They first arrived from Oaxaca, Ixtapalapa, Tzintzuntzan, and Mexico City. Some had green cards and visitors’ permits; others didn’t. They lived in barrios and worked in meatpacking houses and steel mills.
Known as mestizos, braceros, wetbacks, and spics, the Mexicans who came to Chicago in the 1920s and ’30s searching for prosperity and independence found prejudice and poverty.
Although never considered strong churchgoers, Chicago’s Mexican-American Catholics have always retained a deep sense of faith. They decorate their homes, stores, and cars with Catholic symbols, paint murals on neighborhood walls, and celebrate feast days with processions. One custom, the Via Crucis, or Way of the Cross, was introduced to Mexico by Spanish conquistadors. Its enactment in Chicago has become a powerful affirmation of faith that holds the Mexican-American community together.
Since 1977, parishioners from Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood have participated in this annual dramatization of Jesus’ agony and death. It begins with a Passion play in the basement of Providence of God Church at Union and 18th Street. Sometimes drowned out by the clamor of the nearby El, audience murmurs can still be heard as Judas betrays Jesus. When soldiers strip Jesus and place a wreath of thorns on his head, women in the audience weep.