B A PARKER, HOST:
Just a note that this episode contains some mature language.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GENE DEMBY, HOST:
What's good, Chicago?
PARKER: How y'all doing tonight?
LORI LIZARRAGA, HOST:
Hi. Hello. Good evening, Chicago.
DEMBY: Thank you all for coming out to kick it with us tonight. This is our first live show IRL in two years.
DEMBY: Crazy, right? We have missed y'all.
PARKER: I mean, I'm still fairly new. I don't know y'all, but y'all seem nice enough.
DEMBY: Oh, yeah. Y'all might have noticed that there are some new faces up here. This is a new CODE SWITCH, so, as the man says, allow us to reintroduce ourselves. As y'all may know, I am Gene Demby. What's good?
DEMBY: To my right...
PARKER: Hi. I'm B.A. Parker, and it's a pleasure to meet y'all.
DEMBY: Give it up for Parker. Y'all probably heard her on the podcast over the last couple of months, the last few episodes. And over on the far right - not far right like that but, like, on the far right, like, over there. Well, Lori, introduce yourself to the people. This is the first time they'll meet her, for real, for real.
LIZARRAGA: He had to set me up like that. Hi, y'all. I'm Lori Lizarraga. I am so proud and excited to be here with y'all tonight.
DEMBY: Lori is the newest member of our CODE SWITCH troika. We're so amped that you're with us.
LIZARRAGA: Thank you, Gene.
DEMBY: We're so amped that y'all are with us.
LIZARRAGA: The live show has a theme. And tonight's theme is home.
DEMBY: We've been thinking about that a lot 'cause, as y'all know, the last couple of years have been a lot. We've reoriented ourselves to home, what we do at home, what happens at home.
PARKER: Where and what is home? I mean, we have moved. We have lost loved ones. We have built new families, all of that.
LIZARRAGA: And because the definition of home has changed so much for so many of us, well, we're going to do a little unpacking...
DEMBY: Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.
LIZARRAGA: ...Of that tonight, of course, with a lot of amazing guests, a few of whom are already on stage with us.
DEMBY: Chicago's own KAINA - make some noise for KAINA, y'all.
KAINA: Hello, Chicago.
DEMBY: (Imitating air horn).
LIZARRAGA: And the goobs (ph).
DEMBY: KAINA, say what's good to your city.
KAINA: Hey, Chicago. How are you?
DEMBY: Irving Park in the house. Give it up for Irving Park, right? It's Irving Park, right? It's Irving Park, right?
KAINA: It's Irving Park.
DEMBY: OK. It's Irving Park. All right. OK. Yeah.
PARKER: Now, KAINA and her crew are going to be providing the musical morsels throughout...
DEMBY: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
PARKER: ...The show, and they'll close out with a little concert tonight.
DEMBY: Ow, ow, ow.
LIZARRAGA: It's going to be great.
DEMBY: So speaking of home, Lori, who is this basketball-team-sized family that we see right here?
LIZARRAGA: They are not basketball-team-sized in stature, but they would really appreciate you saying that. But yeah, yeah, I got a lot of people. This is my family. I'm the middle of five kids, and you're looking at what I consider to be my home.
DEMBY: And where is home?
LIZARRAGA: Yeah. Well, you know, I feel like it's not necessarily a particular place, necessarily. I grew up in Texas. I was born in Louisiana. My dad's family is from Mexico. My mom is from Ecuador. And somehow my family ended up in Waxahachie, Texas.
DEMBY: Give it up for Waxahachie. Waxahachie in the house.
PARKER: Yeah, Waxahachie.
DEMBY: So then, Lori, what do you consider home?
LIZARRAGA: I feel like a lot of immigrant families can relate to this, right? Like, I have family all over the country. And so because of that, I feel like home is less a zip code or a place, and it's more whenever we're together. My family, my siblings, my baby nephew - wherever we are, when we're together, that's home.
DEMBY: Aw, that's nice. Aw.
PARKER: Aw, that's so nice. It's something beautiful.
LIZARRAGA: Y'all, quit messing.
DEMBY: All right, so next up, we got this football-team-sized family up here.
PARKER: We are a formidable bunch. Respect.
DEMBY: Formidable bunch - it's a formidable bunch.
PARKER: All right. Though I was born and raised in Baltimore, this is my ancestral - it's my family, our ancestral home in Creswell, N.C.
DEMBY: Is Creswell, N.C. - probably not. - Creswell, N.C. in the house?
PARKER: No 'cause the population's only 207.
DEMBY: Oh, 207 people in Creswell, this is...
LIZARRAGA: And they're all pictured here.
PARKER: They're all in this picture (laughter).
DEMBY: They're all in this picture. They're all in this picture.
PARKER: But yeah, like, my maternal great-grandfather and his brother-in-law built this house in the late 1940s. And unlike Lori, I was raised an only child. But my...
PARKER: Shout-out to the only children.
DEMBY: Only children, they don't know how to share.
PARKER: But my grandmother had nine siblings, and my...
DEMBY: Oh, my gosh.
PARKER: ...Grandfather had eight siblings, so I have 38 second cousins.
DEMBY: Jesus. God damn.
LIZARRAGA: Just a few.
PARKER: Just a few. And I mean, that's - there's a lot more third and fourth cousins. And, you know, in our families that just means cousin. That doesn't mean, you know...
DEMBY: Yeah, yeah.
PARKER: Lineage doesn't mean anything. But like any big family, like, you know, you love them. They also kind of work your nerves, but that's what big families do. And I have spent so much time with my gigantic family on this farm in the middle of the - of nowhere in North Carolina and surrounded by octogenarians, which could explain why I sound like an angry Southern baby. But who knows?
DEMBY: Y'all know those jokes about how you can tell when a Black child was raised by their grandparents? Like, you could ask them how old they are, and they'll be like, well, I'll be 5 1/2 come July, should the good Lord see fit. That's Parker. That is Parker.
LIZARRAGA: It really is, though.
PARKER: You know what? That's rude, but that's not wrong.
