Ethnic Neighborhoods Define Chicago Chicago is one of the most diverse cities in the United States. For decades, migrants from all over the world have settled in the Midwestern city and made it their home. Chicago native Al Walavich, who works for the city's Department of Cultural Affairs, talks about the city's most diverse neighborhoods.
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Ethnic Neighborhoods Define Chicago

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Ethnic Neighborhoods Define Chicago

Ethnic Neighborhoods Define Chicago

Ethnic Neighborhoods Define Chicago

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Chicago is one of the most diverse cities in the United States. For decades, migrants from all over the world have settled in the Midwestern city and made it their home. Chicago native Al Walavich, who works for the city's Department of Cultural Affairs, talks about the city's most diverse neighborhoods.

MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is Tell Me More from NPR News. We are broadcasting live from Wishbone restaurant. It's a Chicago hotspot. We're in the West loop location having some coffee, trying not to stare at other people's food. In a minute, we're going to be joined by the editors of two of our favorite magazines. They are also attending the UNITY Convention of Journalists of Color, meeting here this week. We're also at that convention.

But first, we want to talk about who actually lives in Chicago. This city is an amazing cultural mix. For decades, immigrants from around the world have settled in this city. You probably know about some of them. There's even more of a mix than you might think. Here to tell us more is Chicago native Al Walavich of Chicago Neighborhood Tourists. Welcome, thank you for stopping by.

Mr. AL WALAVICH (Guide, Chicago Neighborhood Tourist Division, Department of Cultural Affairs): Thank you, Michel, very happy to be here.

MARTIN: Any idea why have people from so many different countries chosen Chicago as their home?

Mr. WALAVICH: Well, a lot of it was to do with work. There was a great deal of opportunity in the 19th century, early 20th century. We were a blue collar town, lots of things available for people to come to, and Europeans kept seeing this as being one of the major destinations. We had transportation. We had the industry.

MARTIN: This still - I mean, no American city is as blue collar as it used to be. Why do people continue to come?

Mr. WALAVICH: There is some blue collar still available. Also, there just seems to be so much else available in this city, and people are fascinated by it. They're drawn here, and every once in a while, there are certain destination points that people just seem to be drawn to. And Chicago seems to be one of them, and my neighborhood uptown was definitely one of those port of entries for many years.

MARTIN: Now, everybody - I think a lot of people are familiar with the Eastern European presence in this city, but what are some of the other immigrant groups that you can find here that people may not know about? For example, there's a very strong Latino community here. I'm not sure if people - everybody outside of Chicago knows about that.

Mr. WALAVICH: Very strong Latino community, very large Indo-Chinese community, a very strong and active Indian-Pakistani community, a large Assyrian community. We can just sort of go through the entire list, and it's just come through wave by wave. And they've settled themselves in and having wonderful lives for themselves here.

MARTIN: Now, you are a Chicago native. You tour different neighborhoods almost daily. I have to put you on the spot. What's your favorite?

Mr. WALAVICH: Where I live.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WALAVICH: I live in uptown. I've been there for 47 years, but Chicago neighborhoods are endlessly fascinating. There's always something to see. This is one of the great things with Chicago Neighborhood Tours, giving both Chicagoans and people from outside the city the chance to encounter these neighborhoods, places they'd never even think of going to, and suddenly being told by natives, this is what you look at? And they kind of go, ha - it's something here. Then they go back, and that's always the great fun, when they go back and start visiting on their own.

MARTIN: Have you discovered anything new recently that you didn't even know was there?

Mr. WALAVICH: I am forever discovering new things on buildings, the occasional store that will pop up that wasn't there last time I was there. It is always surprising me.

MARTIN: Come on now.

Mr. WALAVICH: Why.

MARTIN: Come on, you know. Tell us something we can. like. really show off, like, when I go back to Washington. and we want to show of our Chicago cred, you know. Let me drop some names, come on.

Mr. WALAVICH: Give Chicago cred. Anderson...

MARTIN: The one thing I tell people that they shouldn't do is ask where the best pizza is. Is that right?

Mr. WALAVICH: Well, you'll get - I mean, you have several people in the restaurant here. Line us all up. You'll get answers differently from every one of them. My favorite pizza in Chicago comes from a place that's run by an Italian - not even an Italian, a Greek immigrant. So, I mean, this is very interesting, the way things work out in Chicago. Here are Chicago creds, what do you have to know about Chicago?

MARTIN: Yeah.

Mr. WALAVICH: You've got to go out and experience some of the neighborhoods ,and the amazing ones, Bronzeville, Uptown, Andersonville, Lincoln Square, which is a very interesting combination of an old German neighborhood with a bit of a Greek overlay coming into it. So we've got these constant changes, and our Chinatown, this is not a tourist attraction. It's a true Chinese neighborhood. It's like 85 percent ethnic Chinese living in there.

MARTIN: Really. Good food?

Mr. WALAVICH: Wonderful food.

MARTIN: OK.

Mr. WALAVICH: Side by side, you have a hard time finding bad food in Chinatown.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: You have a hard time finding bad food in Chicago, right?

Mr. WALAVICH: That's the way I feel.

MARTIN: Al Walavich is a native of Chicago and a guide with the Chicago Neighborhood Tourist Division of the Department of Cultural Affairs. He was kind enough to join us here at Wishbone. Thank you so much.

Mr. WALAVICH: Very happy to join you today.

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