Reflections of Street Life in Pilsen

Juan Mora-Torre Publicado 2017-08-12 08:30:43

Maxwell Street Market (1955)

When I arrived in Chicago from California in 1981 my knowledge of Latinos in Chicago was only slightly better then “I didn’t know there were Mexicans in Chicago.” Within a couple of days after my arrival, I rented an apartment on Ridgeway and 31st Street in Little Village. Following the saying “echando a perder se aprende,” and not knowing anybody who could guide me, I aimlessly ventured into the streets of Little Village, the starting point in my exploration of the city where I expected to live for the next seven or so years, the number of years that I set for myself to complete my graduate studies. This initial exploration in Little Village pointed me to Pilsen. Unknowingly, I had traversed the two most populated Mexican neighborhoods in Chicago. My education on Chicago and Latino Chicago had begun.

My first encounters in these two neighborhoods was an eye-opening experience, to say the least. Little Village and Pilsen were different from the Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Jose barrios that I had come to know. I was struck by the housing (large three and four-story brick buildings as opposed to small wooden single-family houses), the multitude of pedestrians (as opposed to cars), the compact business districts, the ensemble of different noises, the near absence of grass and trees. Two impressions crossed my mind. First, that these were grim neighborhoods where trash was found everywhere and they contained mean streets where tough looking young people eyeballed you at the street corners. The other impression was of communities full of life, a sort of beehive with swarming populations engaged in different types of dynamic activities. Seeking to make mental associations, Pilsen and Little Village came closest to the Mission District, a San Francisco Latino neighborhood about the size of Pilsen. The differences, upon first appearances, was that these two Chicago barrios had a higher concentration of people in the streets, much dirtier streets, and were less colorful. Walking on 18th and 26th Street felt more like I was on Broadway Street, a major commercial thoroughfare in downtown Los Angeles.

Going to Pilsen at least once a week became my escape from graduate school. It was Pilsen’s particularly rich street life that kept me returning to the neighborhood. Although my academic research focused on 19th and early 20th Century Mexico, my fascination with the history and culture of Latino Chicago grew over the years. I was fortunate in making friends with community activists who opened the doors into the politics and social life of Pilsen. I participated in the immigrant rights movement (led by CASA-HGT at that time) and knocked on hundreds of doors during the electoral campaigns of the 1980s, talking to many people. I became more familiar with Pilsen and the problems of its residents. An essential part of my schooling on Latino Chicago, and Chicago as a whole, was learned from my experience in community activism.

When I arrived in the early 1980s Pilsen had emerged as the most visible Latino neighborhood in Chicago, serving from 1960 to 1980 as the main port of entry for Mexican immigrants arriving in the city. Moreover, it became the first Chicago community with a Latino majority in 1970 (others followed in the 1980s). Along with Little Village, it has been the epicenter of Mexican life and culture in the Chicago metropolitan area. It has also served as an excellent example of how immigrants brought life back to an aging and disintegrating neighborhood. Over the years much has been said about Pilsen’s identity: a neighborhood of activism, a center of artistic and cultural production, a dangerous neighborhood with a poor working class population, and so on. Much of it is true. What is less acknowledged is how the rich street life of Pilsen informed the identity and political struggles of the neighborhood and its residents. The origins of Pilsen’s street life is to be found in another neighborhood, the neighboring Near West Side.

Back in the day in the Pilsen Barrio. Photo: Aurelio Barrios

The Colonia of the Near West Side, 1920-1960

Mexicans have not been strangers to Chicago’s rich street culture, a culture that is fading away before our very eyes. When Mexicans arrived in Chicago in the 1920s, they mainly settled in three immigrant and working class neighborhoods: South Chicago, Back of the Yards, and the Near West Side, a historic port of entry for different European immigrants groups and African Americans migrants from the South. In the Near West Side, Mexicans first concentrated in the area around Halsted and Taylor streets, a location that was a short walk to Hobohemia in the north and Maxwell Street in the south. They integrated themselves into their surroundings and participated in enriching an already rich street culture of these neighborhoods. Located on Madison Street between Canal and Halsted, Hobohemia was the “hobo capital of the U.S.” Thousands of migrant and transient workers — “hobos, tramps and homeless” — resided there in their temporary passage through “Big Chi,” their slang name for Chicago. Mexicans, many of them transient workers, went to the employment agencies at Hobohemia in their search for temporary work, primarily on the railroads.

