Block and Pennsy

“These communities have been erased.”

https://youtu.be/ZhIZBN0-c4k

Nicole Martinez-LeGrand, Multicultural Collections Coordinator, Library and Archives Division, Indiana Historical Society.

Transcript for Block and Pennsy

In the 1920s you have this curious, fabulous mix of people from all different backgrounds – middle class, low class – all coming and mixing in the confines of Block and Pennsy. This is actually a 1920 heat map and so here is Block and Pennsy. So, this is what it looked like in 1928.

Starting in 1919, there was the national steel strike. Before that, you already had Mexican populations working in agriculture, in working on the railroad because as the transcontinental railroad, you know, that was starting in Mexico going into the United States. The Mexicans were illegally recruited to break the strike, so they were being recruited off of the rail lines and the fields in the United States, too, to work as strikebreakers, so they were put on barges in Chicago and then literally shipped into Indiana Harbor so they just kind of went in through the back door. And so because of that—because they were strikebreakers, there was still this anti-sentiment of the Mexican population so that’s why they were kind of, like, racially segregated. At first they were hired when they were recruited by, like, Inland Steel. They actually lived, like, kind of, like, almost in, like, company housing close to—close to Block and Pennsy and then they kind of moved out but they never really, up until the ’60s, moved out of those boundaries.

I interviewed a gentleman who’s now 101 years old, Fred Maravilla, and he talks about there was just no room and his family lived in a garage and, you know, they bought – they’re called “ticks” which are mattresses to stuff straw in to sleep. They would do their business in a pot and dump it out. They were behind an apartment building and then also multiple people were living in small, closed, and confined – places that the health department would just probably be aghast about.

On Google Maps, this is what it looks like today. So, this would be where Block and Pennsy is. It’s all pretty – pretty – it’s demolished. Doesn’t really exist.

So, it’s the ’60s, you know, infrastructure, so Cline Avenue had raised – cut through that neighborhood, you know, urban revitalization happened. So sometimes when people mention addresses, places where they lived or I look that up and I find, sometimes it’s just an empty lot on, like, Google Maps. And so, these communities have been erased.

I do have a, like, a childhood friend, you know, he lives in New York City now. And so, we talk about – and his mother grew up in the Harbor. You know, I think we’re both, like, third-generation. And he said, “Oh, yeah, every time we drive on Cline Avenue, we get to a certain point and my aunts always say, “Oh, we’re driving over our house.” Because that’s where their house was. And you have this across the United States. So, you just have it in all urban – all urban areas.

Source of Illustrations

East Chicago Map
Paul Schuster Taylor, Mexican Labor in the United States, 1932, Vol. 2
Indiana Historical Society

East Chicago (2020)
Google Maps

Hold a Conversation

Can you imagine leading a conversation about this story? Where? With whom? What kinds of questions would you pose? (See How to use the questions for reflection for one approach.) Please email your questions to us or post them in the comment box for our consideration. If you use them in an actual discussion, let us know how the conversation went.