Speaker 1: Hey, it's curiosity, reported Adriana Cardona. So there is this undeniable fact about Chicago. Our city is home to amazing South asian food Chicago's metropolitan area actually has the second largest indian population and the fourth largest Pakistani community in the US and some of the best indian and Pakistani food is on the Von Avenue in this one strip that goes almost a mile from about California on the western edge to Damon on the east. The area is known as little India located in the West Ridge neighborhood. Beverly Kumar is from Mumbai and though she lives in suburban Chicago now she loves coming to this area whenever she can. If you want more ugly cuisine of Delhi and you go to a different restaurant or deli there bar, oh my God, you know you want south indian cuisine. All of that you go to your body visiting little India takes Beverly back home knowing that just 10 miles away, 14 miles away from my house, there is an essence, it's, it's nostalgia for me with the familiar sights, smells, sounds and flavors of home and I feel like I I never moved away after all. Yeah, that strip little India is not just about the food. You walk down the street and you'll see colorful window displays with mannequins wearing sari dresses for the women and patani suits for the men. The area is a hub for dozens of South asian businesses where people like Beverly can connect with the flavors of their homeland so much that one of our listeners, Manja Sahu wanted to know how did yvonne Avenue become a primarily indian community. There's a lot to that answer. Lots to unpack here. We'll be talking about who lived there before South asians, how the community continues to evolve and what makes it vibrant today. All of that coming up after the break,
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Speaker 3: app.
Speaker 1: To answer a listener's question about how this area on the von avenue in west ridge became mostly indian. I met up with the raksha, he grew up in the neighborhood and we went on a little tour.
Speaker 4: So if we walk, we can do like, we can walk this way and then we can walk that way and then you'll see the transition
Speaker 1: chirac works at the indo american center right there in the neighborhood there. He coordinates services for immigrants who are adjusting to a new culture and their new city. He's well known in the area.
Speaker 4: I can't walk five seconds without seeing someone that I know whether it's a friend or a client. I see. I've definitely had walks like I'll go out walk in the evening and a client will see immediately. Oh hey, by the way, can you help me with these papers and then pull up papers from their bag? He
Speaker 1: says some of his co worker tease him for being so popular.
Speaker 4: Oh yeah, the mirror of Devon, please don't give me that title. I don't I don't I don't want that title at all,
Speaker 1: but he knows the community well, he points out businesses that have been here for as long as he can remember
Speaker 4: this bank has been here for like I think
Speaker 1: This area wasn't always home to Indian and other South Asian residents actually back in the 50s and 60s, the neighborhood was mostly Jewish. There's still a Jewish community there today. It just isn't as big as it once was
Speaker 4: since bakery is a jewish bakery right there. So if we were to walk further more you would see that predominantly this area would be more jewish.
Speaker 1: There are trademarks of their presence including an honorary street sign named for Israeli Prime Minister Golda Maier, there are synagogues for their west, a jewish community center nearby. Then we head further east.
Speaker 4: So as you walk down the more you'll see like a lot more businesses opening up. I mean we're already seeing a lot more people,
Speaker 1: we start walking by a few indian restaurants, sorry stores and jewelry shops. Women with their kids are on their way to local indian or Pakistani grocery stores that transformation and Yvonne didn't happen overnight. There were two big migration waves from South Asia that contributed to demographic shifts in the area. The first big boom happened with the passage of the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965. That attracted mostly professionals more established South asians. Many of them were doctors, engineers, including some of chirac's family members from India. My
Speaker 4: dad's brother, he was here during the wave of like doctors and scientists and engineers right when the U. S. Is like, hey everybody come, we need you to come here bring your skills right
Speaker 1: Among that first wave of young professionals was also Ranjana Bhargava who arrived in the summer of 19 68. She and her husband have lived on the south side for decades, but she worked in little India for many years. She witnessed how the neighborhood became an anchor for the Indian community. She remembers when she first arrived how hard it was to find vegetarian food in Chicago. You know, we went to McDonald's. 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. Rogina was in her twenties, she says she wasn't much of a cook back then. But as she learned to make traditional dishes from Northern India, she had to figure out where to get some of the spices that she needed and wasn't that popular back then including cumin and paprika, there was no indian store, there was no indian restaurant in Chicago at that time mexican places had some of those spices and we could smell it and feel yes they are the right ones. But then things started to change. Indian shops began to open on the north side, primarily centered around Devon Avenue. Ranjana was glad when the first indian grocery stores opened up in the seventies including Patel brothers, she was finally able to find the spices she needed in one place like that cumin and paprika she was looking for plus fennel seeds, fresh ginger, dry fruits, cardamom, mango powder. And she was thrilled when the first big sorry store opened up on the Von avenue the sari palace featuring the latest styles and fabrics saris became very popular but these were nylon saris that means if you were cooking it can burn people would wear it only when they were going out or not cooking. Along with the new stores came new residents and community once a month a local theater played indian movies. There were also social gatherings where people shared food, played instruments and performed traditional dances. Then in the eighties and nineties there was a second wave of south asian migration, mostly non professionals relatives sponsored by family members who came in the sixties Ranjana says at some point it seemed like every other taxi driver in Chicago was indian or Pakistani and as more jewish families moved out of West Ridge into the suburbs, South asians took over their vacant storefronts. People started saying oh we can open a store. So there was jewelry store, electronics was a very big thing. So as the area thrived with new stores and more people, visitors started coming from around the city and suburbs to sample the cuisines of India and Pakistan and it began to be called video India to outsiders. It was just that a taste of India in Chicago And because people didn't know better, most Chicagoans slumped, everyone who lived here into one nationality. But that wasn't true in the 70s and 80s. And it's even less true today there are also residents from Sri Lanka Bangladesh Bhutan. And if you take a closer look you'll find people from many other countries outside South Asia like Croatia in Syria. This area is extremely diverse. More on that coming up after the break on any given night depending on where you are in the area known as little India, you'll see a group of older indian or Pakistani seniors chitchatting all their Middle Eastern men gathering around and talking there together, but also apart as each group keeps to themselves. She raksha continues our tour of the neighborhood, showing me how diverse the area has become.
