Wednesday April 26th, OUR DAY
Our day started off with a lovely breakfast at the HI Youth Hostel in downtown Chicago.
Well fuelled, our day began.
Divided into our three groups, each went off to discover the ethnic neighbourhoods they had been studying. One of the groups that had been working on the Polish, the Lithuanians, the Italian and the Irish interviewed representatives of the Irish and Polish community and visited two churches (the interviews will soon be available on the class radioshow).Meanwhile, the second group spent their morning discovering in depth Andersonville (the Swedish neighbourhood) and preparing their guided tour.
Our group had worked, among other ethnic groups, on Mexicans, and we therefore took a trip to Pilsen, the vibrant Mexican neighbourhood. The first thing we saw when the doors of the L train opened was the overwhelming amount of colourful artwork scattered over all of the walls and even the staircase.
Once we walked out of the station we knew right away that we had made it to Pilsen because of all the signs written in Spanish. It was like a mini Mexico in the middle of Chicago. Continuing our trip through Pilsen we headed off to The Jumping Bean Cafe. There we met one of the best Mexican street artists in Chicago right now, Ruben Aguirre. Whilst sitting and speaking to him for the first we felt an immense amount of life surrounding us, thanks to the laughter and the Mexican music playing in the background.
Ruben kindly agreed to educate us about the street art in Chicago, more specifically the street art in Pilsen. He then took us for a tour of the neighbourhood.
He first took us to 16th Street, where we saw a very long strip of wall covered in street art. Ruben explained that it was there the city of Chicago let people do their the first murals legally.
We walked along the entire strip, watching the works of different street artist from Pilsen, Chicago but also from around the entire world.
We were struck by the amount but the details and creativity in these works.
When we were done walking the entire strip, Ruben continued his tour by showing us his first work he got actual money for. It is on the outside wall of a bar on 18th. He made this work in 2011.
In 2014, he was able to fill out the other side of the building with another piece.
Since then, he’s continued doing work all over Chicago and often gets commissioned to paint.
After the tour, we thanked Ruben for his time and for his kind gesture to guide us through Pilsen.
We were ravenous, and we went to the 5 Rabanitos restaurant. There, we ordered an exquisite taco meal, and we left the restaurant feeling stuffed and happy
Then after, we took the 50 bus and continued our day in the Swedish neighbourhood. 69 stops later, we arrived in Andersonville where the other groups were waiting for us.
Here are some quotes about street art by Ruben Aguirre:
« Chicago has been very strict on graffiti for a long time, so the city has spent a lot of money graphing graffiti out. For a long time there was no other city that spent so much money on it as they did. So there’s been a lot of anti-graffiti morale because that’s what people are used to: they’re used to seeing graffiti being painted over right away»
«People think graffiti is bad because they associate it with gang violence. It’s dying now but Chicago has a long history of gang violence »
« In the more recent times, like in the last 5 or 6 years, the street art culture has become more mainstream and accessible and that has opened up the doors and the perceptions of people in Chicago to be more accepting of street art – not as much graffiti. But it’s not shocking to see someone painting with spray cans now like it was […]. If people saw you with spray cans, they would call the police. If you were stopped by the police and you had spray cans you would get arrested »
« Graffiti always gets painted over. If you don’t take a picture right away, it’s like it never existed. I really came to hating seeing brown walls everywhere. […] My work is not graffiti but it certainly comes from graffiti. I think putting color over this brown, putting color where there’s no color is the part that inspires me »
« I like using bright colors because in Chicago there’s a lot of brown, of beige, of rust»
« Street art was magic, as a 14 year old, it gave a frame and a goal»
Next stop: Chinatown
America’s third biggest Chinatown is in Chicago. Chinatowns first formed after the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed in 1882. Asians and particularly the Chinese suffered violent racism and discrimination, and relied therefore on urban clusters known as Chinatowns to survive.
Sophie and I prepared a guided tour of Chinatown before our trip to Chicago. Only with the help of google maps and a little research, we had traced our route. Presenting a whole neighbourhood as if we were experts when, in reality, we had never been to Cermak was a challenge. With our route and facts ready, we approached the subway station. Sophie and I guided the whole class from Pilsen (the Mexican neighbourhood) to the Loop on the Pink Line. Then we took the Red Line from Downtown Chicago to Cermak-Chinatown. Arriving with the over ground metro gave us a quick (and long awaited!) preview of Chinatown in three dimensions. We spotted the landmarks and areas we were going to show to the class. Chinatown was much smaller than what I had imagined. Fortunately for us, the landmarks were closer to each other than what we had planned, making our tour more concise.
The red accents on the buildings struck my eyes, contrasting with the grey weather. A giant, burgundy pagoda structure formed the entryway of the main commercial road called Wentworth Avenue. I was very intrigued (and so were the other students!) by all the small shops with their crowded storefronts. Many of us wanted to explore all these shops, wondering what kind of mysterious things or tiny treasures they could hide. But we continued our guided tour.
We briefly presented The Pui Tak Center, also called Chinatown’s city hall. It was a beautiful traditional Chinese building. But it wasn’t easy to be heard when there was two professional guides shouting into their loud microphones right next to us. But the show must go on! Therefore we rushed to the Chinatown outdoor mall, hoping that the annoying guides would not follow us (they did). Twelve bronze zodiac statues graced the three sides of the mall’s plaza, representing the twelve Chinese zodiac signs. There, we tried to find our zodiac signs. We finished our guided tour at the Ping Tom Memorial Park right next to the river, with a beautiful Chinese tea house and a colourful field of roses. I felt like I was in a whole other continent when I was there.