To the south of Taylor and Halsted stood Maxwell Street, one of the most overcrowded tenements in the country and Chicago’s most cosmopolitan ghetto. Maxwell had an open market that was daily packed with people of different nationalities - “Russians. Greeks. Italians. German. Negroes. Jews. Mexican. Irishmen. Poles” - people from different walks of life. From hustlers, to crap shooters, pimps, pickpocketers, musicians, hawkers, peddlers, street philosophers and preachers and different true believers including “Reds. Saints. Sinners. Iconoclasts. Religious fanatics.” The Chicago Tribune reported in 1954 that Maxwell Street’s open market “is probably the liveliest spectacle in all Chicago and almost the only reminder still left of what the Halsted Street region once was.” It was the playground for “shabbily dressed Negro and Mexicans children.” Writing on the Maxwell area, Willard Motley, an African American novelist and a resident of the Near West Side, noted in 1939,

This is the street of noise, of odors, of colors. This is a small hub around which a little world revolves. This is Jerusalem. The journey to Africa is only one block; from Africa to Mexico one block; from Mexico to Italy two blocks; from Italy to Greece three blocks...

Regarding noise on Maxwell, one could hear “Mexican songs” blasting “from loud speakers,” hawkers peddling their goods, heated discussions emanating from a “philosopher’s corner,” and different European languages, including “a poor English obscured by dialect, misused verbs and misplaced pronouns.” Writing on Halsted Street, Carlos Cortez, the Mexican anarchist, artist and activist, remembered “the Street [Halsted] once lined with an endless array of small shops, bistros, and hole-in-the-wall restaurants where one could bask in the culinary delights of faraway places, where one could walk by small music stores and hear strange music that somehow was not strange at all . . .It was not the cleanest of streets . . . but it was a happy street, happy with the smell of pizza, Turkish coffee, and tacos.”

While hanging out with Poncho, a Mexican 14-year old peddler, truck driver, and crap shooter, on Maxwell, Motley wrote that “He drives the truck, a big red truck, and is proud of his abilities. There aren’t always things to haul. He tends the sidewalk stand. Hammers, door hinges, old clocks, knives, screwdrivers, pliers-all rusty. He does well; he is one of the men of the family.” Motley’s description of Poncho suggests the importance of Mexican families adapting to the streets as a required skill for surviving in hard times and in a harsh environment. He offered another example:

The Mexican, long tutored in poverty is a frugal individual. An old Mexican woman in whose face is seamed the trials of thousands of days and thousands of nights pushed a baby buggy loaded with wood down the middle of the street. Shortly two señoras with children in their arms cross in the other direction pulling wagons loaded with old lumber, broken orange crates, laths and house sidings. Winter is coming....Wood can be found somewhere. Wood can be carted somehow. They are as thrifty as ants and clean the streets of every twig... 

Under conditions of economic hardship and political powerlessness (many were not citizens and the neighborhood was controlled by Italian-Americans), Mexicans, perhaps more so than other immigrants and African Americans in the Near West Side, adapted more to the streets in their quest for survival. In doing so, they played their part in reinvigorated the street culture of their multi-ethnic neighborhood. For example, the first Mexicans arrived during the period of Prohibition. They introduced marijuana (not yet illegal) to Chicago where it first became popular with musicians, especially African Americans. Known as “loco weed,” a law official calculated, perhaps exaggeratingly, that 25 percent of the Mexicans in Chicago smoked it and “in fact, many of them make a living by raising and peddling the drug.”

Although not documented, it is highly probable that quite a few established Mexican businessmen got their start peddling goods on Maxwell’s open market. Once they acquired sufficient capital from peddling, they opened businesses that catered to Mexicans and other patrons: boarding rooms, restaurants, record stores, barber shops, bars. That was the case of Luis Alcala, the future owner of Alcala’s Western Wear which is now one of the largest retailers of Western Wear in the Midwest. A steelworker from South Chicago, Alcala peddled goods at Maxwell in the weekends. That was also the case of Carlos Cortes Ibanez, the owner of various stores that combined the sell of furniture, CDs, and western wear.

