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TODAY

Thursday, December 12

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This week's question was submitted by Atul. Thank you.

Q: I've visited the Indo-Pakistani area of Devon Avenue a number of times, and I'm very interested in its history. How did so many people of that ethnicity end up in that one spot? For how long has that area been inhabited by them, and what was the area like before that?

Sometimes referred to as West Rogers Park, the neighborhood more properly known as West Ridge was first settled by Europeans in the early 19th century. German and Scandinavian immigrants established farms and greenhouses throughout the North Side of Chicago in the 1830s and '40s.

The distinction between the two neighborhoods is made because Rogers Park incorporated as a village in 1878, while the area west of the village remained largely rural. The area around Devon and Ridge became known as Ridgeville, but only about 500 people resided there at the time. West Ridge finally incorporated as a village in 1890. Just three years later, however, both Rogers Park and West Ridge were annexed to Chicago.

The neighborhood experienced its first real growth spurt between 1915 and 1930, when the population swelled from 7,500 to 40,000. The business district along Devon Avenue also developed during this period.

After World War II, West Ridge became home to a large Jewish community, many of whom remain today. But the neighborhood began to see an influx of Indian and South Asian immigrants after the passing of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which attracted many graduate students and professionals to the United States. Then, Chicago's Indian community grew throughout the late 1970s and '80s as families and relatives emigrated to the U.S. to be reunited with those professionals. According to census data, just over 35,500 Indians lived in the Chicago area in 1980. In 2000, Chicago's Indian population surpassed 125,000 people.

Today the "Little India" corridor of Devon Avenue is one of the largest and most well-known Indian communities in the United States. Indian restaurants, specialty grocery stores and boutiques continue to thrive in West Ridge, and dozens of associations and cultural organizations provide support for the community. Visit the links below to explore just some of the resources that sustain the richness and diversity of Chicago's Indian community.

Resources:

General

Chicago Samachar
An information portal for Chicago's Indian community. Includes news, links and directories of area businesses.

Indo-American Center
This non-profit community center located in Roger's Park was founded in 1990 to respond "the wide spectrum of needs in the South Asian immigrant community" around the Chicago area.

Network of Indian-American Professionals
This organization was founded in Chicago in 1990, which gives one some idea of the importance of the Indian community here. Today the network has 30 chapters across North America.

Indian Cultures

Chicago Tamil Sangam
The Sangam has been promoting the understanding of the Tamil language and culture of Tamil Nadu in Chicagoland for more than 30 years.

Maharashtra Mandal, Chicago
Founded in 1969 to organize cultural programs serving Maharashtrian people throughout the Midwest.

Punjabi Cultural Society of Chicago
Promotes Punjabi culture and performing arts for the Chicago community.

Telugu Association of Greater Chicago
Provides cultural support for the Telugu people living in and around Chicago.

Bibliography

Heise, Kenan and Mark Frazel. Hands On Chicago. Chicago: Bonus Books, 1993.

Lal, Vinay. "Indians." The Encyclopedia of Chicago. 2004.

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About the Author(s)

Alice Maggio is a real, live Chicago librarian. If you have topic ideas or questions you would like answered, send your suggestions to and it may be featured in a future column.

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