I was 15 when I attended my first “Latino assembly” in high school, or ever for that matter. It was the 2nd year the school excused all the Latinos from classes and gathered us in the auditorium for the day to educate and enlighten us about issues concerning our roots and us.
There were about 300 Latinos—Peruvians, Ecuadorians, Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, etc.—out of about 1200 students at my high school in Provo, Utah in 2006.
There were several speakers at the assembly. They talked to us about going to college, being proud of where we come from and encouraged us to dream big and go for those big dreams. There was also a DJ who tried to get everyone pumped by flashing names of different Latin American countries across a large projector screen on stage. For each country that appeared on the screen, excitement and cheering would come from the students in the audience who represent that country. One by one, each country got its glory. El Salvador, Ecuador, Peru, Argentina, Paraguay, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico. But where was Mexico? Then suddenly, when it seemed all the countries had been recognized, in big, bold, red, white and green letters across the screen appeared “MEXICO,” and—as cliché as it may be—the crowd went wild. Well, the Mexicans at least, which was the majority in the auditorium.
It dawned on me then, just how much of a presence Mexicans have in the U.S.
A record 33.7 million Latinos of Mexican origin resided in the U.S. in 2012, according to an analysis of Census Bureau data by the Pew Research Center. Mexicans accounted for nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of the U.S. Latino population in 2012 and 11 percent of the entire U.S. population. Mexican immigration has played a key role in making Mexicans the single largest country of origin group among the nation’s 40 million immigrants. Today, approximately 11.4 million Mexican immigrants live in the U.S., according to the Pew Hispanic Center.
While Mexicans in the U.S. are spread out among many different cities and states, over one-quarter of all Mexican immigrants lived in three major metropolitan areas in 2011: greater Los Angeles, Dallas and Chicago, according to migrationinformation.org.
There were about 684,000 Mexican immigrants in Chicago accounted for in 2011, according to migrantioninformation.org. Many of them reside in Pilsen and Little Village, and most of them have a story to tell.
From the cafes they’ve opened and kept alive, to food cart sales in the winter, to the families they’ve raised, to the decisions they made about living in a city filled with gang violence not different from the violence in their home countries, Chicago’s Mexicans hold a piece of history waiting to be told.