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The Face of Illinois Latinos 

For a century, people have been coming to Illinois from across Latin America in search of freedom, work, education or love. Today, one in six Illinoisans are Latino. Not only has the Latino population grown, but the number of Latinos outside of Chicago has soared in recent years. And notably, the Latino population itself is increasingly diverse and increasingly young.

Communities: Argentina | Belize | Bolivia | Brazil | Chile | Colombia | Costa Rica | Cuba | Dominican Republic | Ecuador | El Salvador | Guatemala | Honduras | Mexico | Nicaragua | Panama | Peru | Puerto Rico | Spain | Uruguay | Venezuela

What does the face of the Illinois Latino look like? Data from the 2010 United States Census and graphics courtesy of the Latino Policy Forum paint a dynamic picture. While people of Mexican and Puerto Rican heritage constitute 88 percent of Illinois Latinos, the number of people from Central and South America has risen.

The most remarkable change in the past decade has been the number of Illinois Latinos living outside of Chicago. For the first time, a majority reside in the Suburbs. The biggest percentage increase has occurred in the Collar Counties, such as the 31 percent increase in Kane County.

Fifteen Illinois municipalities now have majority-Latino populations, including Cicero (87 percent), Berwyn (59 percent) and Waukegan (53 percent). There are significant new Latino populations in several rural Downstate communities, as well, such as DePue, Onarga and Beardstown.

Who are Illinois’ Latino Americans?

Argentina

Argentineans have been arriving in Illinois since the 1920’s, mostly from Buenos Aires. One of Illinois’ first South American consulates was the Argentine Consul (1927). Since the 1930’s, a steady flow of students came to Illinois to attend universities. In the 1950’s and 1960’s, many academics left Argentina due to universities there being shut down. During the political turmoil of the 1970’s and 1980’s, Argentineans came to Chicago as refugees, sponsored by the United Nations or Lutheran Church. Argentineans love soccer and have organized such leagues as the Chicago Pampas club.

Belize

Belizeans began coming to Illinois in the 1940s, working largely as domestic servants in Chicago’s North Shore. In the 1950s, the first Belizean community group was organized (a cricket club). Two events spurred the growth of Illinois’ Belizean population: the Great Migration, when Florida citrus workers moved to the Midwest, and Hurricane Hattie, which devastated Belize in 1961. Today, Belizeans work in all professions and reside primarily in Chicago’s Rogers Park (although a group of indigenous Garifuna live on the far South Side), and such suburbs as Evanston, Waukegan and Zion. Since 1998, the first Sunday in August is “Chicago Belizean Day”.

Bolivia

Many Bolivians came to Illinois in the 1950s when a revolutionary force seized power in Bolivia, changing land policy and nationalizing industries. As Bolivia went through a number of regimes in the 1960s and 1970s, more Bolivians arrived in Illinois seeking freedom from political persecution. Though Bolivians are economically diverse and live throughout the State (rather than clustered in large ethnic communities), the culture is thriving, as evidenced by the 1994 World Cup, when the Bolivian team played in Chicago and Illinois’ Bolivians cheered for their ancestral home team.

Brazil

Brazilians appeared in Illinois in the late-1940s, but the community did not expand until the 1960s. The first organization was the Chicago Flyers, which formed in 1970 as a soccer club but soon broadened to a social and political force. A new wave of immigrants arrived in the 1980s and 1990s, bringing more educated and affluent individuals. Some professionals were transferred to Illinois by Brazilian employers, while others came to fill shortages in nursing and software engineering. Illinoisans are increasingly exposed to Brazilian culture, through cuisine, samba and capoeira.

Chile

Estimated 3,000 in Illinois

Chileans began arriving in Illinois in the 19th century. Another wave came after the 1973 coup, followed by a new influx of students, professors and doctors in the 1990s. The best-known Chileans in Illinois history were the “Chicago Boys”, 200 economists from Chile who studied at University of Chicago from 1956 to the 1970s as part of a Ford Foundation project. While some stayed in Chicago’s Hyde Park, others returned to Chile to assume Cabinet-level positions from 1976 to the present day.

Colombia

Colombians began coming to Illinois in the 1950s, most of them professionals escaping La Violencia, a ten-year period of civil war during which 200,000 people died. In the 1970s, skilled workers called costeños came here from Columbia’s coastal region. Colombians have refrained from living in large ethnic communities, maintaining their culture instead through civic and cultural institutions such as Club de El Dorado, Club Colombia, and Colombianos Unidos Para Una Labor Activa. By 1990, Colombians constituted the largest group of South Americans in Illinois.

