Chicago Latino Communities

With over 40% of students in Chicago Public Schools and increasing populations in the suburbs identifying themselves as Latino, it is crucial for teachers to incorporate the immigrant experience of the Latino community into the curriculum. Lessons from Community Beginnings is a two-part curriculum unit designed to address this demand for local Latino history in the classroom. Focused on the early years of Chicago’s Mexican and Puerto Rican immigrant communities, this curriculum unit for middle and high-school students provides teachers with a variety of primary sources along with thought-provoking questions and activities for in-classroom use.


Lessons from Community Beginnings: Chicago’s Mexican Community explores life in the Mexican colonias of Chicago during the period of 1916-1938. Lessons from Community Beginnings: Chicago’s Puerto Rican Community presents life in the early years of the Puerto Rican community in Chicago from 1940-1960. Both engage with larger historical themes of citizenship, immigration, working conditions, conflict, cooperation, and community-building in a uniquely local setting. Approaching the topic of immigrant communities through a series of case studies, Lessons from Community Beginnings uses contemporary interviews and correspondence, secondary source excerpts, graphs, maps, and photographs to allow students to weigh historical evidence and develop both a more nuanced approach to the study of history and a stronger historical connection to local immigrant communities.

FROM THE INTRODUCTION: Chicago Latino Communities History Project

Since the early 1900s Chicago’s Latino communities have contributed to the city’s political, economic, cultural and social development yet, a virtual vacuum of curriculum materials exists.  In classrooms throughout the area, teachers are working to develop a respectful knowledge of Latino communities and instill a meaningful appreciation of the different communities’ contributions that have made Chicago the vibrant city that it is today. This resource provides an opportunity to integrate the Latino experience in the study of American history.

The Chicago Metro History Education Center (CMHEC) believes that it is important to define a methodology that ensures that the historical voices of Chicago’s Mexican and Puerto Rican communities be heard. CMHEC believes it is equally as important to create curriculum materials that allow for the study of the similarities as well as the differences within Latino communities. These differences in historical experience within the Latino communities have enormous implications for the conditions in which we live today.

Each unit in this series, presented as separate curriculum books, offers information on the beginnings of the Mexican and Puerto Rican communities in Chicago. The methodologies used in project-based history education, and it is recommended that these materials be used within the context of a whole language approach and a humanities approach that includes the use of the social sciences, literature and arts as well.  All of the curriculum materials are intended to help develop reading, writing, critical thinking, categorizing and sequencing skills. Further, the documents reflect the activities of individuals and/or groups of individuals—a look at history that goes beyond memorizing dates or reading text in which the authors presents her/his ideas. They are designed to motivate a student to read, write and develop critical thinking skills. The Latino Communities History Project endeavors to:

  • consider the ways in which students’ lives are linked to the past
  • develop historical perspective to interpret present day phenomena
  • grasp the complexity of historical causation

The Latino History Communities Project encourages utilizing an interdisciplinary approach to illuminate the history of Latino people. Music, film, fiction, theater, literature and original documentation can be incorporated into the learning process. The methodology in this unit calls for five basic steps:

1. Pre-Reading Activities

During this set the teacher, by providing either a challenging or a motivational activity, introduces the issues to be covered in the lesson in the broadest possible manner. This format activates the student’s curiosity, and immediately engages the student in the learning experience. Brainstorming, webbing and mind-mapping exercises used at this time increase student involvement in the lesson and afford the teacher an opportunity to see just how much students know about a particular topic.

At this stage, the teacher should establish the cooperative learning process, between him/herself and the students. As teachers and historical researchers, we cannot know all the answers nor can we foresee all the students’ questions. Part of the cooperative learning process points to the teacher’s willingness to say, “I do not know,” and “I am willing to join you (the students) in pursuing this inquiry.” An equally important factor in this process is that it allows students to reflect upon their experience and share that experience with fellow classmates.

