Remezcla Яedescubre: La Villita

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Mexico In The Midwest

Home to 100,000 Chicago residents (83% Mexican and Mexican-American) Little Village is one of Chicago’s largest and most densely populated neighborhoods. True to its name, locals of what could very easily be a little village say they rarely need to leave the bounds of their hood. “La Villita” offers just about anything you could possibly need. If it wasn’t for the Chicago Cubs baseball paraphernalia displayed outside a gas station, its easy to forget that you are still in the city. La Villita is like stepping into a small Mexican city, busy with representations from the 31 original Mexican states.

This is no tourist turf: tucked behind Pilsen, another heavily Mexican neighborhood but much trendier (the hub for Latino artists and coffee-shop fanatics), not too many outsiders looking for a Mexico in Chicago trek to its bounds (Western, Ogden, Kostner and I-55). The most common reasons for outsiders to drop by La Villita is due to its fame as the motherland of all things quinceañera, baptism or any other Catholic celebration. Elaborate dresses in just about any shade of pastel (and with more lentejuelas you ever thought humanly possible) line the windows on 26th Street.

First Class Schools…and Jails

Leaders of La Villita have long taken on an array of issues that deplete the community. As a heavily industrial neighborhood, the city has long failed to hold companies accountable for the pollution and waste deposited in the neighborhood. The Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LVEJO) has led the fight on several issues like the lack of open space, toxic pollution,  public transit and urban gardens. The organization even offers “Toxic Tours” led by young local community members that walk people through chemical sites, manufacturing facilities, and the single park available to its 100,000 residents.

LVEJO was also part of the 7-year struggle to demand the construction of a new high school in the community. In 2001, fourteen Little Village residents staged a 19-day hunger strike in protest of the false promises from city officials. Four years later the Little Village/Lawndale High School opened its doors as the best-equipped high school in the city. Complete with a pool, two gyms , and a day care center, the $63 million high school became the most expensive Chicago Public School ever built. The school sits as a tribute in honor of the hunger strike that made it possible,  including a massive sundial marking the 19-day fast.

Bordering the east end of Little Village is Cook County Jail, at 96 acres it is the largest single-site prison in the United States. An inescapable part of the landscape of Little Village, the jail has held several infamous criminals including: Al Capone, Frank Nitti, Larry Hoover, and John Wayne Gacy.

As Magnificent as the Mile

26th Street   thrives as the core of the lower west side community. Over 1,000 businesses operate in Little Village, and just as many street vendors call these streets home. Victor, 47, runs the corner of Hamlin and 26th street. For the past 13 years, he was worked 15-hour days  in the heart of 26th Street selling homemade aguas, churros, frutas y muchos elotes. His cart is among the most elaborate of the dozens that line 26th street from May to December. In attempts to cope with the recent loss of business, Victor keeps a 6” black and white TV powered by an old cord attached to the front hood of his van. He says the TV helps him kill time on the job as he blames the steep decline in sales to the current economy, recent immigration raids in the neighborhood and chronic gang violence that surrounds the 26th street strip.

After Michigan Ave, “La vientiseis” makes most sales tax money for the city of Chicago. This is huge considering Michigan Avenue is home to major name brand stores like as Bloomingdale’s, Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom, Macy’s and Lord & Taylor. The mom and pop shops on 26th street can claim to be just as fabulous as the “Magnificent Mile”. The street has also been officially declared by the city as the honorary Tigres del Norte Street, yes that’s after the legendary Mexican band authors of “La Jaula de Oro”. Can’t beat that.

Hot Spots:

Atotonilco Taqueria
3916 W. 26th St
Chicago, IL 60623
(773) 762-3380

Picking the best Taqueria in Little Village is almost impossible with so many choices, but Atotonilco was voted time and again by locals as the best taco joint on 26th Street. Their licuados are also highly recommended.

La Chaparrita Tamales
2500 S. Whipple
Chicago, IL 60623
(773) 247-1402

Wouldn’t be Mexico in the Midwest without a good tamales place. This is the spot to unwrap the goods.

Mi Tierra
2528 S. Kedzie Ave.
Chicago, IL 60623

This restaurant has been in the neighborhood for over 25 years, they are famous for their parrillada dish. Mariachi shows, traditional bandas, and other DJs are always on hand. Its beautifully decorated and reasonably priced. It recently hosted a record-breaking jalapeño-eating contest. The 23-year-old winner, Patrick Bartoletti ate 127 peppers in 8 minutes.

2027 S. California
Chicago, IL 60623
(773) 927-7516

They don’t mess with fancy names in Little Village, come get you Chicago/Mexican style pizza here. Would you like chorizo or ketchup with your deep dish?

Jacaranda Club
3608 W. 26th St.
Chicago, IL 60623

A neighborhood bar that likes to host diverse events and benefits for the community.  Don’t be surprised to catch a bomba y plena act or hip-hop show here on any night any day of the week.

Little Village Arts Fest

Don’t miss the 3rd annual Little Village Community Arts Fest, complete with open gallery spaces showcasing LV artists and a weekend full of workshops completamente gratis.

How to get there?

Trains stop at Halsted, 35th Street, Western and Kedzie. The Metra Burlington Northern Line stops at the Western and 18th Street station.

Served by buses 52, 53, 60, 82 and 94

Photos by Jennifer Juarez