Chicago Immigrant Communities Book Group

On Thursday, February 6, One Book One Northwestern hosted a dinner book talk on Chicago’s Immigrant Communities, featuring Medill Professor Jack Doppelt and highlighting the chapter “GT’s Diner” from Alex Kotlowitz’ book Never A City So Real. It brought together students, professors, staff, and Evanston community members to discuss issues of immigration and the ever-evolving ethnic and racial landscape of Chicago.

They call us the “melting pot.”

I am a fourth generation immigrant. Far from my great-grandparents’ home in eastern Italy, I am separated from them by generations of McDonald’s french fries, SUV roadtrips, Midwest cornfields and Pennsylvanian coal mines. Yet, when people ask me what I am, without hesitation I explain, “Oh, I’m Italian.” We are a country of diverse ethnicities, races, cultures, languages, and identities. Walking down the street in Chicago, I hear a heated coversation in Russian on the El, pass by a Polish deli staffed by Mexican cooks, and hear West African drumming as I cross the Chicago River.

We are a city of contrasts, unique histories and identities, and as Medill Professor Jack Doppelt explained, not only has Chicago been a historical destination for new arrivals, but also, it continues to champion the creation of a safe space with its “Welcoming City Ordinance.” A controversial policy that contradicts federal law, the Welcoming City Ordinance aims to make Chicago the most immigrant-friendly city in the US, providing protections and rights for even undocumented residents.

Doppelt and his team of students work on documenting immigrants’ stories as part of a project founded by Doppelt, Immigrant Connect. His presentation was peppered by stories of immigrant successes–such as the Burmese refugee, Poe Clee, who gained US citizenship and now plans to return to Burma to help his fellow Karen refugees. Yet, Doppelt also highlighted the ongoing challenges and failures of the US immigration system: he told the story of Eugene Peba, a Nigerian who suffered three years in US immigrant detention after pleading for asylum, was finally released and allowed to live in the US, and then, suddenly faced deportation when his claim for asylum was denied.

The event concluded with rich discussion on the chapter “GT’s Diner,” that highlights the difficulties faced by immigrant day laborers in Chicago.

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Chelsea Glenn


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