said. “All we have to do is stick together as one group and fight for the same cause."