By Antonio R. López, Ph.D.
Editor’s note: The police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and the epidemic of violence against Black and Brown youth in Chicago and nationally points to the urgent need for a more holistic understanding of environmental justice. Here, Antonio Lopez, Executive Director of the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, offers a critical analysis of the intersection of race and environment in the Little Village community in Chicago.
Little Village is a thriving barrio on the southwest side of Chicago. Children from this predominantly Mexican neighborhood are raised in a community saturated with beautiful histories of migration and resiliency. A hunger strike waged by local activists resulted in the construction of a social justice high school in Little Village. Elementary schools are named after Emiliano Zapata and a local Chicana activist, Maria Saucedo, and the main business avenue, 26th street, was even dedicated to Los Tigres Del Norte, a a norteño-band ensemble based out of San Jose, California, with origins in Mexico.
Complex and colorful murals in Little Village capture oppositional histories and showcase the artistic talent of the neighborhood. The streets are always alive with vendors and the shrieking sounds of kids playing on the tightly packed sidewalks. Working in the community I am reminded of Segundo Barrio and other historic barrios where border crossers somehow survived Amerika and managed to build communities that nurtured several generations. Though far from the Mexico of their ancestors, children raised in Little Village are in touch with their roots – there is a beauty in the lack of confusion.