DEMBY: It's true. It's - listen.
LIZARRAGA: It's not wrong.
PARKER: It's not wrong.
DEMBY: It's not shade. I'm just saying it's true.
LIZARRAGA: It's so true.
DEMBY: All right. So we got a really dope show for y'all tonight with a bunch of guests from Chicago.
LIZARRAGA: Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait.
PARKER: Oh, I know. That's right. Yeah, Gene.
DEMBY: What happened? What are we talking about?
LIZARRAGA: What about your homes?
DEMBY: Come on, man. Why y'all in my business, though?
PARKER: That's literally our job. Our job is to be nosy.
DEMBY: Fair enough.
PARKER: We're journalists.
DEMBY: I'ma (ph) gush a little bit. OK. So this is home for me.
DEMBY: So, and I'ma (ph) try not to get emotional up here. So today is my son's one-year birthday - first birthday.
PARKER: Happy birthday, honey bunny.
LIZARRAGA: Happy birthday, baby.
DEMBY: That is my poo bear, slash - aka Dookie Ellington, aka Flemmy Martin, aka Drewell Santana. He's 24 pounds, but he has, like, reoriented the gravity of our universe, of our emotional universe in the last year. So home for me is, like, all the routines that we have. I'm sure that's true for a lot of y'all, right? When you think of home, you actually think about your childhood. You think of, like, what Sunday morning felt like, right? And so we're making that stuff up right now. So our routines - not to be all Catholic about it, right? But those routines have become like rituals. So, you know, in the morning before we get ready to daycare, you know, we do our little two-step to Soul for Real, you know what I'm saying? He loves Soul for Real.
PARKER: Oh, he going to be an old baby like me.
DEMBY: Yeah, like you.
LIZARRAGA: Yeah, there you go.
DEMBY: I didn't say there was nothing wrong with it. I'm just saying - you know what I'm saying? You know, bath time is sacrosanct - 6:30 every day.
LIZARRAGA: Well, then we got to get this show going...
DEMBY: Yeah, man.
LIZARRAGA: ...So that you can get back for bathtime and to celebrate.
DEMBY: Yeah, he's going to turn up this weekend. We going to turn up this weekend.
PARKER: I mean, you could still be popping bottles. See, I can be - no, I can be corny like you, Gene.
LIZARRAGA: No, I liked that.
PARKER: I can be corny like you.
DEMBY: I'ma (ph) get her back for that one.
LIZARRAGA: I liked that, though.
DEMBY: I'ma (ph) get her back for that one.
LIZARRAGA: That was good, Parker.
DEMBY: OK, so enough about us. For tonight's show we really do have a dope lineup of guests from Chicago.
PARKER: Later in the show, Gene and I are going to talk to creators and stars of the critically acclaimed HBO Max comedy "South Side."
DEMBY: Let's go. It's funny as hell.
DEMBY: Then all three of us will answer your questions as part of one of our favorite segments, for Ask Code Switch.
LIZARRAGA: But we're going to start the night off with a little poetry.
DEMBY: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
LIZARRAGA: All right, let's do this.
PARKER: Hey, Chicago, give it up for Jose Olivarez.
JOSE OLIVAREZ: Hello, Chicago. My name is Jose Guadalupe Olivarez. The title of this poem is "Ode To Tortillas."
(Reading) There's two ways to be a Mexican writer that we've discovered so far. You can be the Mexican writer who writes about tortillas, or you can be the Mexican writer who writes about croissants instead of the tortillas on their plate. Can you be a Mexican writer if you're allergic to corn? There's two ways to be a Mexican writer that are true and tested. You can write about migration or you can write about migration. Can you be a Mexican writer if you never migrated - if your family never migrated? There's two ways to be a Mexican writer. You can translate from Spanish, or you can translate to Spanish, or you can refuse to translate all together. There's only one wound in the Mexican writer's imagination, and it's the wound of the chancla.
OLIVAREZ: (Reading) It's the wound of birria being sold out at the taco truck. It's the wound of too many dolores and not enough dollars. It can be argued that these are all chanclazos. Even death is a chanclazo. There's only one miracle gifted to Mexicans. And it is the miracle of never running out of cheap beer. It's the miracle of never running out of bad jokes. There's infinite ways to eat a tortilla - made in the ancient ways by hand and warmed on a comal, made with corn or with Taco Bell plastic. What about flour tortillas? Flour tortillas count if you ask San Antonio. My people, I am poly with the tortillas. You can eat tortillas with your hands or roll them up and dip them in caldo like my mom does. You can eat them with a fork and knife like my bougie cousins do. What bougie cousins? I made them up for the purpose of this poem.
OLIVAREZ: (Reading) You can eat tortillas in tacos or warmed up by microwave and drizzled with butter - tortillas con arroz, tortillas con frijoles, tortillas flipped by hand or tortillas flipped with a spatula, tortillas with eggs for breakfast, tortillas fried and sprinkled with sugar for dessert, hard-shell tortillas, gluten-free tortillas for our mixed family. We are still discovering new ways to fold a tortilla, to cut a tortilla up, to transform a tortilla into new worlds, to feed each other with tortillas. My people - if I have children, I will teach them about tortillas. But I'm sure they'll want McDonald's.
LIZARRAGA: Jose Olivarez, everybody. Wow, wow, wow.
OLIVAREZ: Thank you. Hey. All right.
PARKER: All right. So, Jose, tell us about your poem.
OLIVAREZ: So that poem is called "Ode To Tortillas." I wrote it after eating huevos rancheros for breakfast one day. And I was trying to think to myself, what am I going to write about today? And I was like, how come I never write about tortillas? Tortillas is something that I eat all the time, and yet it never found its way into my writing. And so that was my challenge, was, like, how can I write about tortillas in a way that doesn't feel cliche to me, that doesn't feel like I'm just sort of being like, and now here's some Mexican thing? You know what I mean? Like, how can I do it in a way that felt real to me and with something at stake?
