Something to think about: A day without Mexicans in Chicago


How will Chicago, and the country,
answer the Mexican question? Will Mexican immigrants ever learn English
and become “real” Americans? As two third-generation Eastern Europeans
we know the same question was asked about our grandparents. Now we are
hearing some immigrant-descended parents asking the same things about
current immigrants.

One of us is the grandson of an immigrant Slovak who worked as a
butcher in Chicago’s stockyards; the other’s grandfather was an
immigrant Bohemian carpenter. We are especially sensitive, therefore,
to the historical fact that the major impetus for the Immigration
Restriction Act of 1924 was the eugenics movement of that time.
Eugenicists, characterized by one historian as fearing that “the
American gene pool was being polluted by a rising tide of
intellectually and morally defective immigrants–primarily from Eastern
and Southern Europe,” played a significant role in ending the greatest
era of immigration in U.S. history. Evolution performs miracles,
apparently. Through some highly improbable genetic mutation–possibly a
recessive or airborne gene–the Slovak grandson is now teaching college
classes to another group of questionable immigrants, Mexicans; the
Bohemian grandson is a researcher of Latino immigration. Fitting
careers for Slovak and Czech descendants since, after all, Eastern
Europeans were the Mexicans of their day.

So, what would a day
without Mexicans be like for Chicago–and, more to the point, what does
such a day tell us about what life would be like if there were no
Mexicans in Chicago at all?

– When you wake up in the morning
think twice about indulging in the luxury of someone else making your
coffee and cooking your breakfast at a neighborhood cafe or restaurant.
Almost all kitchen help, food-prep workers and cooks in Chicago are

– If any of you reading this are business travelers
staying in Chicago for a couple of days, you had better get used to the
idea of making your own bed Thursday morning; the hotel housekeeping
staff is almost entirely immigrant and largely Mexican.

You’ll have a slow day if you sell meat or poultry; close to 100
percent of Chicago’s packing-house cutters and meat packers are Mexican.

– On construction crews the “Mexican work” will have to be done by
other guys, since there will be a severe shortage of drywallers and

– City landscaping crews engaged in the ongoing
beautification of Chicago parks, parkways and public spaces will need
to pull a few weeds today; no trees or shrubbery will be on hand since
the suburban nursery workers who dig, burlap-wrap and load trees and
shrubbery for planting are, yes, you’ve guessed it, Mexican.

And if you think you deserve a break tonight to think over your
position on “the Mexican issue” and eat Japanese, you may experience a
bit of a wait for your food since nearly a third of all Chicago sushi
chefs are Mexican.

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