But then we got hungry. We split up, and chose where we wanted to eat. Caitlin, Clothilde, Tobias, Sarah, Sophie and I walked into what seemed like to be a good Chinese restaurant. It was busy and crowded. We got seated by a big, beautiful round table and I ate some of the best Chinese food I’ve ever had. We all had a great time. When we were done eating, Sophie, Sarah and I quickly walked into a colourful Korean beauty store selling every kind of facial mask you could dream of. We also had to taste some exotic Asian candy at the store right next to it.
This was a little bit of my experience in one of the many neighbourhoods we visited. Our trip to Chinatown showed me once again how ethnically diverse the city of Chicago is.
Sonia Vennerød Azmi
Andersonville, Sander’s Story
I went with my group to Andersonville, known as the Swedish neighborhood of Chicago. As we had planned during our research, we started by going to a museum: the Swedish American museum. There, we interviewed some people who worked there. They all had very different relationships to Sweden. One of them had not been to Sweden yet. Her name was Stacey Nyman. Angelica Farzaneh-Far, on the other hand, goes back to Sweden at least once a year. The museum’s director, Karin Moen Abercrombie, was born in America from Swedish parents. They moved back to Sweden when she was a kid and then moved back again to Chicago when she got older. Finally, Melissa Weems was born in Sweden and had moved to Chicago. They were all working at the museum to keep the Swedish history and culture alive in the city as well as to remember of the hardship of Swedish emigration to the U.S. in the 18 century. However one can say that the museum is more of a cultural or a community center. Indeed, they also hold weekly classes to teach people Swedish and there is a small library that sell books in Swedish as well as Swedish books in English.
In the neighborhood they had a lot of Swedish shops with Swedish products and food but some of them have closed over time. A tavern there has a long story, Simon’s tavern. It all started by being a store and during the Prohibition. It started selling alcohol in the coffee… Through this very illegal activity, the owner earned a lot of money and the café became a tavern when the Prohibition time was over. I thought the story was fascinating story and the fact that it’s still open today is quite something!
I loved this neighborhood. I had a little feeling that it didn’t match Chicago, that it felt more like Sweden, and it was nice to see after so many years Swedish culture is still present and visible.
Meeting Norwegian immigrants in Logan Square: Estelle’s story
The project around the trip to Chicago was to study migration from diverse parts of the world to the US, but in particular to the third largest city in the country. Our goal was to observe and reflect upon American multiculturality through the stories of its inhabitants (all immigrants, except for Native Americans). Throughout the whole project (a journey from the start really), we recorded radio shows where we collected stories, including our own.
Earlier in the year, we were divided into small groups and each chose a specific ethnic group that migrated from their homeland to the United States. We did a lot of research about the history of migrations to North America. With my group, we had decided to concentrate on Norwegians. We had interviewed Norwegians in Oslo whose ancestors had crossed the Atlantic ocean. We also had done some research on Norwegian emigration (second biggest emigration in Europe compared to the land’s population) at the National Library in Oslo.
For our visit in Chicago, we had been planning for a long time to get in touch with different people who were immigrants or had family members who migrated to the city. We found out that Minnekirke in Logan Square, located on the Northwest side of the City of Chicago, still played an important part for many members of the Norwegian / Norwegian-American community.
When we arrived in Logan Square with the subway (or the L train as they call it in Chicago), the church was impossible to miss. There was a big sign with Norwegian writing which made it obvious it was where the Norwegian community gathered. Pastor David greeted us, I was surprised to see how lively and friendly he was, because in my head I always thought that pastors are only serious and calm. We also met two other people from Norway, one blond middle-aged woman who had come to Chicago and married an American man. There was also a man who looked like he was in his early 30s and who had been here for a few years for his work. They looked very Scandinavian and had a “Norwegian vibe”. We all sat at a big table. The atmosphere in the church was very cozy not like in typical churches where you feel a cold and dark feeling. We all introduced ourselves and started talking. We noticed that the pastor was gone for a few minutes. When he came back, he was carrying several big boxes filled with “Cheetos”, “Doritos”, chips and drinks. We all got so excited by the food we almost forgot we were doing an interview. Although, we had prepared specific questions to ask, we were not confident with our questions as we thought they were boring. Before the interview started, we ate the food and our interviewees talked about their lives and their experiences. It was very interesting and it did not even feel like an interview anymore. They told us their stories of how they moved to Chicago, their lives and their experiences. It just felt like a group of friends talking about life around a table full of good food. While we were just chatting, Tobias, Sarah and I realized that they had answered every question we had planned to ask them for the recording of our radio show. We started panicking a little because it meant we had no questions for the actual interview we had come here to do. When our teacher asked us to ask the questions, we had to improvise. Although we weren’t prepared, we managed to ask questions as the conversation went on. Now that I think about it, it was a lot more engaging that we didn’t read a list with specific questions to ask them. We just asked question that came up as we went along with the discussion. The interview was very natural and enjoyable. I didn’t even see the time pass when our teacher already told us we were out of time and it was time to leave….
Luckily we were invited again to the church on Friday night for drinks, a chat, sports….and some real Chicago Hot Dogs!
Thank you Pastor David Schoenknecht and to the Norwegian community in Chicago for their time, their kindness and making us feel … at home!