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'Mexican tamales' in the Loop in 1893 and other historical tidbits


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'Mexican tamales' in the Loop in 1893 and other historical tidbits

RST | Jul 2, 2003 06:01 PM

Ok, I wrapped up my chores early for today and headed down to the library (where I am at the moment) to do some research on some of the stuff we have been talking about. Was hoping to find some more information on the forgotten history of fish shacks (had a bag of fantastic shrimp at Goose Island yesterday) and as well as information on Greek immigration to Chicago. A lot of that stuff on the coffeeshop thread was spun straight out of my head without benefit of fact-checking and I was afraid that I might be way off-the-mark on a number of the points made on those posts.

Didn't find what I wanted. Instead, I found some other stuff that is just as compelling. There is a book called "Mexican Chicago" in the Images of America series ( the Italian-Chicago volume in the series provided the info I posted previously on Italian neighborhoods) and written by Rita Arias Jirasek and Carlos Tortolero (Mexican Fine Arts Museum Founder). There are many pictures dating from the 1920s which I think is the period of the first relatively well-documented wave of Mexican immigration to Chicago. These include pictures of Mexican groceries from 1921 (at 1100 S. Peoria) and 1927. The big surprise however was in finding this tidbit of information in the introduction (p.8):

"For more than 150 years, Mexicans have been part of Midwestern life. The earliest offical mention of Mexicans dated back to the 1850 census, where 50 Mexicans were identified as living in Illinois. This early presence was probably limited to small family groups or individuals, such as the gentleman described in a letter mailed home from Chicago by Jose Maria Velasco, one of Mexico's most famous 19th century painters. Senor Velasco served in a delegation of Mexican dignitaries given the charge of organizing the Mexican pavilion at the Chicago Columbian Exposition of 1893. This letter...was sent home on May 14, 1893. Velasco wrote: "yesterday...we went downtown to buy utensils to hang the paintings...when passing through these streets, we ran into a man who had a tin box with a white cloth in front of it that said 'Mexican tamales', we got closer and asked him if he was Mexican and he answered that he was, I bought 10 cents worth of tamales which he sold to me at 1 cent a piece..."

Presumably, by 'downtown', Velasco meant the Loop. On Velasco (a great painter in the 'academic' style), do google. The point that is a bit unclear is whether or not the sign is in English. If it is in Spanish, then it would suggest that there are other Mexicans around the Loop to whom this man was providing a service. If in English, then it is even more mind-boggling a tidbit, as it would suggest that Daniel Burnham, Louis Sullivan, even the fictitious 'Sister Carrie' might be imagined to have walked by this tamale vendor. At any rate, this tidbit takes the presence of Mexican food (in this case, streetfood) in Chicago a half-century back from ReneG's earliest dating of a Mexican restaurant here.

The call no of the book is F548.9 .M5 J57 2001

Other tidbits later (the cottage that the Original Jim's at Maxwell was located in dated back to 1870 etc). My time on the computer is up. Sorry for messy hurried writing.


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