Ruben L. Garza, Jr. is the vocalist for Through N Through, a four-person band of Little Village natives who write music about their experiences growing up young and Latinx on the South Side. They are not the first to do so: punk bands like Los Crudos have become synonymous with the local music scene in Little Village and Pilsen by wearing their heritage on their sleeves. But Through N Through is different. Although Garza says he prefers the label “hardcore” for Through N Through’s music, the thick guitar tones, crushing palm-muted riffs, and cutting kick drum all show the band’s heavy metal roots bursting through to the surface, with Garza’s hardcore punk vocals adding a defiant and satisfying finish.
“Street art and vibrant murals are the best way to reimagine or reactivate these spaces completely in terms of culture, history, and Mexican lore.”
Little Village, bordering Pilsen, North Lawndale, and Cicero, is a neighborhood that comes with many a mythology, from the first port of call for many immigrants from Mexico and Central America to the oft-mentioned economic powerhouse that is 26th Street, with its blocks and blocks of quinceañera dress stores and botanicos. We interviewed some Chicagoans who call Little Village home about what makes the neighborhood tick.
On December 14, Mayor Rahm Emanuel spent the day in Little Village. He was the center of a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the newly completed Park 553, dubbed “La Villita” by residents and journalists, where he touted the twenty-two-acre site as one of several new green spaces opened during his time in office and a major victory for the park-starved neighborhood.
The identity of Little Village has undergone periods of subtle transformation, as the neighborhood has shifted from being defined by Irish, Eastern-European, Polish, to Mexican immigrants. The richness of the history is not obvious, as with each wave of immigrants the facade of the area has evolved to accommodate a new culture. It is for this reason that the European-style church on Central Avenue—a side street off of hectic 26th Street—is so magnificent and unexpected. With an ornate bell tower and luminous stained glass windows, the church evokes another era entirely. St. Agnes of Bohemia, now more commonly called Santa Inés de Bohemia, was built in 1904 by Czech immigrants. Lined with pews, the inside of the church is richly decorated with various statues and gold detailing. As Catholicism is such a vital part of Latin American culture, the church has become a center of the community, and its priests, com- munity leaders. The pastor of St. Inés de Bohemia is Father Don Nevins, an Irish American and Chicagoan with perfect Spanish. Sitting in a bare conference room with images of saints and other religious symbols hung neatly on the walls, Father Don Nevins tells me about his experiences as a priest and as a leader within the Little Village and Pilsen communities.
Illinois might not be your first response if you were planted in the middle of Little Village (or “La Villita”) and asked to guess your location. Continue reading
On 26th Street—where the eye is attacked with displays of quinceañera dresses so incredibly pink that they melt your eyeballs—it is easy to miss the understated black awning announcing the presence of Librería Girón. Were it not for an intriguing (and misleading) subtitle that caught my eye—“Discoteca International”—I would have passed right by the Librería’s unassuming storefront. Continue reading
On May 1, 2006, 300,000 demonstrators marched through downtown Chicago as part of a nationwide protest of several restrictionist proposals to U.S. immigration policy. Within the federal government, a bill (H.R. 4437) sat before legislators, threatening to criminalize undocumented immigrants and anyone assisting them as felons. On May Day 2014, as they have every year since, demonstrators gathered once again to protest deportations. Continue reading