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Building a Better Chicago

 Building a Better Chicago

Building a Better Chicago


As a third-generation, multiracial, multiethnic Mexican American from a low-income background, I had not planned on becoming a professor.1 Such a future was far removed from anything I could imagine as a high school student. I had not even planned on attending college. I was not a model student—I skipped almost half of my senior year and just barely graduated. I hated school, I hated being poor, and I hated people’s assumptions about me as a young Mexicana from the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago.

Students like me—especially those who were poor and Black, Mexican, or Puerto Rican—were disproportionately penalized by teachers and administrators.2 Everything from the way we dressed and spoke to the questions we asked were grounds for disciplinary action. The curriculum did not reflect our realities, and we were expected to follow authority blindly. Given these experiences, at first I avoided college, which I imagined would be an extension of high school.

I chose instead to work several jobs in the formal and informal sectors to help provide for myself and assist my family. This work took me to various parts of Chicago, from the affluent, pristine neighborhoods of the lakefront to the working-class and poor communities of the West and South sides. Navigating these spaces and seeing how a city is planned politically, economically, socially, and racially planted the early seeds of my interest in uneven urban redevelopment.

I also witnessed various ways that residents, including those in my own community, collectively worked to improve their environs and disrupt negative narratives of their neighborhoods. This interest eventually propelled me into my undergraduate and graduate studies and then into my academic career

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