LIZARRAGA: And I feel like from the very first lines of "Ode To Tortillas," hearing you say you're a Mexican writer, like, right off the top, it's beautiful to hear that pride, but it also sounds like there's a little bit of inner conflict maybe?
OLIVAREZ: Yeah. For me, part of the challenge of being a writer is, like, how do we talk about these things? How do I write about these things that are close to me without making a spectacle out of it, right? How do I continue to treat these things that are important to me - right? - the theme is home - that are home to me with the amount of gravity and respect that they deserve?
LIZARRAGA: Yeah. That struggle to be authentic without being, like, a stereotype, I think you can hear that, for sure.
PARKER: Yeah. And, like, who gets to say what is authentic?
PARKER: Yeah. And, like, 'cause I - like, it's influenced by, like, where we come from, where we grow up and, like, what is home. And for Jose, that's right here.
LIZARRAGA: Calumet City.
PARKER: 'Cause I was going to ask you, like, how has - 'cause you no longer live in Calumet City.
OLIVAREZ: I don't.
PARKER: And that's all right. But, like, is your definition of home changing?
OLIVAREZ: Yeah. I mean, I had to - so I live in Jersey City now, which is not only...
PARKER: Also, I'm so sorry.
OLIVAREZ: It's not only not Calumet City. It's not Chicago. It's not the Midwest. There's no Great Lake nearby. You know what I mean? Like, not even Lake Ontario or something like that.
PARKER: Hey, we got the Hudson.
OLIVAREZ: We have the Hudson River. There's water. The Atlantic Ocean - you know what I mean? But Lake Michigan is special. I used - that was my compass. I always knew where I was based on, like, where I was in relationship to the lake. But for me, I really had to make peace with, like, life is going to take me in different places. As long as I'm surrounded by the people that I'm love, and I stay true to those people, then I will always feel at home.
PARKER: But speaking of which, all right, so you have a new book of poetry coming out in February. It's called "Promises Of Gold."
OLIVAREZ: Hey, yeah.
LIZARRAGA: The cover art is so good.
PARKER: And it's about the many people you've loved - and not just romantic loves but your friendships and those really important lifelong childhood friendships and friends you made along the way that are important in your life.
LIZARRAGA: You said, Jose, that there's a poem in this book that illustrates that really well. You mind reading a little bit of that for us?
OLIVAREZ: Yeah, of course.
LIZARRAGA: Thank you.
OLIVAREZ: Thank you for asking.
OLIVAREZ: This poem is called "Mercedes Says She Prefers The Word 'Discoteca' To The Word 'Club.'"
(Reading) Give me words that sing. Ojala is three chickens laying brown eggs. Hope has its own music, but it's missing an accordion. My friends are up to their usual shenanigans, drinking good wine and being sad. My friends don't get into trouble. Trouble wears sombreros and calls it a costume. My friends are traviesos y malcriados y sin verguenzas. Let me translate. DJ Ca$h Era is making the walls sweat. Slow jams crawl through the speakers, and our hips move like someone's spilled syrup over the night. Mercedes is right. I'm always down to go to the discoteca - a word that spins on the tongue like a disco ball. Keep your clubs. Cops carry clubs, and in this poem, there are no police. Someone spilled syrup over the night. It was us. The moon is a chicken singing ojala, ojala, ojala.
LIZARRAGA: Oh. So beautiful.
OLIVAREZ: Thank you all so much for having me. I love you, Chicago.
LIZARRAGA: Y'all, give it up one more time for Jose Olivarez.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
PARKER: Hi, Gene. Welcome back.
DEMBY: Hello, Parker. Thanks for having me back.
PARKER: Oh, no. We're using our NPR voices.
DEMBY: Support your local public radio station by...
DEMBY: All right. So at first, HBO Max's "South Side" seemed like it's going to be a comedy - a workplace comedy - about two friends who work at a rent-to-own store on the South Side of Chicago. But very quickly, it becomes clear that the show has a much wider, more absurd lens. And all the shenanigans are set in and filmed in one of the country's most historic and vibrant Black enclaves. Here's the trailer.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SOUTH SIDE")
SULTAN SALAHUDDIN: (As Simon James) Life has dealt me some shitty cards, but with this, I'm about to play a royal flush.
(As Simon James) We're about to be venture capitalists on the South Side.
ANTOINE MCKAY: (As Uncle Spike) Adventure capitalist.
SALAHUDDIN: (As Simon James) Venture capitalists.
MCKAY: (As Uncle Spike) My way is better 'cause we've taken people's money on an adventure.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
SALAHUDDIN: (As Simon James) That's a nice little hustle.
QUINCY YOUNG: (As Quincy 'Q' Odom) Dude, he's selling popcorn. Get your tongue out his butt.
(As Quincy 'Q' Odom) I dab. I diggity dodge the jab while wiggly liggly (ph) loading up the cart with popcorn bags.
SALAHUDDIN: (As Simon James, singing) We got popcorn for a dollar.
PARKER: All right. Give it up for Sultan Salahuddin and Diallo Riddle.
DEMBY: Yeah, man.
DIALLO RIDDLE: They should have never let us on NPR.
RIDDLE: We about to get the whole thing shut down.
SALAHUDDIN: Never, son.
DEMBY: Let's do it.
PARKER: Don't get us canceled.
RIDDLE: Let's just get this out there. Let's just get this out there.
PARKER: Go 'head.
RIDDLE: So we are proud that the show...
RIDDLE: ...Is so Chicago, so Chicago, right? And let me say that all the series regulars and all the creators and all the writers, with one exception, are from Chicago. That one exception is me.
DEMBY: You, yup.
RIDDLE: I did grow up in Atlanta, Ga. But...
RIDDLE: ...I will say that his brother and...
RIDDLE: ...Everybody else on the show is not even just from Chicago. They are from the South Side.
DEMBY: The South Side of Chicago.
RIDDLE: They're from the South Side.
SALAHUDDIN: And if I might add, Diallo has been in our lives for so long, he is - he's got a Chicago pass.
DEMBY: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
SALAHUDDIN: Like, he knows how to conduct himself.
