This small but significant exhibition shows the history of Chicago Chiquito, or little Chicago, the nickname given to La Hacienda, a small town in the state of Guanajuato, Mexico. Its families have migrated north to find work for more than a hundred years. The exhibition statement tells us that “in the 1920s, they laid railroad tracks in the Midwest. In the 1940s, when World War II left a shortage of labor in the northern country, they were among the 4.6 million Mexican men who migrated as braceros (laborers). But it wasn’t until the end of the Bracero program in 1964 that families began to permanently move to America—a vast majority to the city of Chicago.” Having less than 600 residents, La Hacienda had almost no economic opportunities, so they came north seeking factory jobs. They also sought U.S. residency, but life here was difficult—they worked for very little pay, suffered through the cold winters. The children they had here literally spoke a different language.
In photographs and installations this show tells the story of two families, the Yepez and the Herreras, both from La Hacienda, who migrated to Chicago at the end of the 1960s. There are large-scale images of the land in La Hacienda—dry, brown earth that appears to yield very few crops. In one image, a man dozes in what appears to be the town store, “La Providencia,” providence, chance, luck, destiny—which La Hacienda seems to have very little of. There is a model of their abuela’s (grandmother’s) kitchen, its walls lined with photographs of family members, and a sculptural piece covered with enlargements of family photos, sepia and black-and-white. The three structures loosely resemble iconic Chicago skyscrapers.
In one corner of the gallery the walls are lined with sacks of grain and a video plays on a loop. It shows a group of farmers working at harvesting time. Watching the film, the viewer feels the struggle to eke out a living in this barren area of Mexico. It’s no wonder the residents of La Hacienda dreamed of more for their families.
The exhibition’s artists are related: Gustavo Herrera Yepez, who also curated and designed the show, Raquel Aguiñaga-Martinez, Jorge Negrete, Arturo Yepez, Braulio Yepez, Carina Yepez and Roman Yepez. This is their story, the story of their families.
And if there is any takeaway from this exhibition it is that home is a concept, not a building. A house, in any country, is still just a house, but home is wherever a family is together.
“Chicago Chiquito” at Bridgeport Art Center, third floor gallery, 1200 West 35th Street, on view through March 3.