Tuesday was the Illinois primary. Our polling place is in our neighborhood public school, which is predominantly Latino. School was starting as I cast my ballot, and over the PA system, two kindergartners from the bilingual program led the school in singing the national anthem. Then the assistant principal, Mrs. Trinidad Lopez, read the morning announcements. Friday is Pajama Day at this public school. Monday, the classroom with the best attendance for this week will be announced. I always feel very American when I vote. This time, I felt especially so.
I had another particularly American moment at lunch. The ad agency I work for is doing some projects for a pro bono client, the Maxwell Street Foundation, and before taking a walking tour of the Maxwell Street neighborhood, some of us grabbed lunch at Jim’s Original. Lunch for me was the Polish sausage, simply called a "Polish," and fries you see above. The Polish had a satisfying snap and the fries were deliciously salty and tender/crisp. Together, they set me back $4.50. The soda added another buck.
Jim’s Original is “the original Polish sausage stand from Maxwell Street.” It has a bank of walk-up windows and a long stainless steel counter along its exterior cinder block wall. There is no inside seating. My colleagues and I ate our lunch at the counter, facing the cinder block wall, with I-94 roaring behind us. It was sublime.
Jim’s Original began in 1939, in the heart of the then bustling Maxwell Street Market, when a Macedonian immigrant took over his aunt and uncle’s hot dog stand. The Maxwell Street neighborhood had already been a major gateway for immigrants for nearly a hundred years at that point, starting with the Irish who were brought to Chicago to build the railroads. Over the decades, Greeks, Bohemians, Russians, Germans, Italians, African-Americans and Mexicans followed.
Immigration has always been a hot button topic in America. And the rhetoric has only gotten hotter in the current election cycle. What too many of us seem to conveniently forget is that, unless you’re a native American, you are only here because you or some ancestor was an immigrant. For that matter, even native Americans originally came from somewhere else.
I’m not looking to start a big political discussion here. I’m just really glad this is the America I live in here in Chicago. Where you hear a host of languages on the subway. Where not everyone looks the same. Where my ballot this morning had Irish, Polish, Latino and African-American names. And where, 24/7, you can sink your teeth into possibly the best Polish anywhere.