All of them faced hardships and discrimination upon their arrival, but hung in just the same, over time transforming the city into the multicultural place it is today. Those prejudices, sadly, haven't gone away, especially in the case of those easily identifiable by facial features and skin color. Segregation and poverty remain deep scars in our psychic and physical landscapes. Chicago is nobody's idea of paradise, but its blue collar working class culture still holds out a promise, not always fulfilled, that if you come here and you work hard, you can change your life for the better.
|photo: Todd Winters|
And so it was that a part-time job quickly turned into an all-consuming endeavor and, as it turns out, one of the most satisfying projects of my professional life. More importantly, though, it was a profoundly moving experience that unexpectedly connected me to my own culture.
The concert was their 20th Anniversary Celebration, and it took place in what is perhaps the loveliest performance facility on the planet, Millennium Park's Pritzker Pavilion. Pritzker is beautiful to be sure, but it's also somewhat intimidating in its vastness, holding upwards of 12,000 people. Believe me, I've been to plenty of concerts there when a mere 3,000 or so show up and it can feel like a ghost town. So that was the challenge - go from zero awareness to a crowd of at least 6 or 7,000 in 11 weeks.
As a city owned venue, Pritzker Pavilion exists as a public service, presenting almost all of it's shows for free. It has been showcasing "world music" since it opened in 2004, mostly because of the efforts of the city's former Cultural Affairs program director. Heck, one of its first ever shows (after the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, of course) was an ad-hoc ensemble dubbed the Chicago Immigrant Orchestra made up of, yes, the city's finest ethnic musicians from its many communities. Those concerts are mostly gone now, and I miss the way the ethnic group represented on stage would show up en masse, joined by world music aficionados like myself, all of us in joyful communion for a couple of hours.
I won't bore you with details of my job but I will say this: Once we got rolling, the support and enthusiasm from the Latino community was a wonder to behold. In the hostile environment of 2014 America, where immigrants are scorned and children are deported back to their murderous homelands, the prospect of a proudly Mexican-American music ensemble performing downtown on the city's most beautiful showcase (and a tourist magnet to boot) ignited a joy and anticipation that was nearly unquenchable.
|photo: Scott Pollard|
Unlike my father, I have been lucky to never spend a day on a factory floor or driving a bus. Despite this, though, I proudly self-identify as both blue collar and immigrant. When I taste Mexican food, I'm also tasting the Czech food of my childhood, and my parent's childhood, and their parents before them. When I go back to my old southwest side neighborhood and see that it's mostly Latino, it feels like it hasn't changed at all, still filled with immigrants and the children of immigrants, working hard to build a decent life.
|Photo: Omar Torres-Kortright|
|Photo: Dayna Calderon|
For all the immigrants, indeed.