Edgewater Counts

Vol. XVI No. 2 - SUMMER 2005

By: Robert Remer

The following is an excerpt from a presentation to the Edgewater Chamber of Commerce on May 19, 2005. This entire article is Copyright 2005 by Robert Remer.

Edgewater, a port of Entry

The story of immigration in the United States has local implications. Here now is a brief analysis of how our country and our neighborhood looked at the beginning of the 21st century.

  • The history of America is immigration
  • The history of Chicago is immigration
  • The history of Edgewater is immigration

History is prologue and Edgewater is now facing the fastest change in its ethnic makeup in its entire history. There are important changes happening nationally that are being amplified in Chicago and particularly here in Edgewater. First a few numbers. In America right now, one in nine people was born in a foreign country. That’s 11 percent. In Edgewater right now, more that one in three people were born in a foreign country. That’s over 36 percent and rising. If America is a country of immigrants, what do you call Edgewater? Here’s a review of how Edgewater’s demographic fits into the American and Chicago pictures.

The history of America is immigration.

We all know that America likes to pride itself as a nation of immigrants, which is true. What needs closer examination, however, are the trends and the reality that our country has not always been welcoming to all groups at all times. Also, there have been some rather dramatic changes in patterns of immigration.

People come to these shores for many reasons: to find economic opportunity; to seek religious or political freedom; to flee repression, famine, or war to name a few. That has not changed. The nation’s openness, however, has varied.

The immigration patterns have changed drastically from being overwhelmingly Eurocentric, to now being predominantly Hispanic (over half) and Asian (one fourth), with rapidly increasing numbers, albeit small, from Africa. A few more facts to illustrate:

  • Between 1860-1920, America saw constant and steady immigration. The total percent of foreign born was consistently in the 13-15% range (about 1 in 7)
  • Between 1820-1998, there were almost 65 million immigrants, with the peak decade of 1901-10 with almost 9 million immigrants.
  • After 1920 until 1970, there was a dramatic drop in the number of foreign born population down to only 4.7% in 1970.
  • This was because immigration slowed substantially from 1931-1960, with only 4 million immigrants total for those three decades.
  • The trend is now going back up, with the national rate of foreign born now about 10.5-11% or 1 of every 9 of us in the U.S. was born in a foreign country. The 1980s and the 1990s each had from 7-8 million immigrants each decade.
  • The source of immigrants has changed dramatically.
  • Up to the peak foreign born population in 1920, over 85% of all immigrants were from Europe.
  • In 1970, European foreign born were still a majority.
  • In 1980, Europeans were still the largest group of foreign born, but no longer a majority, with rapidly increasing immigration from Asia and Latin America.
  • By 2000, the majority of the foreign born in the U.S., about 15 million (50.7%) out of about 30 million, were from Latin America, over seven million (or 26%) were from Asia, while only 4.4 million (15%, or fewer than one in six of those foreign born, were born in Europe).
  • African Immigration has risen quickly from only 35,355 in 1960 to a more than a 10 fold increase, to over 400,000, in 2000.
  • Ethiopians in 1990 were the 4th largest foreign born group from Africa, behind Egypt and Nigeria and just behind South Africa. That has probably gone up.
  • Vietnamese in 1990 were the 3rd largest foreign born group from Asia, behind the Philippines and Korea.
  • American immigration policies over the years has been widely inconsistent, often setting very tight quotas by country, placing a premium on those with higher economic and educational status.
  • In recent decades, however, immigration policies have been relaxed somewhat to account for refugees of wars and political persecution.

And now to get a little closer to home.

The history of Chicago is immigration.

Chicago didn’t really have its own indigenous population, as it was not a terribly inviting place. Even the Miami Indians, who were here when settlers came to Checagou (as it was known), had migrated from elsewhere after losing battles to other tribes.

Chicago’s first non-native permanent settler was Jean Baptiste Point DuSable, a Haitian married to a Canadian.

It wasn’t until the lure of the proposed Illinois Michigan Canal in the 1830s, that Chicago begin to draw any significant populations.

What we now know as Bridgeport, home of many Chicago Irish mayors, was once called Hardscrabble, a shanty town for Irish immigrants toiling mercilessly and painfully on the canal.

From then on, Chicago was well known for its many waves of immigration, and their impact on our city’s politics and development. There are several excellent books and references on Chicago’s ethnic history.

Besides the more commonly known immigrant groups of Irish, German, Italian, Polish and African Americans from the South, here are a few other examples of immigrations to Chicago from the Encyclopedia of Chicago:

  • 19th century: Armenians and Romanians
  • 1917 Russian Revolution: Russians Jews.
  • After WWII, Eastern Europeans fleeing Communism: Latvian, Estonian, Ukrainian, Lithuanian, Polish, Hungarian and Romanian.
  • 1960s: Cubans.
  • 1975 after fall of Saigon: Vietnamese, Laotian, Cambodian and Hmong. It was one of the largest resettlement projects in U.S. history.
  • During the 1980s-90s, the U.S. broadened the definition of refugee to no longer be just from communist countries: Sudanese, Liberians, Nigerians, Angolans, Cameroonians, Somalis, Sierra Leoneans, Ugandans, Congolese, Ethiopians and Eritreans.
  • Unrest in the mid-east and Eastern Europe due to ethnic struggles for control: Assyrians, Bosnians, Palestinians, Iraqis, Lebanese, Croatians, Yugoslavians and former Soviet Union republics.
  • Civil wars and conflicts: Argentineans, Bolivians, Dominicans, Uruguayans, Nicaraguans, Salvadorans, Guatemalans, Peruvians and Haitians.
  • “Thanks to its cosmopolitan, multiethnic character and its strong network of social services and community organizations, Chicago remains an attractive destination for refugees around the globe.”