DEMBY: We're going to come back to that.
SALAHUDDIN: He's Chicago.
RIDDLE: We'll come back. Look, I'm ready for it.
SALAHUDDIN: Yeah. You know what it is.
RIDDLE: I can feel the tension. I can feel the tension, Gene.
DEMBY: You say that now.
PARKER: All right. So I want to get into your show 'cause what I love about the show - it's like "The Simpsons" or "Parks And Recreation," where the character roster runs so deep. And so, like, I know you got your shady cops. You got your bored retail workers. You got your politicians. And these are people that seem so specific. And I know, Sultan, you are from South Side.
SALAHUDDIN: Yeah, I am. I'm from the South Side of Chicago.
DEMBY: Gresham, right? Gresham?
SALAHUDDIN: Auburn Gresham area for those that you know. Eight-two hundred, used to get chased by all of the gangs, but it's cool.
PARKER: So are any of the characters based on anyone?
SALAHUDDIN: Yeah. I think - you know, one of the things that was really important to us - and we can attest to this - in the writing room is we wanted to make sure that the characters were based on authentic Chicago personalities. It was really important for us to make sure that we made the show as authentic to Chicago as possible. And one of the things were to make sure that we had some of the funniest people in our lives...
SALAHUDDIN: ...Who are from Chicago to be on the show. So you'll see a lot of characters that are - you know, may not traditionally be - fit in a mold, but they are funny to our lives.
RIDDLE: Yeah. I mean - a couple quick things - one, we grew up big fans of "The Simpsons," so any comparison to Springfield - that is the style that we - we wanted to make the South Side Springfield. That's number one. Second thing...
RIDDLE: ...This idea comes from real life. In real life, for those of you who've watched the show, Quincy...
SALAHUDDIN: That's right.
RIDDLE: ...One of the twins, the one who plays the manager of the store, he worked for Rent-A-Center in real life...
SALAHUDDIN: Sixteen years.
RIDDLE: ...You know?
DEMBY: Wow. He was in the trenches.
SALAHUDDIN: Sixteen years.
DEMBY: In the trenches.
RIDDLE: It wasn't a short amount of time. And he would regale us with these stories...
SALAHUDDIN: Oh, my God.
RIDDLE: ...Of, like, the messed-up things he had to do at - working at Rent-A-Center.
SALAHUDDIN: He would pull up in front of my mama's house in a Rent-A-Center truck like, what y'all doing?
PARKER: I'd be like...
PARKER: Ain't you supposed to be at work?
SALAHUDDIN: I am at work.
RIDDLE: Nobody wants to see that truck pull up...
RIDDLE: ...You know what I mean? And so, you know...
DEMBY: What do you mean?
RIDDLE: ...He would talk about replevins...
RIDDLE: ...Which is a version of - whatever a Rent-A-Center version of a repossession is. You know, that's what he would do. And it was funny, and it was dark. And we were like, let's do a dark-humor...
SALAHUDDIN: Yup. Absolutely.
RIDDLE: ...Show that has elements of "The Simpsons" and a show called "Trailer Park Boys" that some people might know about...
RIDDLE: ...Like - just sort of, like - yeah, thank you.
RIDDLE: It's - I didn't work on it, but that's...
SALAHUDDIN: Neither did I.
RIDDLE: You know, like, that's where these stories came from. And when we took it out, you know, it was immediately like, oh, we're going to be able to sell this show because this is a point of view that Hollywood doesn't always get right, you know what I'm saying? Like, this is true working-class Chicago. This is not, like, some effete stuff. So, yeah...
SALAHUDDIN: And one of the beautiful things, if I may dovetail on that...
RIDDLE: Go for it.
SALAHUDDIN: ...That's a college word I use...
SALAHUDDIN: ...Was that we could use Rent-A-Center as a vehicle to explore the city and see the different sides of Chicago. And I think, as you see in Season 1 of Season 2, we were able to execute that. So this has been a wonderful journey for us.
PARKER: 'Cause one thing that I'm curious about - 'cause on CODE SWITCH, we have talked very openly about how we think about how we need to explain things to the audience.
DEMBY: Or whether we should, right?
PARKER: Yeah. And, like, how do you balance, like, your love for Chicago and specifically, like, Black Chicago things like, I mean, like, stepping culture and things like that and - with making sure us non-Chicagoans can get the joke?
RIDDLE: Let me hop in on this one.
SALAHUDDIN: Please do.
RIDDLE: As somebody who has been working in this business for over 10 years now, I will say, right off the bat, there's nothing worse than having to explain comedy, nothing worse. You...
SALAHUDDIN: Did you get the joke? Did you get it?
RIDDLE: No. And by the way, we've sat in the room with executives when they read one of our scripts, and they're - not on this show, but on some other shows - and they've been like - we wrote a whole episode that took place - one time, for another show - it took place in the Black mall...
SALAHUDDIN: Oh, yeah.
RIDDLE: ...You know, in D.C.
DEMBY: Yeah, man. I worked at the Chick-Fil-A in the Black mall in Philly.
RIDDLE: We all know what that is, right?
DEMBY: Stories - yeah, absolutely.
RIDDLE: Back in the day, if there was more than one Foot Locker in the mall, it was the Black mall.
DEMBY: Yes, absolutely (laughter).
SALAHUDDIN: Evergreen Plaza, for those of you who know.
RIDDLE: No. Every city has one. Every city has one.
PARKER: Yeah, yeah.
RIDDLE: But, you know, an executive who is not Black...
SALAHUDDIN: Ever Black.
RIDDLE: ...He was like, well, guys, we want to write something grounded. Is there really such a thing as a Black mall?
DEMBY: Come on, man.
PARKER: Let me tell you, there is.
RIDDLE: We knew at that point that show was going to have some hurdles that were going to be very hard to get across.
DEMBY: Housing segregation and everything 'cause...