Most of the small businesses were located on Halsted Street, which helped to make the Near West Side colonia into the center of Mexican life in Chicago. Mexicans living in other parts of Chicago came there to attend cultural, patriotic, and political events at Hull House. They attended masses at St. Francis of Assisi (six of the seven Sunday masses were in Spanish in 1957), and shop at Halsted and Maxwell’s open market. Two local Mexican businesses on Maxwell used the Spanish-language radio programs used “spot advertisement” to attract customers. One of the businesses announced “if you lost track of your friends, meet them at . . . . (name of the business).” Besides operating a barbershop that employed six people, a Mexican barber owned a building that provided boarding rooms to new arrivals, among them braceros, the guest workers employed in farms and railroads who came to Chicago to spend a weekend. Braceros rented rooms and got haircuts with “a dash of perfume applied, and be ready for an evening in town.” The “evening in town” often included spending a night with a “sporting women,” a prostitute. Important to survival strategies, barbershops served as information centers where newcomers received leads on job possibilities and news regarding friends and relatives.

The Near West Side grew in population in the 1940s, mainly due to large numbers of African American migrants from the South during World War II (the Second Great Black Migration) and to a lesser extent, Mexican and Puerto Rican migrants. It created a shortage of cheap housing, which led small numbers of Mexicans into east Pilsen in the 1950s. They extended their colonia that stretched for 1½ miles in a straight line along Halsted, starting on Harrison, crossing Taylor, Roosevelt Road, and Maxwell, and ending at 18th Street. Halsted Street became the center of Mexican life in Chicago before the Congress Expressway in the 1950s and the building of the University of Illinois in the early 1960s displaced thousands of Near West Side residents, including 9,000 Mexicans and Puerto Ricans. Most of them landed in Pilsen, mainly on the eastern edge. Reflecting on what Chicago had lost with the destruction of a good part of the Near West Side, Carlos Cortez wrote that it lost “a small united nations that somehow wasn’t completely united and somehow it didn’t make too much difference.” It ended with the “happy voices” of Eastern Europe, Greece, Italy, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and the American South that emanated from Bucaresti, Odessa, Wilno, Piraeus, Salonika, Plaka, Morelia, Ixtapalapa, Nuevo Laredo, Caguas, Ponce, Arecibo, Palermo, Catania, Livorno and Black America’s Mobile, Beaumont, and Chattanooga.

Teatro Villa. Photo: Aurelio Barrios

Social Life in Pilsen

Progress, under the name of urban renewal, demolished a good part of the neighborhood with perhaps the richest street life in Chicago. What was lost was irreplaceable. It, however, did not end completely with the street life experience of its former residents. Like a wandering tribe, the displaced Latinos (Mexicans and Puerto Ricans) from the Near West Side brought what they could carry to Pilsen. They did not have to establish a community from scratch. Small businesses such as El Nopal (bakery), Monterrey (groceries), El Milagro (tortillería), Tito’s Hacienda (bar), Teatro Villa, and Casa del Pueblo (first known in the Near West Side as California Fruits and Vegetables) relocated to Pilsen. So did the youth street clubs, later called gangs. Nor did they break all ties with what remained of their old neighborhood. They still went to mass at St. Francis Church and frequented the Maxwell Street open market which was nothing more than a shell of its former self. Moreover, the Mexican Independence parade passed along Halsted, ending on 18th Street. It symbolically connected the old with their new neighborhood.

Pilsen’s Mexican population grew in the 1960s with the arrival of other wandering tribes searching for a place they could call home. Significant numbers of Tejanos, many of them farmworkers who had abandoned the migrant labor trails of the Midwest, settled in Pilsen. They were joined by large inflows of thousands of Mexican immigrants, legal and undocumented. By 1970 Chicago had become the second most important destination city for Mexicans immigrants, only after Los Angeles. Pilsen became their main point of entry into Chicago. Mexican Americans, Chicanos, Tejanos, Boricuas, and an assortment of immigrants from different parts of Mexico found a new home in Pilsen, the new Tenochtitlán of Mexicanos in the Midwest. They made it into the first community in Chicago’s history with a Latino majority in the late 1960s (the city is made up of 76 communities).

