What 50 Years of Chicago Immigrant Accompaniment Looks Like

CCHD 50th Anniversary

The Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) has fought for systemic change to address poverty’s root causes throughout the United States for 50 years. While our work is always ongoing, we wanted to highlight the impact of some of the organizations we’ve funded over the last five decades. In the nation’s third-largest city, Chicago, CCHD’s support has helped immigrants and refugees integrate into American society, feel welcome in their new community, and lead dignified lives. 

For centuries, the windy city has been a beacon of hope for immigrants suffering religious persecution, hunger, and more. The city's steel mills, stockyards, and industrial plants attracted Europeans looking for work to create a better life throughout the late 19th century. Meanwhile, despite barriers to Asian immigration due to the infamous Chinese Exclusion Act, Chinese immigrants were able to settle in Chicago's south side once the transcontinental railroad was completed -- many of them fleeing post-goldrush California, where legalized discrimination was the norm. 

Around the same time, the first wave of Mexican immigrants came to Chicago in the 1910s, motivated by a combination of economic and societal unrest during the Mexican Revolution and the US's boom in agriculture/industrial employment. 

Most immigrants settled down near their workplaces and created communities centered around their cultural heritage. Many of these communities still exist today, with the current city population 45.3% white (31.7% non-Hispanic white), 32% black, 28% Hispanic, 5% Asian, and 3% from two or more races. 

Immigrant Communities in Chicago Today

Just by traveling on the "L" (metro system) in the city of Chicago, you can't help but notice the cultural avenues that are represented proudly and prominently. From the South side's Chinatown, the Hispanic and Latino Pilsen and Little Village neighborhoods, the Northwest side's Polish and eastern European communities, Asia on Argyle in the Uptown neighborhood, to smaller ethnic populations scattered sporadically, cultural vibrancy is everywhere. Immigrants have shaped the city into a diverse metropolis that offers a new perspective on any interest that might tickle your fancy. Neighborhood museums, eye-catching street art, unrivaled food, and community organizations confirm that much of the world is well-represented within the city limits. 

Chicago Immigration Community Organizations

Despite the myriad vibrant communities seen throughout the city, the work to create a just society where all can thrive continues. Over the past 50 years, CCHD has supported many local organizations in their missions to help new immigrants to get on their feet, as well as empower those most impacted to improve economic and environmental conditions in their communities. We'd like to put the spotlight on some of them here:

Southwest Organizing Project

  • Who they are: A multicultural organization on the South Side of Chicago that strives to end predatory lending, protect the dignity of immigrants, encourage staff, parent and student engagement in schools, and reduce violence.
  • What they do: Recently, they've been working with Chicago's CityKey ID initiative (an effort to create a 3-in-1 valid photo ID for Chicago residents regardless of housing status, criminal record, or immigration status). Although, their work as a whole encompasses so much more, including community safety, healthcare, education, government leadership, housing, and immigration. Read more.
  • How to get involved: Donate or attend one of their community events to find out more.

Little Village Environmental Justice Organization

  • Who they are: Founded by a group of parents in 1994, they fought to change construction plans after learning their kids were being exposed to dangerous particles during a school renovation. Today, they fight for other environmental justice issues around the Little Village neighborhood.
  • What they do: They've successfully fought for cleaner air by shutting down local coal plants, brought public transit to those who depend upon it, reclaimed green space, started community gardens, and more.
  • How to get involved: Take a "toxic tour,” apply for an internship, or get involved here.

Pastoral Migratoria

  • Who they are: An immigrant-led ministry, they help form immigrant leaders who respond to their baptismal call to service, justice, and accompaniment in their parish communities. Initially supported locally by CCHD in the Archdiocese of Chicago,  this initiative is now working with pastoral teams from other dioceses to replicate their model of leadership formation across the nation. 
  • What they do: Leadership training programs based on Catholic Social Teaching, community organizing, and more in an effort to strengthen immigrant rights, enact social change, and carry out basic human support.  
  • How to get involved: Contact or donate to the Archdiocese of Chicago.