RIDDLE: No, because you don't want to ever have to explain your humor. And Bashir and I both come from large Black families. So we have this tradition of just, like, you know, making the people around the dinner table laugh. And when we have our writers room, we try to recreate that. You know what I'm saying? And so we don't spend any time in our writers room asking the question, well, do you think people are going to get it? We figure if we're laughing at it, our audience will, too. And I think that's why the authenticity is so easy to come across.
DEMBY: Right. OK. So...
DEMBY: I actually want to talk to y'all about that. So Parker is from Baltimore. I'm from South Philly, right?
DEMBY: And so we were talking a lot about how we feel some type of way about the way our cities...
SALAHUDDIN: How y'all feel? Talk to us about that. What's going on?
DEMBY: ...How our cities, you know...
PARKER: Not great. Not great.
SALAHUDDIN: Let your hair down. What's happening?
DEMBY: So our cities are portrayed a certain way in popular culture.
DEMBY: You know what I mean? Like, especially Black cities.
SALAHUDDIN: Familiar with that. Very familiar with that.
DEMBY: You know what I mean? And so, you know, we were just talking about, like, how we feel, you know, like, a little sensitive about those portrayals - you know what I'm saying? - Philly, in my case.
PARKER: I mean, at least now y'all got "Abbott Elementary."
DEMBY: That's true. We got "Abbott Elementary."
SALAHUDDIN: Well, I - you know, I think...
PARKER: All we got is "The Wire."
DEMBY: All they got is "The Wire." That's true. That's true.
SALAHUDDIN: Ooh, "The Wire" - there's a romantic comedy.
PARKER: It's full of laughs.
SALAHUDDIN: Couple of laughs.
DEMBY: So obviously, like, Chicago, though - Chicago, like, in the discourse, you know, Chicago's, like, a shorthand. You know what I'm saying? Fox News is like, Chicago.
DEMBY: Like, there's, like, a whole kind of stuff they're trying to signal to you.
DEMBY: So I'm curious about, like, how y'all - how that informs the way y'all are writing about Black Chicago.
RIDDLE: OK. I'll tell you a quick anecdote. The - there was a time I was getting into a rideshare after we had been shooting late one night. And I get into the car. I'm really tired. But, like, the driver was like, hey, man, I hear y'all are doing a comedy about the South Side. And he said it, like, mad aggressive.
SALAHUDDIN: Yeah, without a doubt.
RIDDLE: I was like, oh, no, I don't have time. I don't have any energy for this right now.
SALAHUDDIN: I'm trapped, brother man.
RIDDLE: I was like, one star. But he was like...
DEMBY: Was he asking for a job? Or like...
RIDDLE: No. I was like - but no - but then he was like, yeah, I heard you're doing a comedy about the South Side. He was like, thank you. You know, he was like, so many people get this wrong.
RIDDLE: And, you know, it's just, like - there's so - like he said, so many famous people, you know, from Bernie Mac and Robin Harris and, like...
RIDDLE: ...So many funny - like, the legacy of the South Side doesn't get out there the same way that Bill Murray and, you know, the North Side is out there. You know what I'm saying? So we just feel like it's so important for us to lay it out because when you meet people from Chicago, they're never talking like - like you said...
RIDDLE: ...Like, the news people. Like, they - you know, we love the South Side. You know what I'm saying? People want to get back. You talk to, you know, Chicago transplants in Atlanta and LA and Philly, like, they're always like, man, I love Chicago. I can't wait to get back. So we wanted to have that joy expressed on the show.
SALAHUDDIN: I also think that when you go to other places - and some of you have experienced this - when you tell them where you're from, they're like, Chicago? How'd you survive? How'd you make it here in Iowa? Well, I took a bus.
SALAHUDDIN: But the reality is, is that it was really important to us - and Diallo can attest to this - is that in the writing room, we thought it was really important to show a side of Chicago that isn't often seen, talked about, felt or heard and doing it through the medium of humor. And so we took it very personal that there are a lot of things that are said about our city that - you know, that is one perspective, but that is not the whole piece of the pie. That's maybe 10% of it. The other 90% is love, family, fun, sports, you know, coming together and growth and community. I mean, I was watching on Media Take Out last week, it was all kind of brothers in red and black jackets that was on the L, downtown, and they were just standing there to protect, to make sure citizens weren't getting hurt and getting beat up because there was a lot of violence. So that's the kind of stuff that you don't really hear about on the news, but that's kind of stuff I'm proud of. So...
DEMBY: That's what's up.
PARKER: So, like, I loved the one - there was one episode of the show in particular that was an ode to "Ferris Bueller's Day Off"...
RIDDLE: Yeah. "Brenda And Turner's Day Off" (ph).
PARKER: ...An iconic Chicago movie.
SALAHUDDIN: That's right.
RIDDLE: And it was intentionally set so that we could talk about, you know, the things that happen in a John Hughes film...
RIDDLE: ...But from the Black lens and specifically from the Black female lens. You know what I mean? Like, we're proud that our writers room is actually majority Black female.
PARKER: Give it up for that.
SALAHUDDIN: Ladies are taking over, son.
PARKER: That's right. Because we're...
SALAHUDDIN: Very talented writers.
PARKER: Because, like, here is the clip of the "South Side" version.
SALAHUDDIN: Oh, here we go.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SOUTH SIDE")
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) All right. Now, I got family coming in.
PARKER: But we can't listen to a lot of it because it's cursing.
DEMBY: A lot of it's cursing.
PARKER: And we're NPR.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SOUTH SIDE")
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) This car - don't even care about it.
(SOUNDBITE OF THUMPING)
NEFETARI SPENCER: (As Keisha) Whoa. Brenda, Brenda, Brenda, Brenda.
ALISHA COWAN: (As Brenda Cole) Keisha.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) My car.
SALAHUDDIN: She just sit there.
SALAHUDDIN: Scene only took 11 takes.
PARKER: It took 11 takes.
DEMBY: When I first saw the episode, I was like, oh, it's a "Ferris Bueller" episode. I was like, how they going to do the scene with the car? I know they're not going to drive a car out the side of the window.
RIDDLE: You know what? I think we shot it in reverse.
