By Edwin Romero
A lot can take place within a 15 year span. Children grow, people mature, faces age and, at times, are replaced. You may find the facades of buildings remain the same all the while the folks who dwell inside alternate. So is the case within Logan Square, a neighborhood in the Northwest side of Chicago. At one point, the population within the area was dominated by Latinos, however, nowadays it seems that Caucasians are the populous race. Neighbors I grew up with have gone and moved away, replaced by college kids and young professionals.
At this point, you could see that this piece revolves around the topic of gentrification. However, before we move on, I should state that it isn’t one in which I will condone or condemn the phenomena, but rather one in which I inform through personal experience.
I am not saying that Logan Square is the only area in Chicago, let alone, the U.S. that has undergone the gentrifying process. Several neighborhoods around Chicago have had the same experience (Lincoln Park and Pilsen are but two). However, like many individuals who are from such areas, there are personal stakes. At 8 years old, my parents, two Ecuadorian immigrants, had decided to open up a small business located within the neighborhood, El Condor. At first it was meant to be nothing more than a dollar store. Over the years it had grown to be a distributor of Latin American products. I spent my childhood hanging around their storefront, thoughtlessly watching the area change through the arrival of higher income individuals as well as through redevelopment efforts.
I’ll be quite honest I am torn between the old and the new. I remember being a child and experiencing the neighborhood during its shadiest of forms. I still remember walking down Milwaukee Avenue at the age of 12 and being held up at knife point for what little money I had in my pocket. I can’t forget the anxiety and the constant looking over my shoulder during my teen years. In fact, it had gotten to the point where I had to carry a weapon, myself, in the event anything transpired.
Above all else, I remember Logan Square for what it actually was and still is: home. I remember walking with my siblings to the park, joining neighboring families. I recall the excitement that ran through me when elote vendors honked their horns. The laughter of other children opening fire hydrants during scorching summer days still rings loud and clear. I remember the social gatherings I partook in with friends from the area (Troublesome? Perhaps. Memorable? Most definitely).
Many of those days are all but forgotten. What I see now is vibrancy. The population within the area is made up of people in their twenties and older; college kids and professionals. No one appears to have their guard up, which was not the case years ago. I figure, why should I? Not only did some of our neighbors move out, so did many of the gang members that plagued Logan Square. What used to be an area where everyone would retreat inside their homes afterhours has now become an area of constant motion.
There are still remnants of the old neighborhood. Remnants such as the abandoned parking lot right under the train tracks of the Chicago Blue Line. Through the alleys and on garage doors, graffiti stains are still quite visible. Junkies from my childhood still roam around here and there, but the funny thing is they get along quite well with the current residents. I’ve even seen them dance together.
I am glad to say that to this day, our little shop is still up and running, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. The question that comes to mind is how long will this last? There have been other businesses in the area that have come and gone. In fact, a couple of weeks ago I took notice that a Cuban joint had closed permanently. This took me by surprise because it was a piece of the past, but more to the point, it had been around longer than I could remember, even longer than our business.
I leave off on this note: History unfortunately has a habit of repeating itself. Yet, it doesn’t mean that life will cease. Change is inevitable but it is adaptable. Naturally, we gravitate towards what we deem as familiar, but if we’re around something that is “new” and “different” long enough, our familiarities change too. That is precisely one of the reasons I still have a presence within Logan Square, why our family still thrives in such a community.