Explore the diverse and culturally historic neighborhoods of Chicago’s South Side

Destination Illinois

CHICAGO — In a city where more than 100 languages and dialects are spoken, distinct and diverse neighborhoods have defined Chicago as a gateway of immigrants.

Among those is Chicago’s Chinatown, home to 35,000 Chinese-Americans. The neighborhood is home to several local landmarks, including the Pui Tak Center, which provides education and cultural services for Chinese immigrants.

“Family is very important for Chinese Americans,” Grace Chan McKibben said, who is a member of Coalition for a Better Chinese American Community.

“Often multiple generations live together,” McKibben said.

While Chicago’s current Chinatown is embedded with cultural significance and history, it was not the first Chinese settlement in the city.

“A lot of people don’t know this is the second Chinatown in Chicago,” McKibben said. “The original started living and working near downtown right near Adams and Van Buren.”

It was just over 100 years ago when widespread racism and exorbitant rents started to drive the newly immigrated Chinese community out of the downtown area. Centers such as the Chinese American Museum on 23rd Street serve as a reminder of a discriminatory past, as well as a triumph over persecution.

A nearby South Side neighborhood also became a gateway for immigrants early on in Chicago’s history in Pilsen.

Initially a refuge to immigrants from modern-day Czechia, today Pilsen’s 18th Street serves as a cultural and business center for many of Chicago’s Mexican-American families.

The National Museum of Mexican Art is also located along the street, displaying much of the history and culture in the center of one of the nation’s most vibrant Mexican-American communities.

Another historic South Side neighborhood lies along Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, Bronzeville is a thriving South Side community that has historically giants from the world of Fine Arts, including Louis Armstrong and Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Gwendolyn Brooks.

In summers uninterrupted by a pandemic, Bronzeville is also the site of the largest African-American parade in the United States: the back to school “Bud Billiken Parade”, which attracts 1 million people to Bronzeville and nearby Washington Park.

Bronzeville is also home to the DuSable Museum of African-American History, where one can learn of the fearless 370th US Infantry Regiment, also known as the Fighting 8th Regiment of the Illinois National Guard was an all-black regiment that was among the most decorated in all of World War I.

The Victory Monument at 35th Street and King Drive memorializes the soldiers and immortalizes them in Chicago history.

The exhibit at DuSable holds the flags carried into battle by the troops in France in 1918.

The heroic soldiers who looked to return home to loved ones returned to the Race Riots of 1919, which began when a young Black boy was stoned and drowned in Lake Michigan after being accused of being in the white area of the beach.

The haunting images of the museum show gangs chasing African-American families with bricks in their hands, images of a riot that killed 38 and left more than 500 homeless.

The Chicago History Museum’s exhibit on the race riots aims to educate of past tragedies to illuminate the future.

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