RIDDLE: You know, that's one of the fun - we're movie nerds at the end of the day. So, you know, we're like - we take all this stuff that we would have learned in film school had we had the money to attend film school.
SALAHUDDIN: Oh, yeah.
RIDDLE: Yeah. We apply it to the - I mean, like, in Season 3, we have a whole episode basically dedicated to Christopher Nolan's "The Dark Knight," you know, because...
SALAHUDDIN: Yeah, man. Y'all ain't ready. Y'all ain't ready.
RIDDLE: ...Because we wanted to show Lower Wacker. We wanted to show - so the same way we, you know, did a Ferris Bueller, we - you'll see it. You'll like it.
DEMBY: The throughline of the show was, like, side hustles. There's all these people...
DEMBY: ...Like, sort of trying to get by or trying to get over. So, like, why did y'all decide to make the show about side hustles so much?
SALAHUDDIN: 'Cause that's authentic to Chicago. I mean, I don't know. My mailman, the guy who worked at the corner store - they all sold stuff on the side. I think that's synonymous to Chicago lifestyle. You can have the 9 to 5. I have a friend who works for CTA and cuts hair on the side. So, like, why are you...
RIDDLE: Of the train.
SALAHUDDIN: Yeah. You know, the side of the train. You can catch him on 63rd. No. But - Cottage Grove - as the train's coming - hurry up, brother. We got to get this fade in. No. But the point is...
RIDDLE: By the way, this is what the writer's room is like. And then we write that character.
SALAHUDDIN: Hey, is he cutting hair again? Yeah. But the reality behind it is in the lives of Chicagoans, on the - you can have a very glamorous career and make six figures. That does not stop you from trying to better your life and improve your life, whether it be a side hustle...
RIDDLE: And that's a Chicago thing. But that also - you know, you guys are from other cities, too. Like, you know, South Philly - you know, I'm from southwest Atlanta. You can be from South Central, South Bronx. We always joke, why do Black people always want to live south of the city? I don't know what that's about. We need to unpack that one day. But, like, you know, look, "South Side," you could watch it and be from any community and hopefully enjoy it. We try to make things very universal in their specificity. But if you're from, you know, Chicago, you just get that extra little bit, you know what I mean? So, you know, "The Day The Jordans Drop" is very specific.
DEMBY: That is such a good episode.
RIDDLE: Very specific.
DEMBY: There's an episode...
SALAHUDDIN: Yeah. All right.
DEMBY: ...About the day the new Jordans come out, and all the cops are like, here we go.
RIDDLE: They're like, no vacation days today.
SALAHUDDIN: We don't want to do that.
PARKER: OK, what is the wildest side hustle that y'all have ever had?
RIDDLE: In real life?
DEMBY: Yeah, in real life. A little birdie told us that you used to be in a R&B group with his brother, though.
RIDDLE: Me and Bashir were in a group called Brothers.
SALAHUDDIN: Imagine that - two Black dudes in a group called Brothers.
DEMBY: Y'all did not take a lot of time with that name.
RIDDLE: It seemed cool at the time, y'all.
SALAHUDDIN: Hey, brother, you going to sing?
RIDDLE: Hey, what should we name ourselves, brother? We didn't talk like the...
SALAHUDDIN: Fine brothers.
RIDDLE: How old do you think - we're not from 1978. No.
SALAHUDDIN: That's a cool jacket, brother. Your brother sure can sing, brother.
RIDDLE: No, it was like - yeah, we were singing like Shai and Boyz II Men and Jodeci and all that kind of stuff.
PARKER: Oh, there you go.
DEMBY: How do y'all do - Shai has, like, four-part harmonies, though. Like, it's only two of y'all.
RIDDLE: Yeah, we thought that was cool.
SALAHUDDIN: Yeah. They could sing.
RIDDLE: If people had a coffee shop, we were there. On a Friday night, we were singing. We were singing Usher songs, you know? They call us U-S-H-E-R. Like, it didn't even make sense.
SALAHUDDIN: Everybody had a letter.
DEMBY: Oh, my God.
SALAHUDDIN: That's funny.
RIDDLE: We was up in there.
PARKER: All right. Now, Diallo Riddle and Sultan Salahuddin are co-creators of "South Side" on HBO Max. One more time, Chicago - give it up for Diallo Riddle and Sultan Salahuddin.
RIDDLE: Thank you for having us.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
LIZARRAGA: We're going into this last section of the show.
DEMBY: Yep, yep, yep.
LIZARRAGA: I can't believe it's flying so fast.
DEMBY: I know, right? As you might guess, people send us questions all the time about race. You know what I mean? They tweet at us. They email us, help us. They ask us to deep dive with them about questions that are bothering them, questions like, should I be saying Latinx? Does anybody really say Latinx out loud?
LIZARRAGA: No. Should I keep my cherished, lifelong friendships with the white people who are also sometimes racist to me?
DEMBY: I mean, that one seems kind of easy. I don't know. I don't know. Is it even possible to have a decolonized beauty routine? Questions like that.
PARKER: And we get stuff like this so often that we decided to dedicate whole episodes to answer them.
DEMBY: And that's how we came up with Ask CODE SWITCH, which has been one of our favorite segments ever since we started the show. Like, think Car Talk, but instead of janky carburetors that go (imitating broken carburetor), you got racist uncles who go, well, why can they say it, but I can't?
LIZARRAGA: Yeah, like that.
DEMBY: Those episodes tend to have a theme. And obviously tonight the theme is going to be home and Chicago. But we didn't want to just helicopter in 'cause this is not - like, this is not our territory. So we called in a huge favor from someone whose job it is to literally answer questions from listeners about Chicago.
PARKER: She's a reporter on WBEZ's Curious City podcast. Please give it up for Curious City podcast. Please welcome to the stage Adriana Cardona-Maguigad.
LIZARRAGA: Welcome, welcome, welcome, Adriana.
ADRIANA CARDONA-MAGUIGAD, BYLINE: Yeah, thanks for having me.
