Open main menu


Casa Aztlán. A mural in Pilsen, Chicago for the Chicano Movement

The first Mexicans who came to Chicago, mostly entertainers and itinerants, came before the turn of the 20th Century.[1] In the mid to late 1910s Chicago had its first significant wave of Mexican immigrants. Originally the immigrants were mostly men working in semiskilled and unskilled jobs who originated from Texas and from Guanajuato, Jalisco, and Michoacán.[2] After immigration was largely reduced in the 1920s, internal migration from the Southwestern United States became the primary driver of Mexican population growth in Chicago.[3]

Circa the 1920s Mexicans were used as a buffer between Whites and Blacks. René Luis Alvarez, a professor at Northeastern Illinois University, stated that Whites perceived Mexicans to be apolitical and docile and treated the people originating from Mexico "with a kind of benign neglect and largely ignored their social needs or living conditions."[3] About 33% of the 20,000 persons of Mexican origin in Chicago were male family members of the single male workers, and/or women and children. By the end of the 1930s the Mexican population had declined to 14,000; this was due to repatriations to Mexico in the post-Great Depression; Louise A. N. Kerr of the Illinois Periodicals Online (IPO) of Northern Illinois University Libraries stated that officials "seem to have been" less harsh towards those of Mexican origins compared to officials in areas of the Southwest United States. Circa 1941 the Mexican population had risen to 16,000. During the 1940s braceros were brought to Chicago and became a part of the Mexican-American community.[2]

There were 35,000 people categorized as Spanish-speaking in Chicago by 1950, including Mexicans and Puerto Ricans.[2] In 1960 there were 23,000 Chicagoans who were born in Mexico. In 1970 that number was 47,397, and that year, of all major U.S. cities, Chicago had the fourth-largest Spanish-speaking population; Mexicans made up the majority of Chicago's Hispanophones at that time. From 1960 to 1970 there was an 84% increase in the number of Chicagoans who had at least one parent born in Mexico.[4] In the late 1960s and early 1970s Mexican-origin people in Chicago increasingly became politically active.[5]


From the 1990 U.S. Census to the 2000 U.S. Census, the percentage of Mexican Americans in all of Cook County, Illinois increased by 69%, and the percentage of Mexicans in the City of Chicago in particular increased by 50% in the same time period. As a result, Chicago's number of Mexicans surpassed the number in the cities of Houston and San Antonio, Texas.

As of the 2000 U.S. Census there were 786,000 residents of full or partial Mexican origin in Cook County, giving it the largest ethnic Mexican population in the United States that is not in the Southwest and the third largest ethnic Mexican population of any county after Los Angeles County, California and Harris County, Texas. As of that year the number of ethnic Mexicans in Cook County is greater than that of each of the metropolitan areas of Acapulco, Cuernavaca, Chihuahua, and Veracruz.[6] The total includes over 530,000 residents of the City of Chicago.[6]

As of the 2010 Census, 961,963 residents of Cook County, including 578,100 residents of the City of Chicago, had full or partial Mexican origins.[7]


Mexican neighborhoods include Pilsen in the Lower West Side and Little Village in South Lawndale.

In the 1990s 40% of the Mexican origin population in Pilsen had migrated directly there from Mexico, and about 33% of the Mexican origin population in the Chicago area lived in Pilsen.[8]

The Mexicans in the Near West Side settled south of Hull House along Halsted and patronized the St. Francis of Assisi church. Beginning in the 1930s the athletic team Saint Francis Wildcats, which had Mexican members, began meeting in the gymnasium of St. Francis of Assisi, and the members moved on to fight in World War II. The Hull House residents were displaced by the 1960s construction of the University of Illinois Chicago, and they moved to Pilsen and/or to suburban communities.[2]

In the post-1920s period the Mexicans in Back of the Yards mostly worked in meatpacking. In 1945 the first Mexican church opened there.[2]

Mexicans began moving into South Chicago in the post-1920s period, and there they stuck to defined neighborhoods and were a part of the working class. They joined area unions by the 1940s.[2]


The National Museum of Mexican Art is located in Pilsen.

