Define American is bringing its third annual Define American Film Festival to Chicago, because the story of Chicago is the story of America, a mass movement of families coming together to create a bustling, thriving community.
In the early 1800’s, the Potawami tribe was forced out of the region by American settlers flocking to the west. 1840’s Chicago was a mix of established New Englanders, primarily German immigrants and Irish immigrants, escaping the Great Famine. By 1900, Chicago was the fastest growing city in the world. Jews, Poles, Italians, Greek, and Slavs all occupied close quarters. Settlement houses, like Jane Addams’ Hull House, were formed to welcome newcomers by providing medical aid, child care, food and clothing, English-language and citizenship classes.
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While Chicago’s history is full of examples of how immigrants were integrated into civic life, it is equally full of examples of how it failed the next generation of newcomers. The Great Migration, from 1915-1960, caused an influx of an estimated half a million displaced African Americans from the South to Chicago, immigrants in their own country. After World War I shut off the flow of immigrants, companies sought Black labor, after discriminating against them for so long.
Chicago did not build more housing, and competition ensued, forcing Blacks to crowd in Bronzeville tenements, living without heat, light, or running water. Race riots, turf wars, segregation and racist housing policies were used to separate a generation of migrants from each other. While the White migrants of Chicago were able to pursue their American dreams, the Black migrants were redlined and intimidated into a separate existence in the South Side.
The Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965 helped new immigrant communities to flourish and Chicago was no exception. Settling in the Pilsen and Little Village neighborhoods, Latino immigrants, primarily Mexican Americans, chose Chicago because of its bustling economy. New tensions also followed as African American communities felt further pushed from their neighborhoods. In 1970, Chicago had the second-largest African American community in the nation. Today Chicago has the second-largest Latino population nationwide.
The result of Chicago’s melting pot is a vibrant City by the Lake. When its immigrant communities come together, they not only make change happen, but create cross-culture exchanges resulting in great food, theater, music, dance.
This is why we’ve chosen Chicago for the next Define American Film Festival. Because Chicago is and always has been a reflection of our nation.