LIZARRAGA: Well, bienvenidos. Thank you so much for being here with us tonight, Adriana. Chicago is your adopted home, and your job, deep-diving into the public's questions about this city, has made you an expert on so much of how this place works.
DEMBY: But I guess now we're going to go to our first listener question.
DEMBY: And some of those question askers are here in the audience tonight.
MUNJOT SAHU: Hi, CODE SWITCH. I'm Munjot Sahu from Zionsville, Ind. My question for you is how did Devon Avenue become a primarily Indian community?
LIZARRAGA: So Devon Avenue on the north side is the home of Chicago's Little India.
DEMBY: We got some Devon in the...
LIZARRAGA: In the house. But, Adriana, the story of that corridor is way, way more complex and fascinating than that, right?
CARDONA-MAGUIGAD: Yes. So there is this strip on Devon Avenue known as Little India, but is actually - has a big Pakistani population as well.
CARDONA-MAGUIGAD: Yes. According to a 2019 Pew study, the Chicago metropolitan area actually is - has the second-largest Indian population and the fourth-largest Pakistani population in the U.S.
DEMBY: Wow. OK.
PARKER: But so was that strip on Devon always so Indian and Pakistani?
CARDONA-MAGUIGAD: No, actually, back in the '50s and '60s, the neighborhood was mostly Jewish. So just to get into the history a little bit, I met up with several people who actually worked and grew up in the neighborhood. One of them is Chirag Shah.
CARDONA-MAGUIGAD: His family came here from India back in the '80s. He actually took me around Devon.
CHIRAG SHAH: So as you can see here, like, a lot of the businesses on this side of Devon are definitely more Middle Eastern, right? So there is a Middle Eastern grocery store over here. There is a - it's Middle Eastern-owned, Iraqi-owned barber shop, right? Actually, most of the barber shops on Devon will be Iraqi-owned.
CARDONA-MAGUIGAD: Yeah. So Devon has become a landing point for a lot of different immigrants. There's now a Rohingya center there. And there's actually been a huge wave of Afghan refugees.
DEMBY: OK, so why has that Little India moniker stuck if it's not really all Indian?
CARDONA-MAGUIGAD: So yeah, there were two kind of, like, big waves of migration from South Asia. The first wave was back in the '60s and '70s, and that was made up of mostly professionals, more established South Asians, many of them who were doctors and engineers. Ranjana Bhargava...
CARDONA-MAGUIGAD: Yes. She came here in the summer of 1968. It was - she came as part of that first wave of mostly Indian immigrants. And back then, she remembers, like, there were no Indian supermarkets. There were no Indian restaurants on Devon, especially. And she and her husband had a pretty hard time actually finding the types of food that they like to eat.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
RANJANA BHARGAVA: You know, we went to McDonald's, and we are vegetarian, so we would say, give me a hamburger without a burger. And they would look at you, and they would say, what do we charge? So they didn't know what to do with us.
LIZARRAGA: Oh, my heart.
LIZARRAGA: Oh, my gosh. And also, a hamburger without the burger is bread and cheese and ketchup.
LIZARRAGA: So I hope they gave her, like, 75% off, also.
CARDONA-MAGUIGAD: Yeah, I was actually expecting that they were just going to give them the stuff for free, I guess. It's just the bread. But yeah, so, you know, around that time, a lot more South Asians came. And Ranjana tells me that there was this one movie theater on the north side that used to play Indian movies every month, and that drew huge crowds. There is also a Saudi store that opened up that also brought a lot of people. And then, finally, the Patel Brothers supermarket...
DEMBY: Yeah, Patel Brothers. Yeah.
CARDONA-MAGUIGAD: ...Also arrived. So, yeah.
LIZARRAGA: Adriana, you said there were two waves, though, of migration. So when was the second?
CARDONA-MAGUIGAD: Yeah. So in the '80s and '90s, there was a second wave, mostly nonprofessional relatives, but, you know, like, they were sponsored by their family members. And Ranjana says she remembers, to her, it seemed like every other taxi driver in Chicago was either Indian or Pakistani. But there were also other immigrants from South Asia that were from Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Bhutan. And there are some really important differences between each of these groups.
PARKER: Yeah, 'cause I know, like, for example, like, Pakistan is predominantly Muslim country. And people in India - predominantly Hindu. And so the people of Devon go to different houses of worship, right?
CARDONA-MAGUIGAD: Yes. And the people I talked to in the community just kind of said that it's hard sometimes for some ethnic groups to come together. By the early 2000s, like, you often see many immigrant communities, a lot of those early South Asians that are moving to the suburbs. So Devon street became more of a place where people shop and come down to eat, and then they would just go back home. But you know what? There is also coexistence in Devon - on Devon. The other day I was there interviewing some asylum-seekers from Venezuela who were bussed from Texas...
DEMBY: Y'all remember that story, right?
CARDONA-MAGUIGAD: ...And Chicago.
CARDONA-MAGUIGAD: Yeah. So it was a Friday afternoon. It was a pretty pleasant night. You know, the asylum-seekers were there, getting clothes and food. And, you know, they were by a church, and the pastor was playing some sort of Latin music, and then at some point he started singing. And then right across the street from them, there was this, like, beautiful music that also kind of, like, started, like, mixing with the other Latin music. And that music was coming from this Hindu temple. Let's take a listen.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL ARTIST: (Singing in non-English language).
CARDONA-MAGUIGAD: It was really beautiful, like, just to be there in the midst of everything. And that's the type of diversity that you see happening on Devon Avenue today on that strip.
LIZARRAGA: Love that.
DEMBY: So you can get your kormas and your koftas, and you also get your arepas too, right?
CARDONA-MAGUIGAD: Well, for - a few blocks down, I will say. Yeah.
LIZARRAGA: So all this diverse coexistence and yet segregation is still a very real issue in Chicago. And that's what our next question from Oscar Eduardo Gil (ph) gets into.
PARKER: Oscar's question was why is Chicago a sanctuary city but still so segregated? So Oscar is shaking the table.
