This past weekend I had the pleasure of visiting one of my very best friends Betsy in Chicago, where she recently moved for grad school. Of course it’s always great to visit friends, but discovering the sights and sounds of an unfamiliar place is always my favorite part of travel. And discover we did.
Betsy works with a non-profit organization called Enlace Chicago, which works to improve the quality of life for inhabitants of Little Village, a vibrant Mexican-American neighborhood on the city’s west side. Rich with language and culture (right up my alley, non?), Enlace strives to preserve the tight knit community and eradicate the neighborhood’s pain points through education, violence prevention, cultural enrichment, and economic development. I was lucky enough to be in town for a peace summit this weekend held in conjunction with another organization Ceasefire entitled “What’s Good in the Hood?” It was so awesome to see kids of all ages coming together for a common goal: peace. In addition to ending the violence, the summit also celebrated their Mexican roots. Through music, performances, and (my favorite) food, attendees were able to focus on the positive aspects of Little Village rather than solely on the negative. Because my life revolves around food, I have to mention the amazing homemade spread that greeted us. Authentic Mexican soup called pozole, tamales (red and green), salsa verde, and even a sweet cinnamon rice milk called horchata allowed people to sit down together, eat, and enjoy the atmosphere. No Taco Bell here, folks.
Just walking through the area on the way to the event, it is clear that the neighborhood is something special. From the Mexican markets to the taquerias to simply hearing Spanish spoken everywhere, you almost feel like you are in a village in Mexico. Though it is just a short subway ride away from the heart of Chicago, you are seemingly thousands of miles away. It really was inspiring to see an ethnic community working together to preserve their strong cultural roots in a positive way.
Who says you have to travel far away to indulge in a true cultural experience? Most of us have neighborhoods like Little Village within close proximity to our own homes. Here in Detroit we have Mexican Town, I have visited China Town in Washington, D.C., and Little Italy in New York City is just one of several cultural hubs in the booming metropolis. Don’t have the time or money to take a trip to Mexico? Hop on the subway or jump in your car and escape “America” for a few hours. You won’t be disappointed. And be sure to grab some Mexican candy before you head out! You can thank me later.
Do you have an area like Little Village near you? Tell us about an authentic cultural experience you have had there!