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50 Wards in 50 Weekdays: 11th Ward’s Jesse Villarreal says Bridgeport has changed for the better

Villarreal, 52, says he’s spent his “whole life pretty much in Bridgeport.” When asked about the old days, he talks of race and ethnicity without hesitation and without prompting. But today, he says, “there’s more blacks around here and more Latin people around here and stuff…. People are more accepting of other races.”

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50 Wards in 50 Weekdays: 11th Ward’s Jesse Villarreal says Bridgeport has changed for the better

Jesse Villarreal says Bridgeport is ‘pretty nice,’ and has a ‘better atmosphere’ than in the old days.

WBEZ/Sam Hudzik

Jesse Villarreal is holding a wooden cane and what looks like a cigarillo, walking north toward 35th Street.

“Pretty nice,” he says of the area. “There’s a park right there and there’s a lot of kids out there playing baseball and all that,” Villarreal says, pointing a block south to Donovan Park.

There are some “bad places around here,” but he knows to stay away.

“Just kids, you know, just want to be gangsters,” Villarreal says. He’s “too old for that.”

Villarreal is 52 and born in Chicago, he says. He’s spent his “whole life pretty much in Bridgeport.”

This is the neighborhood of the White Sox and the Daleys – Richard J. and Richard M. When I ask Villarreal about the old days, he talks of race and ethnicity without hesitation and without prompting.

Depending on your skin color, there were places to walk and places not to walk, says Villarreal, who is Mexican-American.

Today, “there’s more blacks around here and more Latin people around here and stuff…. People are more accepting of other races.”

“It’s all changed,” he says. “Better atmosphere.”

“A lot of Italians moved out from this neighborhood. And the Chinese are coming over from Chinatown and they’re expanding over here and making things better, buildings better, streets cleaner.”

Villarreal used to be employed nearby, at the old Sweetheart Cup factory at 37th and Ashland. These days he doesn’t work and isn’t looking for work. He can’t, he says. Physical problems – the result of car crashes.

Nonetheless, he says employment is among the top issues he wants his politicians to focus on. Freshman Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Villarreal says, is “trying to do more” on that front.

“Very slowly, but he’s doing his part,” he says. “He’s doing a lot of things – more police protection, just trying to tone down the violence and all that. And he seems to be doing pretty good.”

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