From the 1920s to the mid–20th century, Chicago’s Mexican-American community flourished on the Near West Side, in the vicinity of Taylor Street and Jane Addams’s Hull House on South Halsted Street. Mobile vendors, such as this cart purveying refrescos y raspas (soft drinks and shaved ice), were a common sight at block parties and parish festivals, like this one, at the rear of Holy Family Church on Roosevelt Road in 1959. Soon, though, parts of the Near West Side were under threat by the construction of the Eisenhower Expressway. The new highway’s first section was completed in 1955, displacing thousands of residents and businesses. Mayor Richard J. Daley’s plan for a University of Illinois “Circle” campus, named for the new interchange and approved in 1961, pushed out nearly 5,000 more residents.
Holy Family still stands on Roosevelt, but the Mexican population shifted to Pilsen, named by Bohemian immigrants who previously dominated the area. As noted in “Placemaking & Landmarks: The Creation of Mexican Spaces in la Dieciocho [Pilsen],” an exhibition at the National Museum of Mexican Art through April 29, Chicago’s Mexican community has historically been “one of the city’s only ethnic groups not compelled to promptly abandon their native customs.” Through artifacts and photographs, the exhibit traces the establishment of Pilsen as a stronghold of Mexican identity, as it has been for a half century. And street vendors dispensing refrescos y raspas—and tamales and elotes (grilled corn) and paletas (frozen treats)—are still reliable gathering places.