Live from Maxfields: How diversity has changed in the western suburbs

July 30, 2012

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Monday on Eight Forty-Eight, we head to the suburbs. Specifically, to Maxfields Family Restaurant and Pancake House in the Village of Lombard, a suburb west of the city of Chicago. 

You may or may not remember the last live, remote broadcast of Eight Forty-Eight we did in June at BJ's on Chicago's South Side. We asked community members there to share their thoughts on how segregation influences crime in the city.

Some listeners of the series commented that they felt just talking about the problems surrounding race in predominantly black communities wasn't getting the whole picture. We agreed, and that's why we'd long planned to go to a community that appears to be entirely different from Auburn-Gresham.

In Lombard, we will try to answer these questions: How diverse is the area and how has it changed over the years? We'll be joined by Lombard Village President William Mueller, who was born in Lombard and has been mayor for almost two decades.

Additionally, North Central College History professor Ann Durking Keating will be on hand to offer details on the evolution of Lombard, and changes in demographics in the Western suburbs.    

Some background on Lombard: According to Keating, in the early part of 20th century, about half the population of Lombard was foreign born or were children of foreign born. Over time, that percentage dropped because of exclusionary immigration policies, but started growing again at the end of the century. Keating says Lombard is returning to that higher percentage of foreign born because of the global economy and changes in United States policy toward immigration, much of which was the result of the passing of the 1965 Immigration Act.    

Keating says in 1930, Lombard was more or less 100 percent white, but by 2010 it was 81 percent white, 10 percent Asian, five percent black and nine percent hispanic, out of a population of 43,165. Additionally, the black population has almost doubled between 2000 and 2010, but is still only five percent of the population at large.

This matches up to the results of a recent study that, as mentioned in an article in the New York Times, found that "America’s suburbs are becoming more diverse, but tenuously so." Specifically, the study found that neighborhoods like Oak Park were making a specific and effective effort to increase racial diversity. Is that something that Lombard is doing -- and is it even necessary -- are some of the questions we'll be exploring with the community members there.

How diverse is Lombard? How typical is it, when compared to the region, to the U.S., as a whole?

Mayor Mueller: I was born here in 1935…my family’s history goes back to the 1800s when my grandfather came from Germany. 
 
Resident of Lombard for the past 50 years: The people here are very friendly. We still have a small town atmosphere. If you want to know everybody it’s very easy.
 
Tony Sarabia: What makes it easy?
 
Resident: There’s so many service organizations. Unless you want to be an island it’s pretty hard not to meet your neighbors. We just had some new neighbors move in; we go over and say hi to them. After that, it’s up for them.
 
TS: How have those organizations like Rotary, Kiwanis and Lion's Club adjusted themselves to welcome newcomers?
 
Resident: We have an open house with the chamber of commerce…there’s a lot of publicity and a lot of exposure to these clubs where it wouldn’t be hard to know what’s going on. And it’s very easy to get to know our mayor because he’s at all the events….It’s been said that if he cut himself he’d bleed lilac.
 
Mueller: We have trustee committies [to work on diversity]…one of the committees is the Community Relations Committee. 
 
One interesting factor is that the state of Illinois in the 2010 census did not see an increase in diversity in the state, but in Dupage county and Lombard we did. That’s very important to us to meet these challenges. We welcome them. We have a committee that looks into and sees what we can do to further the diversity
 
I think 10 years ago Lombard was having a problem with diversity. We had problems with our schools…we noticed in our schools that because of diversity in our schools there was some bullying and such. [But now] Lombard’s the leader in everything.
 
Ann Durking-Keating: The difference between Cook County and DuPage [County] is pretty stark in terms of it’s diverse, today, but certainly in the 1960s...What you’re talking about is a lag time. It takes a long time to change mores about housing and jobs in terms of race and ethnicity.
 
An interesting thing about Lombard in the 1930s was almost half immigrants or the children of immigrants. So in a lot of way Lombard has always been a melting pot, it’s just who the immigrants are that has changed.
 
Does diversity matter? How has reaction to diversity changed throughout Lombard’s history?
 
Mueller: There’s no doubt about it that we’re seeing a change in the city of Chicago that I don’t think anybody likes.
[19 years ago] we started seeing gangs, murders, things that we never saw before. And then all of a sudden they started to pop up here. So we had to take control of those in the communities which we have.
 
It’s not just law and order. If it was law and order, you wouldn’t have any problems in Chicago.
 
You have to make those individuals that come in your community a part of your community. You have to make them proud to be a part of your community.
 
We have a theme in Lombard: pride. And we try to really work on that. People who live in Lombard have pride in their community.
 
ADK: To frame this in terms of race straightforward may not work…instead, thinking about it in a wide-ranging diversity might be more helpful.
 
The idea of having the community relations committee is certainly an important placec where this discussion can take place.
 
It’s a notion of a commitment on the part of an entire community of integration of choosing integration
 
Mueller: The village itself can’t do this….it has to be the mindset of the community to accept diversification and help with it.
 
When people come to Lombard, they don’t want to know about the Lilac festival…they want to know about the education, the schools, the park district, the libraries.
 
ADK: If we’re framing this in terms of a black white issue, we’re missing the point that this is a place that can build on the diversity that’s already there.
 
What are the challenges of diversity? Where is Lombard headed, as a community?
 
Resident Art Furtz: Our country was founded as a melting pot. If you look on a quarter it says "e pluribus unum" which means one for many.
 
The biggest problem I see…and I have first generation people working for me, and I’ve spent extra time traching them to speak the language. The faster we get one stable language that we can communicate with, the better.
 
Resident: I’ve lived in Lombard most of my life [and I'm] 27 years old. There’s been a lot of development near [highway] 88, but not as much close to railroad tracks. There’s also been a large influx of the Muslim population…I’ve noticed the hijab stores....
 
TS: Some communities, when they are diverse, the newcomers tend to isolate themselves.
 
ADK: Providing everyone equal opportunities, equal access as opposed to integration; they’re separate issues. The locus of this is changing. The groups that we’re talking about are changing because the national picture is changing,
 
Mueller: We don’t have segregated neighborhoods. We have people living next door to each other and they get along fine.
 
Resident Laurie: I came out here about 24 years ago [after living in Cicero and Hinsdale]. My first day of high school in Cicero someone was stabbed there.
 
The environment was not different, but it was the people. The people around you and the way that they conducted themselves was so much different. Versus when you lived [in Cicero] you didn’t even know that you should talk to them.
 
[In Lombard] they all seem to treat each other the same. Versus when I lived in Hinsdale it was very materialistic. 
 
You would be afraid to go out [in Cicero] at 9 o'clock at night because you didn’t know what was going to happen.
 
A lot of people, even the different groups…Hispanic people, if they were to throw a festival, I'm sure we would all come to that. That would be a great idea. It would probably bring revenue to the city.

ADK: We should keep separate the notion of racial and ethnic diversity, religious diversity, from economics. I think the conflation of those two is something that will only make discussions about integration more difficult.

Mueller: Whenever I come home on my way home, I always say to myself, thank god I’m home. I hope all the residents of Lombard feel the same way.