Significantly, the Mexicanization of Pilsen in the 1960s became noticeable to non-Latinos. A journalist noted that it was in that decade “that the Mexicans were to make the Pilsen area something definitely and uniquely their own.” The making of Pilsen “uniquely their own” did not automatically happen just by having a Mexican majority. This was the result of a combination of interrelated economic and social forces that came together in making Pilsen the main location for the production and reproduction of Mexican life and culture in Chicago from 1960 to 1980 (Little Village accompanied Pilsen in playing that role in the 1980s). First, they settled in a neighborhood that was in the process of being abandoned due to the “white flight,” or the massive departure of white ethnics to the suburbs, a phenomenon taking place in many working class communities in Chicago. Established in last quarter of the 19th century, Pilsen was not only one of the oldest neighborhoods in Chicago but also contained among the oldest housing stock in the city. Most of the housing stock was dilapidated and in need of much repair. According to the 1975 community survey, 86% of the housing was either substandard or in need of major repairs. Regarded as a “blighted” neighborhood, over 1,000 housing units had been demolished between 1960 and 1975. In short, Mexicans inherited a slum that was not much different from the Near West Side when it came to housing conditions.

Second, redlining housing practices forced Chicago’s growing Mexicans and Latino populations to concentrate in declining neighborhoods that were being abandoned by the white flight to the suburbs. Banks regarded poor people and minorities as credit risks, denying them financial services, primarily mortgage loan. This form of discrimination was a common experience that African Americans and Latinos shared. It had the effect of pushing them to concentrate in segregated neighborhoods without the financial resources for improvements. Although not as prevalent as with African Americans, the process of Latino segregation was well underway in the 1970s. Deprived of capital, three-fourths of all Latinos in Chicago concentrated in 10 of the city’s 76 communities. Of all communities, Pilsen had the highest percentage of Latinos living in a neighborhood and the lowest housing values in Chicago as of 1980.

Third, the location of Pilsen offered important advantages for a population that was, for the most part, poor, working class, and increasingly immigrant (a great number were undocumented). In Chicago’s division of labor, Latinos worked at the lowest end of the wage scale. One of the advantages was location. Situated a few miles from the Loop and with good access to public transportation, Pilsen’s residents lived close to sources of employment.(Poor access to credit made Latinos dependent on public transportation. They had the lowest percentage of car ownership in Chicago as of 1980). Another advantage was that it offered among the lowest rents in Chicago. Three-fourths of its residents were tenants.

In spite of housing conditions, the desire to live with others of their kind turned into another force shaping Pilsen. Their common tastes in food and music, shared language, religion, customs and social problems bonded the residents as Pilsen transitioned from Little Bohemia to Little Mexico. By the early 1970s, Pilsen contained over 100 restaurants, over 60 grocery stores and supermarkets, 8 Catholic parishes (and quite a few store front Protestant temples), 8 pool halls and one movie theatre, the Teatro Villa, that catered to the needs of the residents of Little Mexico.

Finally, the physical landscape of Pilsen influence in how Mexicans made the neighborhood “uniquely their own.” Bounded by the BNSF railroad tracks in the north, and warehouses and manufacturing on Canal street, and the South Branch of the Chicago River, the only open outlet for neighborhood expansion was to the west into Little Village. The landscape of housing, offices, shops, industry and open spaces grouped them. Then as now, Pilsen contained few trees and green spaces. Now as then, three and four-story brick buildings lined the main streets. Businesses and offices concentrated on the first floor of these buildings and housing on the other floors. As noted previously, it contained among the worst housing in Chicago. The housing was dilapidated, small, overcrowded, and poorly ventilated for the most part.

These unpleasing indoor conditions, plus boredom, directed people out of their homes and apartments to the pleasure of the streets. The street became their theatre in which they became actors and audience. As the audience, they sat and stood on the stairs and porches that functioned as their mezzanine for watching the passing crowds. As actors, the streets became their stage. They walked to the groceries stores, school, church, bars, visit friends and relatives or aimlessly to pass the time. For the young, the emerging majority of the residents, the streets became their playground, especially in hot summer days when they open the fire hydrants. Churches, barber shops, beauty salons, block parties, and taverns brought them together. Music blasting from homes, passing cars, bars, record stores and businesses, along with the sirens of police cars, ambulances and fire trucks became the soundtrack of the streets. This street life involving actors and audience was repeated every day. It shaped their social life.