Speaker 4: So as you can see here, like a lot of the businesses on this side of heaven are definitely more Middle Eastern right? So there is a Middle Eastern grocery store over here there, Iraqi on barbershop actually, most of the barbershops on devon will be Iraqi owned. He
Speaker 1: Even says the staff at the Indo-American Center where he works speak about 15 different languages, but he estimates that there are twice that many languages spoken in the community. There's a lot going on in a relatively small area and sometimes hostilities from back home surface in little India, some of those historic tensions, especially among indians and pakistanis are out on display here chirac
Speaker 4: again in the past, we would definitely have tensions between the Pakistani and the indian seniors like we would try to celebrate like indian Independence Day and then the Pakistani like, hey, why did you celebrate the Pakistani Independence Day? Okay, fine, we can celebrate that too.
Speaker 1: And here's he's from Pakistan, you know, there'd be these moments right during the Pakistan and India parade where you know, young teenage boys having their, you know, just having their nationalism moments like we used to have some fistfights would break out. Family moved to the neighborhood in 1990 when he was three years old, he's now an English teacher. I think my dad felt tense once when the two countries were kind of on the brink of potential work. You know, he would, he would often joke and he still does that. The only time his indian friends would be upset or vice versa, he'd be upset at them is when one of the teams lost in cricket. But other than disagreements over cricket matches, Iraq say tensions never lasted long. They mostly remember people just getting along. I never felt attention kid. I think like if anybody understood these things that many of the americans didn't understand like me being like, oh, I gotta go home and pray. It is my, my friends were indoor seek who is muslim says he grew up with friends who were Orthodox jews kids from India who were either hindu sick or jane. He had friends from Kosovo, Somalia Syria. They understand like, you know, they would often be like movies like you gotta go pray right? Like we're playing basketball to be like, can you pick somebody else to jump in while you go pray. Like they used to accommodate By the early 2000s. Like you often see with immigrant communities, a lot of South Asians were starting to move to the suburbs. Some residents couldn't afford to buy a home in the area. Other families had a choice for them. It was a sign of prosperity to move to the suburbs. So it has become more of a place where people come to shop and eat and then go back home. We don't have a collective home anymore, which I always think about because home is such a for immigrants, any of us have left our home for whatever reason, It's such an interesting concept, right? And so what does the next wave of immigration in little India look like anecdotally chirac and other people working in the neighborhood say West Ridge is one of the last remaining points of entry on the north side. They say the newest immigrants, including south asians are coming without resources and many are undocumented. Some are fleeing conflict, genocide and poverty. Like the Rohingyas who opened up a community center on the one avenue in 2016. You know, you could be your culture, you can wear a sari, you can wear a headscarf. You can be as close as you could be. The harm here. When I asked chirac about little India today, he says it's become really hard to label. For example, recently there was a large group of asylum seekers from Venezuela bussed here from texas hanging out on the von near this one christian church. The church was giving away clothes to the migrants. It was a pleasant night. The pastor at some point started playing latin music and then he started singing along with it and at the very same time right across the street. This other music was playing too. It was coming from a hindu temple, a spiritual song that's the type of diversity you get to see and hear on the one avenue today, still known as little India at least for now, still attracting new waves of immigrants to live and still bringing in visitors from the suburbs and beyond to sample some of the best south asian food. Check out our digital story to see images that reflect how the neighborhood has changed over the decades, including the many storefront restaurants and street scenes that have come and gone head to WBC dot org slash curious city. Curious city is supported by the current Family Foundation. It's produced by joe and Jason. Mark is the digital and engagement producer and jp Swanson is our luminary fellow, Johanna Zorn edits the show. I'm Adriana Cardona, thanks for listening
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