Costa Rica

Estimated 1,200 in Illinois

Costa Ricans began arriving in Illinois during the 1930s, although in the 1950s, Benedictine friars invited students in Costa Rica to attend a Benedictine college in Illinois. Many Costa Ricans came in the 1960s to pursue university degrees or open new businesses. One the most famous enterprises - a restaurant called Irazú - is a popular meeting space for Chicago Costa Ricans who reside primarily in West Town, Uptown, Edgewater and Rogers Park. The Chicago Costa Rican Cultural Association organizes such events as the annual Independence Day Parade and Costa Rican Mothers Day picnic.

Cuba

Estimated 23,000 in Illinois

Some 2,000 Cubans were already in Illinois in 1960, most having fled the repression of the Batista years. But after Fidel Castro’s rise to power, 20,000 Cubans came to find freedom and economic opportunity in Illinois, many aided by Catholic Charities. With many still having family back home, they settled in Chicago’s Logan Square, Edgewater, Albany Park and Irving Park communities, bringing a strong anticommunist perspective. Later, Cubans began to come for economic reasons. And though most Cubans are Catholic, Cubans are of diverse faiths including Jehovah’s Witnesses, Baptists and Methodists. Many Cubans have become business owners, and the Cuban American Chamber of Commerce has become a strong force in Illinois. Cuban festivities abound around January 28, the birthday of national hero José Martí.

Dominican Republic

Estimated 7,600 in Illinois

Dominicans started migrating to Illinois after the 1961 assassination of Rafael Trujillo, settling in primarily-Puerto Rican neighborhoods and working in the garment and meatpacking industries. Later, they moved to Chicago’s Northwest Side and such suburbs as Burr Ridge, Downers Grove and Niles. They have started several cultural and economic organizations, including Casa Dominicana (founded in 1991), Dominican American Midwest Association and the Dominican-owned gallery Mi Galería in Chicago.

Ecuador

Chicago ranks fourth in the nation for the number of Ecuadorians living in its city limits. Ecuadorians first arrived in the 1950s, founding the Ecuadorian Civic Society in 1959. The first large group arrived in Illinois in 1965, coming from the provinces of Chimborazo, Cotopax, Guayas, and Pichincha to Chicago to work in factories and service industries. Though concentrated in Chicago (especially Logan Square, Albany Park, Uptown and Lake View), the community has spread to Elgin and such suburbs as Des Plaines, Glenview, Morton Grove and Skokie. On summer weekends, Ecuadorians meet at Chicago’s lakefront for soccer and volleyball tournaments. “Ecuadorian Week” occurs every August.

El Salvador

The first wave of Salvadorian immigrants - students, professionals and military personnel - came to Illinois in the 1920s and another wave came in the 1950s. During the late-1970s through 1990s, Salvador’s civil war drove an influx of immigrants to Illinois. Today, they are located in such North Side neighborhoods as Rogers Park, Edgewater, Albany Park and Logan Square, and such suburbs as Waukegan and Des Plaines. They have brought along their traditions through celebrations such as the festival of El Salvador del Mundo (Savior of the World) and Central American Independence Day.

Guatemala

Guatemalans began coming to Illinois in the 1980s due to the civil war. When the Kovler Center for the Treatment of Survivors of Torture opened in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood, Guatemalans were among its largest client populations. Many Chicago-based churches and synagogues provided aid and shelter to Central Americans facing deportation. Most of the Chicago Guatemalan population resides in Uptown, Rogers Park, Logan Square and Albany Park, with another concentration in Elgin. The Central American Independence Day (September 15) is a big holiday for Guatemalans.

Honduras

Estimated 6,000 in Illinois

The first Hondurans in Illinois were mostly medical and engineering students who settled near universities. The next influx settled in Chicago’s North Lawndale and Humboldt Park neighborhoods, and have since moved to Logan Square, Uptown, West Town and Albany Park, as well as Waukegan. La Sociedad Civica-Cultural Hondureña (Honduran Civic and Cultural Society) was founded in 1989 to provide cultural education and scholarships for immigrants’ children, and to support traditional folk music groups. Every year, Illinois Hondurans honor La Virgen de Suyapa (Virgin of Suyapa) and join other Central Americans to celebrate Independence Day in September.

