Immigrants Find Common Cause in Trade
CHICAGO — CHICAGO, a cobbling of immigrant enclaves with names like Greektown, Little Vietnam, and Ukrainian Village, is one of the most ethnically segregated cities in the United States.
But in one north Chicago neighborhood, a kaleidoscope of different ethnic groups are surviving together, the tensions among them subdued amid the bustle, bargaining, and profits of commerce.
Walking along the shopping street of Devon Avenue, one finds Indian sari shops next door to a Pakistani hairdressing salon. A few blocks to the east, Assyrian merchants from Iraq run groceries and restaurants with names like Garden of Eden and Babylon. To the west, Korean and Filipino shops stand beside Greek fruit markets and Jewish bakeries and shoe stores.
While the neighborhood's immigrants socialize mainly within their own ethnic circles, they share an interest in the vitality of Devon Avenue.
``There's a little distrust and tension among groups, but these are mainly held in check,'' says Irvin Loundy, president of the Devon Northtown Business Association, a multiethnic group of 100 merchants. ``People realize that anything in the way of open warfare would be very injurious to business.''
For instance, despite the intense rivalry between India and Pakistan, ``here on Devon you will find Pakistani and Indian merchants coexisting side by side, working to promote the economic environment,'' says Ann Kalayil, a longtime Indian-American resident of the neighborhood.
The area around Devon Avenue owes its success in part to the fact that, unlike other neighborhoods, it has historically served more as a popular shopping center than as a stronghold for any one ethnic community.
Jewish merchants established Devon Avenue as one of Chicago's commercial streets in the early 1900s. By the '60s, however, Jewish residents were leaving Devon for Chicago's wealthier suburbs. Meanwhile, migrants from Asia and other regions were flowing into Chicago following the liberalization of US immigration laws in 1965. Among these were large numbers of Indians, many of whom moved into shops vacated by Jewish merchants.
``We were the newcomers,'' says Mrs. Uma Arora, who with her husband opened the first Indian shop, selling saris on Devon Avenue in the early 1970s.
Since then, hundreds more immigrants from Asia, the Middle East, and Europe have moved into the area. As each ethnic group specializes in distinct goods, cuisines, and services, a degree of economic interdependence has emerged that further restrains interethnic conflict.
Indian merchants, the largest immigrant group on Devon, sell traditional goods such as spices, saris, and the gold jewelry presented to Indian brides. They also specialize in electronics.
``Some of our very good customers are from Pakistan,'' says Rekha Mehra, standing behind a glass counter glittering with 22-carat gold bangles at her Siddharth Jewelry Store.
``People here are more broad-minded. They judge others based on their deeds,'' says Dr. Najma Mirza, a Pakistani customer, as she inspects a carved gold band.
Similarly, Indians, who as Hindus are often vegetarians, patronize the Greek fruit markets. Pakistani Muslims frequent the Middle Eastern meat markets, which also supply Jewish residents with kosher meats. Assyrian grocers sell to Indians as well as to Poles, Romanians, and other Eastern Europeans who make up the latest wave of immigrants to the area.
``Thank God the Indians don't have bakeries,'' says Marcus Narsa, an Assyrian immigrant who runs the Babylon Bakery.
``I cannot live only on one nationality, I have to make for everybody,'' says Mr. Narsa, who sells goods ranging from honey-drenched baklava pastries to English wedding cakes.