“…the Mexican-American community in the United States – it wasn’t really taught in high school.”
Transcript for Me Coming Home
That’s another mentality, too. Growing up in East Chicago, everyone wanted to know where you were. And you always mentioned, you know, “I’m north side. I’m south side. I’m from the Harbor. I’m from Sunnyside. I’m from West Cal.” All these neighborhoods. These neighborhoods sort of then came with their own history in and of themselves. And to this day, there’s still this mentality with the older generation, even my parents’ generation, of noting, no, they’re from East Chicago, not the Harbor. At one point, even talking that maybe we should just call this place the Twin Cities because of the railroad yards that essentially divide these two chunks of the city. There is this divided city mentality.
This all really began—I was an undergraduate at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana and I initially went to college with the mindset that I’d be a high school teacher. And there was a visiting professor, Aminta Perez from the University of Iowa. Dr. Perez taught Borderlands Scholarship: History of the West, and it was the first time I had encountered history of Mexican, Mexican American communities in the United States. It really wasn’t taught in high school, so I really took that as an opportunity to learn more about myself, about my history. And Dr. Perez really encouraged me to try out graduate school, dip my toes in the water, and I applied for a graduate program, master’s program at Purdue University Northwest, loved it, and now I’m doing, like, political history with corruption and union politics in Northwest Indiana.
I’ve turned my scholarship now towards Northwest Indiana because that is my home. I’m from East Chicago, Indiana. We lived across the street from a railroad yard, a train switching yard. My great-grandfather actually came to East Chicago to work on the railroad. Inland Steel, that was right across the street as well and they had trucks coming and going at all times. Everything was across the south end of the tracks and we tended to get stuck and wait for, like, a train to switch for half an hour, forty minutes just if we wanted to go, like, to the grocery store. Looking back, I mean, it really speaks volumes to, like, the multifaceted community of what East Chicago once was. The fact that you have industry, a temple, and a Presbyterian church as well as about ten, twelve houses all on one block.
My paternal grandfather came in the 60s. He left Mexico from a border town, Nueva Rosita, to come to East Chicago to work at Inland Steel and he’s told us growing up how he had to sleep in his pickup truck for seven, eight days until they finally hired him and then he was pretty much couch-surfing, serving as, like, a small boarder/tenant in some friends’ houses as he saved up money to purchase a house to then bring up my grandmother, uncle, and aunt who were already born and in Mexico, waiting.
My mother is Irish and Italian, adopted by a German and Polish couple. And I lived primarily with them: my grandparents and my mother. And that was absolutely fascinating as is. My grandmother was heavily involved in the Methodist church. And I think because of that, even I experienced a lot more of the older generational and their comments, and their stories of what everything used to be like.
And then with my father’s side, I saw them very regularly: normally weekends, holidays. And my grandfather loved telling stories. I’m not a native Spanish speaker; anything I’ve spoken has had to be picked up over the years, so when I was with my father’s side of the family, that became, I think, a barrier to understanding my family’s history, my family’s stories, and that’s definitely created, like, this boundary that I’ve had to transgress. It was probably more of a problem in school because I became, you know, one of those Mexicans who didn’t speak Spanish growing up and this is at a time when East Chicago’s becoming heavily a fifty-fifty split between Latino/Latina communities and African American community.
I think that’s what made learning the history so much more impactful when I got to Wabash College because it had for something been something that was denied to me. I’ve joked with my advisor that my dissertation project is me coming home literally. After spending four years in Crawfordsville away from East Chicago, I’ve moved back to the region, really delved into the region archives, people’s stories as an opportunity to not only understand my personal story, but where my personal story fits, and those who came before, those who are still around, those who are—and hopefully leave something impactful or at least enjoyable for another generation.
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