2. Introducing Text

During this step the teacher introduced the text. The introductory material in each lesson is deliberately brief, inviting students to read the material in a short amount of time, to reflect on its significance, and then to engage in a discussion with the class whenever appropriate. The text and the questions that follow in most lessons are intended to cultivate new ideas rather than challenge old ones. Each of the lessons in the unit is designed to build upon the previous one.

3. Introducing Historical Documentation

Each lesson in this unit uses primary sources. Some of these documents may challenge the student's ability. However, it is expected that by this phase of the learning process students will be sufficiently invested in the project to be willing to interact with these documents.

4. Analyze, Reflect and Plan

In many of the lessons, suggestions are offered to challenge the students' understanding of the information. By organizing students into work teams they can be further challenged to identify and clarify issues presented in the text. Students should be guided to make preliminary judgments of the information presented, and encouraged to obtain further information on the issues.

5. Creating History Projects

During the final step of the learning process students will decide how to utilize what they have learned and what conclusions they can draw from it. Students begin to think about how they may wish to display their findings. Projects can include historical research papers, creation of exhibits, performances, documentary videos, or websites. Projects may be prepared by the entire class, small groups or individuals. CMHEC staff will assist teachers and students who are interested in participation in the Chicago Metro History Fair. CMHEC also had a collection of materials, written and audiovisual, that can be borrowed for us in the classroom.



chicago's mexican community cover imageLessons from Community Beginnings: Chicago’s Mexican Community explores life in the Mexican colonias of Chicago during the period of 1916-1938.

Table of Contents

Teacher’s Materials

Part One: We Came Here to Work!

  • Where Does One Turn?
  • Mexican Revolution
  • A Plea for Understanding
  • Point of Origin
  • Mexicans in the U.S: 1930 Census
  • War, Workers and Woes
  • Mexican Aliens to Enter
  • What was it Like in This New Land?
  • Putting Faces to History


  • Unwelcome Labor, Unwelcome Newcomers
  • Mexican Labor in the United States
  • The Mexican Immigrant Wage-Earner
  • Working in Diverse Occupations
  • Daily Life
  • The Immigrant and the Contract Laborers
  • Case Study: Refugio Martinez
  • The Double Role of Mexican Workers

Part Two: We Came Here to Live!

  • One of Chicago’s Ghettoes of 1927
  • Housing in Chicago
  • Railroad Camps


  • The Mexican Immigrant and Education
  • Working Figures

Community Organizations, Recreation, and Religion

  • Mexican Social Life
  • Church News
  • Ages and Reasons for Death

Repatriation or Deportation

  • The Great Depression
  • Significant Events of the U.S. Depression
  • Testimonies of Repatriation
  • Repatriation Figures
  • Forty Years Illegal

Download Lessons from Community Beginnings: Chicago’s Mexican Community (pdf)

(1 of 3) Teacher Background Material

(2 of 3) Part One: We Came Here to Work

(3 of 3) Part Two: We Came Here to Live; List of Documents; Bibliography




chicago's puerto rican community cover imageLessons from Community Beginnings: Chicago’s Puerto Rican Community presents life in the early years of the Puerto Rican community in Chicago from 1940-1960.

Table of Contents

Teacher’s Materials

Part One: The Questions of Citizenship

  • Puerto Rico, American-Style
  • Voices from Puerto Rico
  • Economic Conditions
  • Migration

Part Two: We Came Here to Work

Part Three: We Came Here to Live

  • Challenges
  • Community-building
  • Conflict

Part Four: In Conclusion

  • One Woman’s Story

Download Lessons from Community Beginnings: Chicago’s Puerto Rican Community (pdf)

(1 of 4) Teacher Background Material

(2 of 4) Part One: The Questions of Citizenship

(3 of 4) Part Two: We Came Here to Work

(4 of 4) Part Three: We Came Here to Live; Conclusion; List of Documents


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