Resurrection Project

  • Who they are: A community organization in the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago that provides, "services that stabilize and protect families by helping them acquire assets and improve their financial health, and by mobilizing them to advocate for long-lasting, positive change."
  • What they do: Help families build financial security, provide access to affordable housing, defend immigrant rights, and engage community residents to inspire collective power.
  • How to get involved: Volunteer here.

Arise Chicago

  • Who they are: "Arise Chicago partners with workers and faith communities to fight workplace injustice through education and organizing and advocating for public policy changes."
  • What they do: Their work on the ground includes initiatives such as the Earned Sick Time Chicago Coalition, Cook County Paid Sick Days Ordinance, Illinois Domestic Workers Bill of Rights Coalition, and more local legislation that improves the working conditions and lives of Illinois workers. 
  • How to get involved: Contact them to find out more.

Chicago Workers' Collaborative

  • Who they are: Started by St. Pius V Parish, they are a network of workers in Chicago that fight for better working conditions, the creation of stable and living wage jobs, and racial and gender equality for temporary staffing workers.
  • What they do: "Chicago Workers’ Collaborative has assisted thousands of workers in changing market conditions which reward corporate policies which are anti-worker, anti-black and anti-immigrant while also building the nation’s strongest protections for temporary staffing workers."
  • How to get involved: Join their efforts, host a workshop, or otherwise participate here.

Latino Union of Chicago

  • Who they are: A worker's union in Chicago that improves working conditions and workers' rights for day laborers and domestic workers.
  • What they do: "Latino Union collaborates with low-income immigrants and U.S.-born workers to develop the tools necessary to collectively improve social and economic conditions." Their on-the-ground work includes initiatives such as The Albany Park Workers Center, Chicago Coalition of Household Workers, Day Labor Program, and Interpretation Services.
  • How to get involved: The best ways you can support them is by hiring their workers, donating, or sharing their programs on social media here.

Coronavirus (COVID-19): A Wrench in the Gears

It's no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic took the entire world off-guard. We've seen drastic dips in economic activity as "non-essential" businesses were forced to close down during shelter-in-place orders, healthcare systems were completely overwhelmed, infections rose quickly, and a grim death toll that keeps counting.

The economic consequences have also been a devastating thing to behold: the US has seen more than 20.5 million job losses (estimates state 42% of pandemic layoffs will wind up being permanent), worker strikes from those forced to work in unsafe conditions, nearly 15 million credit cards in "financial hardship programs," and permanent closures of countless local businesses due to loss of income. Suffice it to say, this pandemic is nothing like we've ever seen. While some have the luxury of working from home, many blue-collar workers who are responsible for essential work in agriculture, food service, and manufacturing are struggling due to lost wages or are at risk due to being forced to work without proper personal protective equipment (PPE) or in environments that don't practice Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) safety precautions. 

Many of the organizations listed above have built on their previous good work and continued to champion workers’ rights during COVID-19. For example, Arise Chicago now provides the necessary information workers can use to protect themselves at work, find out if they are 'essential' workers, sample letters on how to respond to potential workers' rights violations, and more

These organizations have been working tirelessly to ensure workers are not being needlessly exposed to the virus or facing severe economic uncertainty. Their efforts to provide safe working environments and support for those unable to work have not stopped. We encourage you to support these organizations in their missions to improve working conditions to flatten the curve and preserve livelihoods. As we prepare for the daunting task of rebuilding a society where all can thrive in the aftermath of a devastating pandemic, CCHD-supported community organizations working to empower those most impacted by economic and societal injustice need your support.  

About Poverty USA

Poverty USA is an initiative of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) and was created as an educational resource to help individuals and communities to address poverty in America by confronting the root causes of economic injustice—and promoting policies that help to break the cycle of poverty.

The domestic anti-poverty program of the US Catholic Bishops, CCHD helps low-income people participate in decisions that affect their lives, families, and communities—and nurtures solidarity between people living in poverty and their neighbors. 

Learn more about poverty in the Chicago area or help us amplify what 50 years of Chicago immigrant accompaniment looks like by sharing this article on social media. Be sure to follow us on Twitter and Facebook for more info about how you can join the work to break the cycle of poverty in your city.

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