Mexicans focused on improving their own neighborhoods and establishing their own organizations to do so after the 1920s. Fraternal organizations and mutual aid groups or mutualistas were established;[3] the latter promoted positive views of Mexicans,[9] financially assisted families facing deaths, unemployment, and/or illnesses, and promoted Mexican nationalism.[3]

By the middle of the 20th century newer organizations had been established. The Committee on Mexican American Interests promoted Mexican American student councils to encourage students to participate in higher education, promoted the G.I. Bill in the post-World War II period, and established a project with the Mexican Community Committee of South Chicago to gather potential recipients of scholarships and applicants to universities, and doing so by asking high school teachers working in Chicago neighborhoods with large numbers of Mexican-origin students to provide lists of names.[9] Circa the middle of the 20th century the Mexican Community Committee of South Chicago and the Mexican Civic Committee of the West Side worked with LULAC to promote the value of getting an education among Mexican-American youth.[10] In general the newer organizations worked within existing power structures to promote education instead of trying to establish their own independent educational programs.[9]


As of 2001, despite being the largest Hispanic and Latino ethnic group in Chicago, the Mexicans have some, but less political representation than Chicago's Puerto Ricans.[11]


Alvarez stated that establishment of the Benito Juarez Community Academy in Pilsen, "[i]n many ways", originated from the Chicano movement and its desire for greater recognition of Mexican-American history and identity.[12] During the opening ceremony, a bust sculpture of Juárez and the flag of Mexico were presented, and the anthems of the United States and of Mexico were both played. The choice of the day of the ceremony was influenced by the fact that September 16 is the anniversary of the Cry of Dolores, the Mexican independence day, as well as near the beginning of the school year in Chicago.[13]


Circa the middle of the 20th century the Mexican Community Committee of South Chicago and the Mexican Civic Committee of the West Side stated that there had been an increase of juvenile delinquency complaints against persons of Mexican origin lodged in the Cook County Juvenile Court because children in the second generation allegedly were blocked from participating in the broader American culture while also losing the Mexican culture of the parents.[9]

Notable residentsEdit

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Kerr, Louise A. N. "The Mexicans in Chicago" (Archive). Northern Illinois University. Retrieved on April 24, 2014.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Arredondo, Gabriela F. and Derek Vaillant. "Mexicans" (Archive). Encyclopedia of Chicago. Retrieved on April 24, 2014.
  3. ^ a b c d Alvarez, p. 81.
  4. ^ Alvarez, p. 84.
  5. ^ Alvarez, p. 83.
  6. ^ a b Mihalopoulos, Dan; Osnos, Evan (May 10, 2001). "Chicago a hub for Mexicans". Chicago Tribune. p. 1. Archived from the original on December 10, 2015. Retrieved April 24, 2014.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link) ()
  7. ^ "". Archived from the original on September 4, 2014.
  8. ^ Alvarez, p. 84.
  9. ^ a b c d Alvarez, p. 82.
  10. ^ Alvarez, p. 82-83.
  11. ^ Mihalopoulos, Dan; Osnos, Evan (May 10, 2001). "Chicago a hub for Mexicans". Chicago Tribune. p. 2. Archived from the original on December 10, 2015. Retrieved April 24, 2014.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link) ()
  12. ^ Alvarez, p. 80.
  13. ^ Alvarez, p. 78.

Further readingEdit

  • Andrade, Juan, Jr. "A Historical Survey of Mexican Immigration to the U.S. and an Oral History of the Mexican Settlement in Chicago, 1920–1990" (Ph.D. diss.). Northern Illinois University, 1998.
  • Arredondo, Gabriela F. "‘What! The Mexicans, Americans?’ Race and Ethnicity, Mexicans in Chicago, 1916–1939" (Ph.D. diss.). University of Chicago, 1999.
  • Davalos, KarenMary. "Ethnic Identity among Mexican and Mexican American Women in Chicago, 1920–1991" (Ph.D. diss.). Yale University, 1993.

External linksEdit