La Villita at sundown. Photo by Silvia Morales

La Villita neighborhood, located on the West Side of Chicago, has been the site of arrival for many immigrants from Mexico and Central America since the late 1970s. Yet in recent years, the culture of the neighborhood has shifted from one that has supported recent immigrant arrivals to one that is burgeoning with multiracial and multicultural residents, many who are the children of the immigrants that began to adopt this Chicago enclave as a home away from home. 

This change is evident, from the businesses to the people walking around buying elotes and goods from the many vendors that line the main strip of 26th Street, as well as Cermak Road on the north and 31st street on the south. Vendors and residents welcome the influx of new visitors who contribute to the economic wellbeing of the community. 

Yet due to its central location and proximity to the University of Illinois at Chicago, Little Village is also being heavily impacted by gentrification. Although made up of mostly working class families, recent spikes in property taxes, combined with concerns about street violence and environmental pollution, are driving many long-term residents to sell their homes and move to more affordable neighborhoods where they feel safer. 

But even as Little Village residents continue to wrestle with these issues, the neighborhood remains one of the safest spaces for newly arrived immigrants from Latin America and their children. Little Village is a space where people can thrive whether or not they can speak English or are documented; it is a neighborhood where culture and community have been built and preserved over the past four decades. 

More and more stores are full of artisanal items such as embroidered blouses, leather shoes and belts, straw and handwoven hats, tapestries, and handmade jewelry. Likewise, there are stores that are stocked with Mexican and Central American products that are a gift to those who left their homeland.

We invite you to visit and enjoy Little Village, admire its street art, eat some of the most delicious Mexican food in the United States, and enjoy an elote or raspa from a street vendor.

Laura Ramírez is a writer and community organizer from La Villita. She recently co-edited an anthology called Never Normal Again with the Hoodoisie collective and also contributed to Best of La Villita 2021.

  • Best Haircut and Record Shop: Del Pueblo Barbers and Records 

    Located near Cermak and Albany, in the heart of Little Village, Del Pueblo Barbers and Records is a gem that mixes cultural appreciation and style. “It’s a place where you can get a fresh fade or buy some classic records [or] tapes,” said co-owner and head barber Jonathan Guzmán. 

    As I sat to interview Jonathan, the vinyl record of “Los Terrícolas”  played in the background. This barbershop and record shop reminded me of someplace I’ve been before, like when our parents used to put two chairs together at the quinceañera so that we can sleep, and that way they didn’t have to leave the party. It was abuelita playing her music as loud as she could while cleaning the house type of feeling. You know, home. 

    The barbershop walls are covered with art from local artists. Co-owner Leo Guzmán, or DJ Wero, says he hopes that Del Pueblo can be a place for the youth in the community to find an outlet through music. They currently sell vinyl and throwback cassette tapes at the shop. The collection of music is focused on Spanish-language genres. You can find both records with corridos and a vinyl from Psycho Realm. 

    As I was getting my hair cut (you can book an appointment through their Facebook page) it was great to see the interaction they have with the community.  “We want this to become a space where the kids can feel free to express themselves and get fresh. They can come and get the experience of digging for a vinyl and putting the needle on themselves,” DJ Wero said.

    Del Pueblo Barbers & Records, 3051 W. Cermak Rd. Monday–Wednesday, Friday–Saturday, 10am–6pm; Thursday 10am–5pm; Sunday 9am–6pm. (708) 631-6720.

  • Best Place to be Transported to Mexico: La Ordeña 

    Walking into La Ordeña, located in the heart of 26th Street, is a much-needed experience for those of us who migrated or are deeply connected to our roots. The scents, colors, sounds, and decorations all make you feel like you have found a home away from home. 

    There are colorful containers full of tantalizing offerings organized in ways reminiscent of the local mercados in Mexico. They have extensive offerings of condiments, moles (spicy and labor-intensive sauces), candies, cheeses, clay dishes, as well as items that are otherwise nearly impossible to find in Chicago, like nata, an artisanal milk curd that is not easy to find in any large supermarket in Chicago or in Mexico itself. It is like finding a small piece of home that is unknown to many, making it even more precious to foodies like myself. 

    Long-term customer Heidi Ramirez, when asked why she liked to go to La Ordeña, said, “Because I felt it was a little Mexico. The smell, the traditional Mexican stuff: lavaderos (washboards), molcajetes (mortars), salseros (salsa containers), tortilleros (tortilla warmers), mandiles (aprons). It reminds me of my childhood, like candy and chile at the same time.” 

    The location on 26th is the third business under the name of La Ordeña, which despite its small size, is able to fill a niche with those who seek these authentic ingredients. If you are looking for an authentic small supermarket that can transport you into another space and time, I highly suggest you visit La Ordeña.

    Cremeria La Ordeña, 3234 W. 26th St. Monday–Saturday, 9am–8pm; Sunday, 9am–7pm. (773) 823-1336.

  • Best Thrift Store in the City: Village Discount Thrift Store

    Walking down the busy commercial strip of 26th Street, it is easy to spot what seems like endless opportunities to shop. Yet I belong to a generation that is acutely aware of the damages of climate change and the ways in which fast fashion impacts the environment. This is why I am always on the lookout for secondhand items to fill my closet, and the Village Discount on 26th and Pulaski is an excellent choice for me. 

    This Village Discount is one of the largest thrift stores in Chicagoland. They have a lot to choose from and great deals and prices. The store is well-organized and always has new items in stock, with extensive sections for all ages and sizes. They also have half-off everything on holidays, three-for-$1 color tags on Sundays, and three tag colors are half off every day! Walking in is alway an adventure because I feel like there’s forever more to discover.

    Beyond the adventure, I always appreciate the helpful staff, who seem to have an endless supply of clothing, records, books, dishes, and knick knacks for those who, like myself, also like to collect small ceramic objects and other vintage items. 

    Another reason why I love to shop here is because it is mostly people from the community: mothers and their children, young people, elders, and working professionals. I love seeing how Black people from North Lawndale are now coming to shop here. As an Afro-Mexican, it is always a beautiful sight to see both of my backgrounds coming together to experience this wonderful place where I always feel I can find something unique, affordable and fashionable.

    I think about ninety percent of my wardrobe comes from this store and I also think I dress pretty well. I’ve shopped here as long as I can remember and it’s only gotten better!

    Village Discount Outlet Store #9, 4020 W. 26th St. Monday–Saturday, 9am–9pm; Sunday 10am–6pm. (708) 388-4772.

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