The Streets of Pilsen in 1990s. Photo: Akito Tsudo

As a collection of individuals coming together in a territory, Pilsen came to mean different things for the different people that made up the community. For incoming immigrants, the neighborhood provided them with important tools for survival. Upon arrival in Chicago, they could stay with friends and relatives in Pilsen until they could find work and a place of their own. Non-English speakers could always find a friend or relative that could translate for them. The beauty parlors, barber shops, church halls, laundromats (washaterias), pool halls, and bars turned into centers for socializing and acquiring valuable information about jobs, schools, housing, transportation, and social services. In a memorable passage from Raul Dorantes’ novel, De zorros y erizos, Doña Chona, a regular at a laundromat, taught the secrets of washing and folding clothes to newly arrived male immigrants. In these places, especially bars and pool halls, the undocumented immigrant acquired, for a price, their “papeles,” the valued fake social security card and “la mica,” the green card of permanent resident.

For other people, Pilsen was a place where they could still practice their professions: the bakers (panaderos), barbers (peluqueros), butchers (carniceros), photographers (fotógrafos), tailors (sastres), shoe-repairmen (zapateros). For food vendors, peddlers, drug dealers, and wandering musicians, the streets provided them with the income for their survival. Patrons at bars and restaurants paid a few dollars to listen (and sing) to the live music of roaming mariachis, norteño groups, trios, and balladeers. For another few dollars, a wandering photographer could take their photo for the sake of memory. For other Mexicans from other parts of Chicago and suburbs, including former neighborhood residents, Pilsen became their weekend retreat. They frequently visited the neighborhood to shop (they could find Mexican food products that were unavailable in other parts), worship in Spanish, eat, drink, entertainment, see friends and families and to be with other people more like them. In the 1970s, Little Village joined Pilsen as a center of Mexican social life in the metropolitan area.

The making of the Little Mexico of the Midwest involved new landmarks and symbols, adding to those that were already in existence. To the old landmarks of St. Pius and St. Procopius Churches, new saints and virgins joined the old ones. The Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe and the sanctuary of La Virgen de San Juan de los Lagos accompanied St. Jude (Judas de Tadeo), the saint for the hopeless and despaired. Casa Aztlán and Benito Juárez High School became new landmarks in the 1970s and, after the 1980s, the National Museum of Mexican Arts, Rudy Lozano Library, and Plaza Tenochtitlán.

In this collection of individuals that made up the neighborhood opposites came together to condition social life: gentrification (first manifested in the early 1980s with the arrival of artists in east Pilsen) and a port of entry for immigrants; despair due to marginalization (high rates of unemployment, school dropouts, homelessness, violence, alcoholism, and drug addiction) and hope (political activism directed at making Pilsen a more satisfying neighborhood); decay (dilapidated housing and poor city services), and revitalization in the form of public art (the many murals). It involved conflict between social groups: citizen and non-citizens; property owner (often slumlords) and tenants; Mexican newcomers and the remaining white residents, a conflict that was also generational, mainly between the young and old. Opposites created social tensions, including among the forces of hope over the best political strategies for improving the community: confrontation or working within the system.

The battles for hope over despair and revitalization over decay informed the political and cultural struggles of the 1960s and 1970s. Under the banner of self-determination, many of the battles to empower a poor and working class community occurred in the streets. Deprived of political power, it was in the streets where the voices of the community were heard: the many Asociación Pro-Derechos Obreros (APO) mobilizations for equal employment, among them blocking 18th and Ashland to pressure the CTA to hire Latino workers; the “blowouts” at Froebel and Harrison High School where students demanded a more meaningful education; the Good Friday Via Crucis processions that exposed the social ills of the community; the CASA-HGT led May Day marches calling for immigrant rights; the hundreds of volunteers who knocked on doors to get independent candidates to offices in the 1980s, and so on. Regardless of the political strategy, confrontation or working within the system, the goal of community activism focused on the claim that Pilsen belonged to the residents and that, as a community, the residents had the right to community self-determination, the right of the residents to decide what kind of a community they wanted and on their own terms. This claim involved confronting the “powers”: from city hall, and service providers to large employers and the forces of law and order. It involved many defeats and a few victories. Perhaps the greatest victory of community activism was the construction of Benito Juarez High School, a significant victory because it was a symbolic declaration that the residents had an investment in making Pilsen a better neighborhood. This victory was commemorated in the streets: the Fiesta del Sol.