LIZARRAGA: And we're going to pull in one of our favorite little tools here, the explanatory comma. But just to make sure we're all on the same page about what a sanctuary city actually is, I'm going to throw it to Nicole Hallett to explain. She runs the Immigrants' Rights Clinic at the University of Chicago Law School.
NICOLE HALLETT: A sanctuary city is essentially a jurisdiction that has decided not to cooperate with federal immigration enforcement. And I think a lot of people believe that a sanctuary city - if you live there, it means that you are protected from deportation. And that's not actually the case. The federal government can still deport you if you live in a sanctuary city. What it does mean is that the city itself won't facilitate that and will not assist in that.
LIZARRAGA: And Adriana, you spoke to some people in Chicago about their feelings about the city's sanctuary status.
CARDONA-MAGUIGAD: Yeah. So for some of the residents I spoke with over the years saying, like, just recently, this idea of being a sanctuary town is also about coming together and welcome the stranger. We have seen this as many people, even elected officials, came together to kind of, like, pull resources and help the asylum-seekers. A lot of Chicagoans are proud of, you know, the city's status as a sanctuary city. But some residents feel like being a sanctuary city comes with more obligations.
LIZARRAGA: Yeah. We also talked to Xanat Sobrevilla. Xanat's undocumented, and she works with a group here in Chicago called Organized Communities Against Deportations. She says that although sanctuary city implies immigrant-friendly, that's not always necessarily the case.
XANAT SOBREVILLA: And so we continue the same things that we see in other cities that might not call themselves sanctuary that still experience structural racism and lack of resources and hyperpolicing, violent policing. It still exists in Chicago.
DEMBY: So obviously, like, what kind of resources and safety are you really getting once you land in your sanctuary city, right? Like, Chicago is a sanctuary city, but so are places like New York and Philly and Los Angeles. You know, they all have deeply segregated school systems, right? They all have notorious police departments that target Black and brown people. I mean, Chicago had a black site in your city, like, where they literally disappeared people. Anyway, sorry. Housing is hard to find. It's really expensive. And the hypocrisy point that our question asker seems to be hinting at is that all of these sanctuary cities are all solidly Democratic, all ostensibly liberal places that, like, they tout the diversity, yet there's, like, very little political will to fix any of the stuff we just mentioned.
LIZARRAGA: Yeah, good in theory, but not happening necessarily in practice. But remember, Oscar's question wasn't just about sanctuary. It's also about segregation. We asked Nicole Hallett about why segregation persists like this in a sanctuary city.
HALLETT: It's fairly easy for a city to become a sanctuary city. You just have to state that you're not going to cooperate with federal immigration enforcement and then do that. Segregation is a much thornier problem. It's actually very hard to figure out how to solve the problem of segregation. It's not just a government problem. It's private people making private decisions about where to live. And many of those decisions, at least originally, were made because of policy decisions that are now decades old.
CARDONA-MAGUIGAD: Right. So the government can do things like addressing the basic needs of asylum-seekers, but there are other policies that can actually create more opportunities, like, for example, bringing in mixed-income housing and making sure that communities are thriving. But a lot of these issues like segregation, poverty and education - these are big problems that a lot of cities, not just Chicago, have been grappling with for years.
LIZARRAGA: A hundred percent, and there's so much we've gotten into, so much we could get into, but we know we're not going to get through all of this or solve any of this tonight.
PARKER: We want to thank everyone who asked questions.
LIZARRAGA: And thank Adriana Cardona-Maguigad - she's a reporter for WBEZ's Curious City. Y'all give it up one more time for Adriana.
CARDONA-MAGUIGAD: Thank you for having me.
DEMBY: Thanks, Adriana.
CARDONA-MAGUIGAD: Thank you all.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
DEMBY: This show was produced by Christina Cala and Diba Mohtasham with help from Kumari Devarajan and Joanna Pawlowska. It was edited by Dalia Mortada. And I would be remiss if I did not shout out the rest of the CODE SWITCH massive - Karen Grigsby Bates, Alyssa Jeong Perry, Jess Kung, Thomas Lu, LA Johnson, Steve Drummond and Veralyn Williams. Our intern is Yordanos Tesfazion. Give it up for KAINA and her band.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)
DEMBY: By the way, I'm Gene Demby.
PARKER: I'm B A Parker.
LIZARRAGA: I'm Lori Lizarraga.
DEMBY: Chicago, be easy.
LIZARRAGA: Call someone you love this week, Chicago.
PARKER: Good night.
Hey, all. I know we said goodbye. But before we go, we want to give a special thanks to Josh Newell, who is our engineer on this episode. Lorna White also helped engineer the live event. Without them, we wouldn't sound nearly as good. We also wanted to shoutout KAINA and The Goobs (ph) who provided live music throughout the show and played a live set for us at the Studebaker. Stay tuned for a special treat, a serenade from KAINA herself.
(SOUNDBITE OF KAINA SONG, "IT WAS A HOME")
KAINA: Hi, Chicago. This song is the title track of my latest album, "It Was A Home," and it has to do with wishing that I spent more time appreciating my childhood home. And thank you so much for being here with us tonight. Thank you.
Can I get myself in the monitor, please?
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IT WAS A HOME")
KAINA: (Singing) I used to live in a little room in the middle house with a crooked view. I used to walk from my neighbor's house up the broken stairs of blue. I couldn't get over it (couldn't get over it). I couldn't get over it (couldn't get over it). I couldn't get over it (couldn't get over it). I couldn't get over it (couldn't get over it). It was a home. It was a home, not a hill. And that little room in the middle house is not the way I remembered it. It was a home, not a hill. We used to catch all the lightning bugs, hold them in our hands till our parents called. They used to dance till the sun came up in the middle house in a little room. We couldn't get over it (couldn't get over it). We couldn't get over it (couldn't get over it). We couldn't get over it (couldn't get over it). Never got over it. It was a home. It was a home, not a hill. And that little room in the middle house is not the way I remembered it, no. I was a home, not a hill.
KAINA: Thank you.
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