Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Old Neighborhood

The Chicago Tribune reports:

“Federal authorities today announced charges against 22 people in what they described as a massive fraudulent ID ring run out of a Little Village shopping plaza.”
Why does this not surprise me?
The “Little Village” is what they now call my old Chicago neighborhood. Back when I was young all Chicago neighborhoods had names and they probably still do today.

The Tribune article goes on to say:
“In announcing the charges, U.S. Atty. Patrick Fitzgerald said the ring's alleged leader also ordered the murder of a rival and was conspiring to commit more violent acts.”

This surprises me even less.

When my mom remarried in 1953, I was magically transported from the North side of Chicago to the southwest side of Chicago. At that time my new neighborhood was called Pilsen. This was probably due to the fact that the Yusay Pilsen Brewery (and Pilsen Park) was in the middle of the neighborhood.

It was a very diverse neighborhood. Although it was predominately Polish and Bohemian we also had Italians, Irish and many people of eastern European origin living in this neighborhood. However we didn’t have, as my Dad would say, any “People of Color”. According to Dad, this is why we had very little crime in our neighborhood.

Sometime in the early to mid 1960’s the name of our neighborhood was changed from Pilsen to the “Little Village”. The Yusay Pilsen Brewery had closed and the influxes of the new residents to the neighborhood were predominantly from Mexico. As to who made the decision to rename the neighborhood, I have no idea. My guess was that it was our 22nd Ward Alderman.

Unknowingly, I bid a final farewell to living in my old neighborhood when I was coerced into joining the Army in 1966. When I returned from overseas duty, to visit my family in the fall of 1968, I noticed some changes in the old neighborhood. There were many more Spanish speaking people living in my old neighborhood. At this time I also visited my old High School. In 1963, our student body of 3200 was about 10% Hispanic; now, five years later, it was closer to 40%.

My Dad said that the change was not a bad thing. The Mexican’s maintained their property; they all had nice lawns. He said that they were good Catholics that attended church every Sunday and that none of them were on welfare. I nodded my head in approval but didn’t really buy into his assessment.

The next time I returned to the old neighborhood was in June 1974. It was for a funeral. My cousin Bobby had been murdered by the neighborhood Mexicans. He was a decorated Chicago Police Officer as well as a highly decorated US Marine Corp Vet; he had served and survived two tours in Viet Nam in the 1960’s. He was a good friend that treated me like a younger brother and I had admired and looked up to him. He died in the line of duty and the City of Chicago has named a Chicago Police Boat in his honor.

Mom and Dad moved out of the neighborhood to the western suburbs of Chicago shortly after that time. On my fiftieth birthday my daughters accompanied me to Chicago to celebrate this event with my family and friends. After sailing on Lake Michigan all day, my eldest cousin “The Admiral” drove us through our old neighborhood to show my daughters where we lived as youths. He said “Keep the windows closed and the doors locked, this is the “Little Village”.

The Beach Bum

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9 Comments:

Blogger alfredo said...

My neighborhood is now US 264. It must be nice to be able to see your home turf. Mine is under asphalt.

Even though I would never want to live there again, it was a comfort to see the old homestead still standing. It's gone.

I miss the apple grove, the chicken coop, the persimmon tree. No matter how ripe, there was still that bitterness. Unripe persimmon was a load of laughs. City kids learn hard lessons out in the sticks.

We had dumb luck. My sister entered my mom into a contest to win a new house. We won it. We put the new house on a plot a mile or so away. Soon after that, the old homestead was condemned to make way for the highway. The new owners were not amused.

Fri Apr 27, 12:30:00 AM  
Anonymous Admiral Jimmy said...

The Admiral recalls history differently! The name of 'our neighborhood' was changed from Lawndale to Little Village to separate us from the Lawndale neighborhood north of Cermak Road.

Sun Apr 29, 08:30:00 AM  
Blogger ROMULUS said...

How's it goin' Beach Bum,

I just wanted you to know that your blog is very entertaining and I read it often. Anyway, it's tough when the rug gets pulled from under your feet, as was the case with the Pilsen-Little Village transition you described. I'm curious... what are your thoughts on the immigration debate? Do you feel different nationalities should be allowed in the country in different numbers (for example, more Cubans than Mexicans per year)? I know in Florida the Cuban community is not necessarily looked down upon, whereas out here int he west Mexicans are marginalized as laborers, not participants in the American system. Personally, I don't have a problem with diversity although I would like to see more security at the border. Your thoughts?

Mon Apr 30, 12:18:00 PM  
Anonymous Richard Feder, Ft. Lee said...

I read most of your scribblings, and occasionally agree with your opinions. What keeps my interest is your style, and the diverse subject matter.

That said, I think this is the best piece you have written to date, with the possible exception of the small dog you saw swimming across that body of water behind your abode.

Tue May 01, 06:04:00 PM  
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