Place of Protest: Chicago's Legacy of Dissent, Declaration, and Disruption

Pilsen, 1976

"Helping Us Help Each Other"

Latino community organizations coordinate direct action to hold city officials accountable.

MEXICAN IMMIGRANTS BEGAN ARRIVING IN CHICAGO IN THE EARLY TWENTIETH CENTURY to work for the city's railroads, packinghouses, and steel mills. Many lived in the Near West Side until the construction of the University of Illinois-Chicago campus in the 1960s. Much of the community moved south to Pilsen, transforming what had been a predominantly Bohemian and Czech neighborhood since the late nineteenth century. Grassroots organizations like Mujeres Latinas en Acción soon developed to provide education and support to the Latina and Latino residents of Pilsen.
MUJERES LATINAS EN ACCIÓN BEGAN AS A VOLUNTEER OPERATION, but quickly grew to hire paid staff. The organization secured funding partly through the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA), a federal job training program that funneled money through the City of Chicago to local sites like Mujeres Latinas en Acción. In the tradition of the New Deal's Works Progress Administration (WPA), CETA provided opportunities for unemployed, low-income, and high school workers to secure temporary public service jobs. During the summer of 1976, the City of Chicago announced that it hired too many CETA workers and would need to cut hours—and paychecks. In protest, Mujeres Latinas en Acción joined other community groups like El Hogar del Niño and Casa Aztlan to circulate petitions and hold a march from Dvorak Park in Pilsen to City Hall. Similar to German immigrants in 1855, Pilsen residents were prepared to march from their neighborhood on the periphery to the city center to assert their stake in the city's policies.
UNDER PRESSURE, THE CITY RESCINDED INITIAL CUTS to CETA on August 16, 1976—one day before the planned march to City Hall. In 1982, CETA was replaced by the Job Training and Partnership Act, which shifted decision making away from local officials to state-business partnerships while also providing job training for the private sector rather than for public service. Meanwhile, Mujeres Latinas en Acción continues to provide social services and education into the present day along with many of Pilsen's other community organizations.

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