The two Southwest Side neighborhoods have seen significant shifts in population in the last few years.
By Samantha Cabrera Friend, Kim Bellware, Maya James and Rocio Villaseñor
This cycle, City Bureau is looking at the impact of the population and demographic changes that have affected three communities: Chicago Lawn, Back of the Yards and Brighton Park. All three neighborhoods have experienced dramatic shifts in their population over the last decade, whether in terms of its majority racial or ethnic group, or in net loss of residents. Those changes mean new expectations, opportunities and power structures.
We visited Marquette Park—a nexus of the neighborhoods—to ask residents about how they’ve experienced the changes. Some interviews are translated from Spanish.
Israel Bahena, Jr., 39, Chicago Lawn
Bahena has lived in Chicago Lawn for most of his adult life. Over the years, he says he’s seen families like his own move to the area from other predominantly Mexican neighborhoods like Pilsen and Little Village.
How would you describe your neighborhood to others?
It’s a lot of Hispanics. A lot of them came from Little Village and Pilsen. There was maybe 25 percent Caucasians here before. There are bigger families here now. Hispanic families can have a lot of cousins, family coming to visit; Causasian families seem to have only two kids. You see more vehicles, so parking is more difficult. This hood is mostly Hispanic now. Kedzie [is a dividing line]: west is more Hispanic, and east is more Black.
What do you think people like about the neighborhood? What draws them?
There are lots of businesses and restaurants. If people didn’t have any other reason to be here, they’d come here for the food. Places like Coculas [on Pulaski]. A lot of parents come to the park, get their kids into soccer. There’s grocery stores, the park, a Walgreens, you can play golf here. It’s convenient. It’s affordable, mostly family homes.
How have the changes in the demographics played out? Do you notice anything on that front?
A friend in his 70s said there used to be the Ku Klux Klan in the park, and they wouldn’t let the Black residents there. The Blacks and Hispanics now, they’re cordial. They say hi.
Are there more Spanish language resources on the east side of the park? Why do you think people still live separately?
There’s everything you need. Parents want their family to know the language, so there’s not as much incentive to learn English.
Francisca Guadarrama, 55, Chicago Lawn
Guadarrama, who’s lived in Chicago Lawn for 17 years, says she comes to Marquette Park often in the summer—it’s her favorite thing about the neighborhood.
In your experience, have there been many changes throughout your neighborhood? With people, populations?
Well I will tell you that on Kedzie and Spalding there, one side of Kedzie is Mexicans and the other side is Blacks. Every part of town is different, but right now there are more Mexican people than Black people. Because so many Black people are leaving the neighborhood that it’s turned pure Mexican.
Of the families that stay, have they been here long?
Yes, for generations.
Do the young people that live here leave when they get older?
My son didn’t like where we were, so he moved closer to Midway. Now he likes the neighborhood there. Me, I can tell you that I like my neighborhood because the rent is cheap. Past Kedzie it’s really expensive—like there rent costs over $1,000 for one person. Here with my daughter, we’re paying $1,500 for two floors.
Aside the people and rent changing, have you experienced any other neighborhood changes?
Where I live there are no stores. We need to go using a car, and we feel far away from the stores. It’s the same if you want medicine, it’s far. You can use the bus but it takes over an hour.
Ricardo Melendez Carlona, 44, Chicago Lawn
Melendez Carlona says he comes to Marquette Park every day. He’s lived in the neighborhood since 2010.
In your experience, have there been many changes throughout your neighborhood? With people, businesses?
Well sometimes I don’t come here because there have been people found in the water. It’s happened like three times with four people. There are some bad people here. You could walk by every day and not think anything’s happening but there is. But I don’t think they kill them exactly here I think they do it in other places.
Do you feel less families are going out because of this?
Yeah, I thought I was going to see more people but look at who’s all here. There’s about 50 percent less people here today.
And you notice this because you usually come every day?
Yes. I come here and I buy a bag of bread. It’s great. I go by the water and the other birds and I feed them. I come with my sons too, they accompany me and we hunt for fish late in the afternoon or early morning.
Is there anything you would change about your neighborhood?
No, well no, because every other part of my life is good.
Danny Arcos, 28, Back of the Yards
Arcos has been a resident here for the past 15 years. His family has sold concessions through the Chicago Park District since 1996. He works Monday through Friday in Marquette Park.
Why do you like this park?
It’s quiet. There is little violence.
What are some of the changes you have seen throughout the years?
The park used to be cleaner. They used to clean the pond two times a week. When I was little, you could fish in there. Since the budget cuts, bathrooms are dirty and not always opened. We had to provide [port-a-potties] for customers. We have to spend money to make money.
Pancho, 17, and Olman, 16, Back of the Yards
Pancho and Olman, who are cousins, were sitting in the park with their La Azteca paleta carts. They’ve been living in the neighborhood for two years after immigrating from Guadalajara, Mexico.
Why did you move to this neighborhood?
Pancho: Family – to live with my uncle.
How long have you been coming to Marquette Park?
Pancho: It is our first time coming to this park. We’ll sell paletas from 1 to 4:30 p.m. today.
Olman: We are only doing this as a summer job—once school starts up, we will just be in school.
Are there any changes to Back of the Yards, since you have lived there for two years?
Olman: Well, we attend Mansueto High School. We have noticed there is a lot of violence and crime in the neighborhood. Also, that there are more businesses in the area.
Aja Beckham contributed reporting.