In This Community

“If I wasn’t at home or at school, I was in East Chicago hanging out with my grandparents.”

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

Transcript for In This Community

My great-grandmother and her first husband, Anna and Felix, came from Mexico City. My great-grandmother was born somewhere else. I can’t remember where it was, but I don’t know how she made her way to Mexico City. And they came to South Chicago, 1928 or 1929 – not a good year with the market crash. And so, he did work, he was a – per Census record, the 1930 Census record – he was a slide man, and so he worked in a steel company, probably sliding steel down kind of a track. But he contracted tuberculosis and he died so – in the early 30s. And so, she was single for a while, met what would be my step-great-grandfather, Placido Hernandez. He was much older than her and I think they probably had maybe two, maybe three children by the time they got married. Anna and Placido ended up moving to Indiana Harbor and actually having a very well-known bakery called P.H. Bakery. So, Placido Hernandez. And so, the fact that it wasn’t called, like, a panaderia or anything – they just went with “P.H. Bakery” – is telling. But they made, you know, Mexican bread, pan, they made tortillas. Sometime – my dad said he would remember they would make, like, full goats. They would roast them. They would sell hot chocolate, and I think a lot of people would talk about that.

I grew up kind of in this community because both of my grandparents lived in East Chicago. So, if I wasn’t at home or at school, I was in East Chicago hanging out with my grandparents. I even took piano lessons at the Clemente Center in Nunez Park, which is right next door to Our Lady of Guadalupe Church. In the summers, one of my great-aunts would take me and my sister to go count money on Monday from the tithing from over the weekend. So, I’d count, you know, the givings. So, I have that duality of, you know, living and growing up in Hammond but also, like, my family being in East Chicago.

Up until my grandparents moved, my – the Medinas – then my grandmother passed away, you know, it was till, like, the 90s, that was another part of my life. Going to the Mexican Independence Day parade every year – Fiesta Patrias, so the Mexican Independence Day. This actually started in 1926. This tradition continues every year. And in 1926, they actually nominated—they would elect—nominate and elect a queen. So, I remember seeing the festival queen every year and the court. And then you would go into Block Stadium by St. Catherine’s Hospital and there was this, you know, you have, like I said, carnival games, pony rides. And they have this greased-pole tradition where there’s a greased telephone pole and there’s a prize or piggybank or something on the top and then men climb on each other to get this prize. I don’t know if it was, like, a thousand dollars. It could’ve been, like, five bucks, who knows? But it was, like, this huge macho thing to do.

You’re celebrating independence—Mexican Independence Day in the United States. So, I think, you know, as generations became farther removed from that notion, it just becomes, like, not—I don’t mean this in a rude way, but just kind of following through the motions, you know? This is, “I know I’m supposed to do this every second weekend of September. Oh, you know, we’ve got to do this.” So, I think, you know, understanding the history and the people who started it, all the mutual aid societies, things that they contributed—there used to be a tea–you know, just all these different kinds of very traditional events, you know, would happen and so, you know, as generation and memory, you know, traditions kind of fade.

Source of Illustrations

Greased Pole Climbing Contest, Indiana Harbor, 2000
Paul Moreno family, Indiana Historical Society
ID: LFD2016_0318_Block_Stadium_Greased_Pole_Climbing

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