As the Ethiopian Community Association well knows, the major wave of Ethiopian immigration came in the 1990s. At the beginning of that decade, there were only 515 Ethiopians in Chicago; that jumped to almost 4,000 in 1996, and the current numbers are probably much higher. The largest concentration of their homes are in Edgewater, Uptown and Rogers Park. They have a strong history of family traditions and we hope they have found Edgewater family-friendly.

The Vietnamese Association of Illinois celebrates 29 years this year. They should be very proud of their accomplishments. Like the Ethiopians, the Vietnamese immigration was very sudden and rapid. Prior to 1975, there were only about a dozen Vietnamese families in Chicago; that number has jumped dramatically. In 1990, the population was 4,640; in 1996 it was over 10,000. The majority live in Uptown, Edgewater, Rogers Park, Albany Park and West Ridge. Like the Ethiopians, the Vietnamese have strong family traditions.

Even today, Chicago is the 3rd major destination for intended immigrants, behind N.Y. and L.A. In 2000, the number of foreign born was 21.7 percent, more than one in five, almost twice the national average.

The history of Edgewater is immigration.

Edgewater has always been a point of entry for multiple ethnic groups, not just one heterogeneous ethnic group as is common in other Chicago neighborhoods.

Chicago was a city for nearly 50 years when, in the late 1880s, John Lewis Cochran started a suburban housing development called Edgewater between the lake and what is now Broadway.

Hitherto, Edgewater was pretty empty, save for some German and Swedish settlers on our western border and some Luxembourger celery farmers up along Ridge Ave, once an Indian trail.

Edgewater joined the city in 1889 and grew at a steady pace, with increasing populations of mostly Swedish, German and Irish.

By the 1920s, what was once just a village of single family homes had developed into a more cosmopolitan, dense, and diverse urban scene with multi unit buildings, particularly along Kenmore and Winthrop, with the common corridor and courtyard buildings that were particularly accommodating to smaller, transient, migrating or upwardly mobile family units.

In the 1930 census, the Edgewater/Uptown foreign born population was about 20 percent, with the main ancestry groups being Swedish, German, Russian, Canadian and Irish. The area with the lowest concentration of foreign born was east of Broadway. Today, that is the highest concentration.

The depression and war in the 1930s and 40s saw a building hiatus and crowded housing with divided units.

The later addition of the four-plus-one buildings and rental buildings on the west side of Sheridan (replacing smaller homes) supplemented that type of housing stock.

During the 1950s-60s, new groups included Japanese, Koreans, American Indians, Greeks, Cubans, Mexicans and Puerto Ricans. The 1970-80s brought Vietnamese, Thais and other Asian nationalities, Russians, Middle eastern, Greeks, African Americans and Native Americans. The 1990s to the present include Nigerians, Bosnians and Ethiopians, among others. Assyrians have also been represented in Edgewater over the years.

Common wisdom holds that the housing stock along Kenmore and Winthrop has precipitated the kind of transient housing that draws immigrant groups. While that may be partially true, the Edgewater immigration picture is strong and evident in all parts of our community.

Edgewater is divided into nine census tracts, divided East/West by Bryn Mawr and Thorndale, and then North South by Broadway and Clark. Throughout the last 75 years, each of those census tracts have shown significant numbers and percentages of people foreign born. In the 2000 census, for example, the area west of Clark and north of Bryn Mawr was over 41% foreign born, and that was not Swedish. The area east of Broadway and north of Bryn Mawr is over 43% foreign born, in a United Nations mix.

Between 1930-70, the percentage of foreign born in Edgewater stayed pretty consistently between about 17-21 percent. By 1980, however, that had jumped to 29 percent and, by 2000, up to 36 percent. The total population of Edgewater has also risen. In the 2000 census, Edgewater had 62,193 residents, the highest in its history.

Another notable trend is the shift of the population center to east of Broadway, where 54 percent of our residents live. In 1960, that was only 37%. Population in the center of Edgewater, between Clark and Broadway, has steadily declined in real numbers and as a percent of the whole. The total population west of Clark has stayed very consistent at 9-10,000.

So what do all these numbers tell us?

First, Edgewater is and has been a port of entry.

Second, we need more numbers. Now someone may have already done this, but we need to look more closely at the 2000 census data to try to get more finite breakdowns of specific trends for specific nationalities and ethnic groups in Edgewater. I only wish I had the time. Perhaps that can be a joint project of Edgewater’s many fine community organizations.