My projected plan of staying in Chicago for seven or so years extended to the present. From my arrival in 1981 to the present Pilsen has dramatically changed: the neighborhood has lost over 10,000 residents, mainly families. It has ceased being a port of entry. Meanwhile, the ethnic composition is changing before our very own eyes. These changes have eroded much of Pilsen’s street life and what is most missing are the large crowds walking the streets, the different noises, and large presence of young people and children. Unlike the brutal razing of the Near West Side neighborhood, the changes in Pilsen are driven by the market forces of rising property values, real estate speculation, high taxes and rising rents that are forcing the poorest residents out of the neighborhood. For more than four decades the powerful at city hall along with financiers and real estate developers have viewed Pilsen (and other minority neighborhoods within reach of the Loop) as a community made up of “beggars sitting in a pot of gold.” That these “beggars” have failed to take advantage of what they have (valuable real estate, the “pot of gold”). For the sake of “progress,” it is up to them to do what the “beggars” have failed to do. Located near the Loop, one of the command centers of the global economy, their aim is to transform Pilsen into a more fashionable neighborhood, one in tune with the needs of a global city, regardless of the human costs.

For more than 60 years Pilsen has been a neighborhood where its residents have felt membership. That they belong to it and that Pilsen belonged to them. It left a lasting imprint on thousands of people. Nobody knows how many but it is in the thousands of people who had lived there, either for a short or extended period of time, or are currently residing in the neighborhood. It has shaped three generations of residents according to the time they lived there. It providing them with elements for their identities. As it changes, there is a feeling of loss for those who lived and are currently living in the neighborhood. Some feel what has been lost more than others, but the feeling of loss is there. For my generation, the barrios became a place for the creation and reproduction of new identities during the 1960s and 1970s. In my times, my generation affirmed that we were Mexicanos and Chicanos without the shame that our previous generation felt in being called Mexican. This feeling that the barrios provided for our identity is highlighted in one of the best poems of the Chicano Movement, A trip through the mind jail (1969), a poem that Raul Salinas wrote about Las Lomas, his barrio in Austin, Texas while he was in prison at Leavenworth:

Neighborhood of my adolescence

Neighborhood that is no more

You are torn pieces of my flesh

            Therefore, you are

La Loma — Austin — mi barrio

I bear you no grudge

I needed you then . . .identity

A sense of belonging

I need you now.

So essential to adult days of imprisonment


I respect you for having been

My Loma de Austin

My Rose Hill of Los Angeles

My Westside de San Anto

My Quinto of Houston

My Jackson de San Jo

My Segundo of El Paso

My Barelas of Alburque

My Westside of Denver

And other Chicano neighborhoods

That now exist and once existed

Somewhere . . . someone remembers

Raul Salinas 14/9/69, Leavenworth 

This poem about loss and identity has valuable meaning to our moment of time as the Mexican presence in Pilsen — “la 18” — is in the process of disappearance.

I hope this article is not read as an advanced obituary to Mexican Pilsen. That is not my intention. Nor that it is understood as the product of veterano who is nostalgic about Pilsen’s past in his attempt of not dealing with the present. I recognize that what has been lost is lost and cannot return. I also understand that the Mexicanization of Pilsen was the product of a specific historical moment that will not be repeated. With that in mind, I recalled an interview with Primo Levi, the Italian writer and Holocaust survivor. He was asked if Turin, his hometown, influenced him in becoming a writer. He responded that it did not but that it influenced his way of writing. Levi said that “Today, I can say this: the city is changing very rapidly. I think that it is worthwhile to preserve the image of what it was before it disappears completely.” My intention is to preserve that image of the neighborhood before it vanishes. In our times of loss and pessimism about the future of Pilsen, it is not yet too late to preserve what is left of this neighborhood that working people worked so hard to transform into a more satisfying community. Nor is outdated to continue making the old claim of the 1960s and 1970s that its residents have a right to live here. It is from pessimism that hope is born.

Ayotzinapa in Pilsen. Photo: Rogelio Olguín

Juan Mora-Torres. Associate Professor of Latin American History at DePaul University. A former Teamster, he has worked in the agricultural fields, canneries, and as an adult education instructor. He received his PhD from the University of Chicago and has taught at the University of Texas at San Antonio and Wayne State University (Detroit). His research and writings focus on the history of the U.S.-Mexican borderlands, Mexican migration, popular culture, working class formations, and Mexicans in Chicago. He is the author of The Making of the Mexican Border (University of Texas Press, 2001), and he’s currently working on Me voy pa’l norte (I’ m Going North): The First Great Mexican Migration, 1890-1940. The Making of the Mexican Border won the Jim Parish Book Award. Mora-Torres is the Board President of El BeiSMan.



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