In neighborhoods dominated by Spanish billboards and Polish restaurant and car-repair signs, immigrant populations have carved out a niche – perhaps too deeply to branch out from their transplanted roots.
The language barrier isolates people on Chicago’s Northwest Side, and fear of scrutiny over their residential status cuts immigrants off from community services, according to Rosario Delgado, director of the Hermosa Community Organization, at 2105 N. Pulaski Road.
The Belmont-Cragin neighborhood has seen one of the most dramatic Hispanic population increases in the city in the past decade, according to the Chicago News Cooperative. In the 30th and 31st wards, the Hispanic majority increased 4 percent since 2000 to make up 71 percent of the total population, according to Census Bureau estimates. Meanwhile the white population has decreased by 23 percent and the black population ticked up 2 percentage points to 5 percent of the total.
“We have more Puerto Ricans and now more Mexicans,” Delgado said last week. Her group runs a mentoring program that stresses English instruction for middle-school and high-school students, but community support for Spanish-speaking adults is lacking, she said.
Her organization used to offer more services, with regular community meetings and committees that focused on issues such as health-care education and the environment. People were more informed than they are now, she said.
Parents don't understand schooling options for their children or issues such as housing foreclosures, Delgado said. “A lot of people are losing their houses.”
Northeastern Illinois University holds free language classes for adults, but parents are leery of involvement with established groups or just do not know how to take advantage of such opportunities, Delgado said.
Such wariness discourages involvement with community programs such as Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy meetings, Delgado said.
Ald. Ariel Reboyas of the 30th Ward, running for re-election Feb. 22, agrees immigration is the central issue in the ward.