Mexico

Estimated 1.6 million in Illinois

Mexican workers first migrated to Chicago in the 1910s, spurred by economic, social and political turmoil of Mexico’s Revolution. Many worked in the railroad yards on Chicago’s Southeast Side, living in converted railroad boxcars. Some were lured to Chicago to break strikes in the steel and meatpacking industries. Workers migrated to Chicago from agricultural fields throughout the Midwest, and from the Central Mexican states of Guanajuato, Michoacán and Jalisco. They first settled in the Calumet, Near West Side and Back of the Yards areas. Predominantly Roman Catholic, they began worshipping at the Our Lady of Guadalupe and St. Francis of Assisi, which played major roles in the community. After World War II, Mexicans were moving out of Chicago to Aurora, Joliet, Blue Island, Berwyn and Bensenville. Soon the working class Mexican community was fractured along lines of citizenship, legal status and language. Pilsen in the 1960s and Little Village in the 1970s became popular neighborhoods for Mexicans to settle in. Muralists came to these areas and brought art to the streets which still exist today. In 1987, the Mexican Fine Arts Center Museum opened and has become one of the premier institutes of Mexican art in the United States.

Nicaragua

Nicaraguans first came to Illinois in the 1940s. The civil war in the 1970s resulted in another influx. During the time of unrest, several Nicaraguan groups were formed to aid immigrants here as well as in Nicaragua, such as Pastors for Peace, Mercy Donations for Nicaraguans and the Nicaraguan Civic Society. Hurricane Mitch devastated Nicaragua in 1998; as a result, the United States granted Temporary Protected Status to all Nicaraguan citizens here without legal status. Nicaraguans celebrate Independence Day (September 15th) and La Purisima in December at Queen of Angels Church in Chicago’s Ravenswood community. Nicaraguans have settled mostly in Chicago’s Hispanic neighborhoods, as well as such suburbs as Schiller Park and Des Plaines.

Panama

After World War II, many American servicemen stationed in the Canal Zone in Panama married and brought their Panamanian brides back to the U.S. Later, they came as university students settling near the University of Chicago. Today, they are primarily situated in the Northern suburbs and Lake County. The Panamanian community in Illinois has built close ties with other Panamanian communities in the U.S., mainly in New York City and Miami.

Paraguay

The first Paraguayans to settle in Illinois began arriving in the mid-1960s and lived primarily in Chicago’s Northwest Side. Most Paraguayans, though, left for New York City after a few years. By the 1970s, the number Paraguayans in Illinois reached 2,000. Despite their relatively small community, Paraguayans have kept their traditions and culture alive. They opened Centro Paraguayo (Paraguayans Center), a cultural organization which hosted Paraguayan dance groups composed primarily of women and children, and Independence Day parties which attracted Paraguayans from around the Midwest.

Peru

Peruvians began immigrating to Illinois in the 1950s. The early arrivals were college students, laborers and technicians. The largest wave of immigrants came in the 1980s, when Peru went into a state of quasi-civil war. Peruvians celebrate Independence Day on July 28 and participate in the Procesion del Senor de los Milagros, a popular procession in Palatine. Illinois Peruvians live on Chicago’s Northwest Side, and the suburbs of Palatine and West Chicago.

Puerto Rico

Estimated 190,000 in Illinois

Though some Puerto Ricans came to Illinois via New York in the 1930s, the largest influx was after World War II. The first community was located in Chicago’s Lincoln Park and Wrigleyville, but by the 1960s - prompted by urban renewal - the move to Humboldt Park and other Northwest Side neighborhoods was complete. Puerto Ricans have since settled in such suburbs as Naperville, Waukegan and Schaumburg. Two massive sculptures representing Puerto Rico’s flag unfurl across Division Street, still a point-of-entry for new arrivals and site of the popular Puerto Rican Day Parade.

Spain

Estimated 500 in Illinois

Spaniards first came to Illinois in the 1920s, attracted by jobs in the steel mills. But because of a national quota system formed in 1924, immigration from Spain declined dramatically and did not increase until the 1960s. Immigrants who came then were predominantly professionals. Spaniards are found throughout Illinois and have not settled down in specific communities, but connect socially through the Spanish Association of the Midwest, founded in 1976.

Uruguay

After World War II, Uruguayans started arriving in Illinois. Mostly scholars, students and business professionals, these Uruguayans forged business relationships between the city and Uruguayan companies, culminating in the formation of the United States–Uruguay Alliance of Chicago in 1951. In 1959, Mayor Richard J. Daley declared August 25 “Uruguay Day in Chicago”. During the 1970s, they formed a soccer team called Charruas and established Operación Gurí to provide aid to families in Uruguay.

Venezuela

The first Venezuelans came to Chicago in the early 1950s. During Venezuela’s economic crisis in the 1970s and 1980s, many came in pursuit of educational or economic opportunities. Three of Illinois’ most famous Venezuelan residents came here for baseball. Chico Carrasquel was the first Latin American national to play in a Major League All Star Game. Luis Aparicio led the A.L. in stolen bases for nine years and was inducted to the Baseball Hall of Fame. And Ozzie Guillén was both a shortstop and manager of the White Sox.