The displacement of environmental justice in Little Village


The iconic Little Village arch. Photo by Eric Allix Rogers, Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic

By Hanna Bondarenko
Contributing Reporter

Little Village has been an integral part of Chicago’s industrial revolution for 98 years, working to help raise the community of predominantly working class people.

Over the past 20 years, vast amounts of work places have emerged, bringing an extreme industrialization of this neighborhood which also turned into a two-decade struggle for the locals against environmental injustice.

Kimberly Wasserman-Nieto addressed some of the main issues and currents of displacement taking place in environmental justice in her speech which took place at Roosevelt University Wednesday, Nov. 9.

Wasserman-Nieto takes an active part in the social life of the Little Village community in Chicago, as well as holding numerous positions. A recipient of the Goldman Prize for North America, she is also an executive director of Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (since 1998) and a chair at the Illinois Environmental Justice Commission.

“We sponsor the series around some social issues human rights every fall. I think that simply talking about these kinds of things and explaining that there are ways to fight is very important,” said Bethany Barratt, an associate professor of political science at Roosevelt University.

Being a densely populated area, Little Village is home to over 90,000 Mexican-American locals. This culturally and economically rich neighborhood had to fight for almost five years to have a bus line in order to cover a three mile gap between the city and the neighborhood.

For 75 years, Little Village had only one park until the local community made the Chicago authorities pay attention to the needs of the residents.

As the developers took hold of the community’s industrial property, three land-use strategies began simultaneously putting at risk the health of the locals and their environment. At some point, Unilever planned the expansion of a Hellman’s mayonnaise factory located in Little Village.

The agreement allows 500 to 900 diesel trucks travel through the neighborhood daily, without reasonable understanding of the health issues such as respiratory diseases that this development might cause for those who live in Little Village.

“We were very reactive, so instead we had to become proactive and become experts in planning and land-use,” Wasserman said.

The recent presidential election results perplexed a lot of people. As Donald Trump stands next to the wheel of power, many of Little Village locals are preoccupied with the possibly radical changes.

“I’ve been working in community for 8 or 9 years now. And I agree that with these changes in our political life, immigration will be the biggest issue for the neighborhood,” Lisa Hyatt, one of the lecture attendees said.

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