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Steel Barrio

Steel Barrio: The Great Mexican Migration to South Chicago, 1915-1940

Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 248
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Steel Barrio
    Book Description:

    Michael Innis-Jimenezis a native of Laredo, Texas and Assistant Professor in the Department of American Studies at the University of Alabama. He lives in Tuscaloosa where he working on his next book on Latino/a immigration to the American South.In theCulture, Labor, Historyseries

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-6043-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    (pp. 1-16)

    This book is about first-wave immigrants to a new area. It is about those who left danger for opportunity despite uncertainty. It is about individual people who worked, lived, died, played, and organized in and around the Chicago neighborhood called South Chicago. It is about the individual people coming together by creating clubs, societies, and teams to advocate, socialize, play, and endure despite harassment and discrimination. This story of early Mexican immigration to South Chicago is as relevant today as it was nearly a century ago.¹

    On March 10, 2006, ninety years after the first significant Mexican immigration to the...


    • 1 Mexico and the United States
      (pp. 19-27)

      Steelworker and baseball player Gilbert Martínez moved to the neighborhood of South Chicago in 1926 at the age of sixteen. His journey to South Chicago started in 1914 when he and his family left Torreon, Coahuila, Mexico, in search of safety, work, and an escape from the Mexican Revolution. At the time, Torreon was the “railroad centre of the interior” where national and international rail lines connected. That made it an important strategic city, and one that was controlled by Pancho Villa’s Northern Army for much of the revolution. Although the exact date of Martínez’s departure from Torreon is unclear,...

    • 2 Finding Work
      (pp. 28-36)

      Gilbert Martínez learned aboutenganchistas, or labor agents, early in life, when Martínez’s family moved from El Paso to the Midwest in 1917. Later, he recalled the trek north: “Theenganchistascame in Pullman cars and they used to feed us sardines with crackers.” His extended family was split up as workers and their families were dropped off in Midwest railyards. Martínez’s immediate family and one uncle were heading for Illinois, while one uncle was dropped off in Hutchinson, Kansas, and another in Kansas City. Other workers went to Fort Madison, Iowa.¹ Although Martínez was probably confusing his family’senganchista...

    • 3 People and Patterns
      (pp. 37-48)

      Serafín García’s mother and her family worked the sugar beet fields near Payne, Ohio, in the spring and summer of 1923, a job they had gotten through anenganchista. When the harvest ended, rather than returning to San Antonio, they went to South Chicago at the urging of friends. They had told García’s mother to “‘Stay over here” because “in the summertime you’re closer to Michigan, you’re closer to Ohio, you’re closer to many places that you can go work on the farm.”After three years of wintering in Chicago, Serafín García’s mother settled permanently in South Chicago.¹

      Justino Corderos’s migration...


    • 4 Home and Work
      (pp. 51-75)

      In 1919, Yugoslavian immigrant Helena Svalina was one of the first merchants to welcome and extend credit to Mexicans entering the gritty steel mill neighborhood of South Chicago. She did this despite the reaction of her children at the sight of the new immigrants. Her son Nick recalled that as a child he was initially scared of the new Mexican immigrants because of the popular portrayals he had seen on the big screen: “the pictures of cowboys and Indians, of Pancho Villa and all those guys in the movies.” By 1919, Pancho Villa had come to represent Mexico and Mexicans...

    • 5 Great and Small
      (pp. 76-101)

      In 1929, seventeen-year-old Serafín García started working in the steel mills. Employed as a general laborer by Interstate Iron and Steel—later Republic Steel—García earned 39 cents per hour working ten hours a day, seven days a week. First assigned to a labor gang that cleaned out open hearths, he later moved to an outdoor labor position that provided steadier shifts and worked from 5:30 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. García took an outdoor labor position despite the terrible work conditions because it provided steady hours when compared to labor gangs whose hours varied with the mill’s production cycle.


    • 6 Resistance
      (pp. 102-132)

      On June 2, 1928, José Vasconcelos, the prominent Mexican scholar and political activist, spoke passionately to a crowded Bowen Hall in Jane Addams’ Hull House on Chicago’s Near West Side. Gathered under the auspices of the mutual aid society Ignacio Zaragoza, Mexicans from all over the Chicago area heard Vasconcelos speak of corruption in the Mexican government and of rampant nepotism at the highest levels. Vasconcelos pleaded to those assembled in the hall to “never forget or cease to show interest in our country and in the land in which we first saw the light of day.” Addressing the reasons...


    • 7 The Great Depression
      (pp. 135-157)

      Fifty years after the Great Depression, José Cruz Díaz still remembered Mercedes Rios and her perseverance in helpingMexicanosin South Chicago find work and navigate the relief bureaucracy while the Mexican consul focused on securing funding for a voluntary repatriation program.¹ Rios, born in San Antonio, Texas, first got involved in helpingMexicanosget relief in November 1932, when she stopped by the local public aid office at the request of her mother. She went to help interpret between aid workers and Spanish speakers seeking relief. Rios volunteered despite already working three days a week and expecting to return...

    • 8 Teamwork
      (pp. 158-180)

      Men in South Chicago, like Serafín García, created and joined sports teams during the Great Depression to be able to get out of the house, to socialize, and to stay active. García remembered having a full life even when unemployed, playing baseball in the summer and basketball in winter. Manuel Bravo, an out-of-work steelworker, concisely summed up his experience during the depression: “There was nothing, no work, no nothing. The only recreation was playing baseball and more baseball, basketball and more basketball. So we turned out a lot of great baseball players and basketball players.”¹ Organized sports were clearly a...

    (pp. 181-186)

    Why should we care about the creation and development of a distinct Mexican community in South Chicago? Neither baseball nor basketball nor the consul nor Mercedes Rios single-handedly guided Mexicans in South Chicago through the community’s early years and through the Great Depression. These individual and community histories—the stories of people, organizations, and their physical surroundings—shed light onMexicanolife in a place at once far from the border and within the industrial heart of the United States. Ninety-five years after the first wave of Mexican immigrants came to Chicago to work the railroads, Mexican Chicagoans have developed...

  10. NOTES
    (pp. 187-218)
    (pp. 219-228)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 229-234)
    (pp. 235-235)