Little Village was not always the thriving community it is now. Fifty years ago, it was like much of the rest of the city: in need of caring residents. While some narratives credit wealthy professionals with the overall urban revitalization, a new book from University of Chicago alum A.K. Sandoval-Strausz makes a far different case.
It was an influx of Latino immigrants into neighborhoods such as Little Village back in the 1970s that set the stage for modern-day urban success, he says.
Establishing a thriving community
Sandoval-Strausz, now an associate professor of history at Penn State University, spoke to Chicago Mag about his new book. It’s titled “Barrio America: How Latino Immigrants Saved the American City,” and focuses on two American neighborhoods, one of them Little Village.
As Sandoval-Strausz explains, many wealthy American citizens and business owners fled cities following the turmoil of the 1960s. This created a vacuum in many areas. In Little Village, it was Latinos that filled the void. The Hispanic population of the neighborhood went from 2% in 1960 up to 33% in 1970. In the ‘90s, that figure reached about 85%.
It was these people that set the stage for the urban renaissance so many people reference, not just the wealthy professionals that returned in more recent decades, Sandoval-Strausz argues. In fact, he goes a step further, arguing the “creative class” returned, in part, because the established Latino community was able to provide the types of goods, services and labor that make an area attractive.
Immigrants’ economic impact on Chicago
Immigrants make up about one-fifth of Chicago’s residents, and one 2018 study demonstrated how they continue to be a vital part of the city’s economy. The report found 36% of the city’s entrepreneurs were born outside of the U.S., despite immigrants comprising 20.7% of the overall population.
In addition, immigrant-owned businesses in 2016 (there were nearly 40,000 of them) generated $659 million in income. Immigrant households earned $16.9 billion that year, generating about $6 billion total for state and local taxes.
Of course, a community’s worth isn’t measured solely by dollars. There are many more ways to impact a city, neighborhood and community positively. Little Village proves it.