Ode to Rogers Park

 “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.”  – Emma Lazarus

I’ve been sickened by how fractured my country of America has become.  The tone of nation has turned ugly; a bunker mentality seems to be tearing us apart.

As I thought about this recently, I realized I had learned some valuable lessons from Rogers Park – my Chicago neighborhood.

Rogers Park is a big community.  We have neighbors from a 100 different geographies, all celebrating their difference out in the open.  In Rogers Park everyone is an immigrant from somewhere.  Even if you’re a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, you are but one more minority.  Perhaps because Rogers Park was originally settled by Jewish immigrants from Europe, an early tone of acceptance set in.

Anchored on the east by Lake Michigan and Loyola University, the nation’s largest Jesuit university, and on the west by the largest Orthodox Jewish community outside Israel, Rogers Park is a grand collection of people from every corner of the world.

Mention Devon Avenue to any East Indian in the Midwest and you’ll immediately get a knowing response.  It’s a thriving commercial and retail hub that draws people from the Indian and Pakistani diaspora from far distances.
Yes, indeed, in Rogers Park it’s:
  • Safe to be different
  • Cool to be an outsider

We hear of ghastly crimes being committed all over the world by one ethnic group against another.

  • Indians against Pakistanis
  • Serbs against Croatians
  • Catholics against Protestants
  • Muslims against non-Muslims

Yet in Rogers Park these obvious differences 

  • do not dictate our behavior
  • do not demand the ascendancy of the one over another
  • do not demand we wage war because we are different

When I asked our local alderman what he thought was the reason for our inviting spirit, he whimsically replied, “It’s not good business to kill your customers.”

I am reminded that I need to be constantly extending the boundaries of community to include

  • more people, not fewer people
  • new thoughts, not simply old thoughts
  • crazy ideas about what could be
  • different opnions on what I’ve considered “true”

When I examine myself it seems that it is fear that shuts me off from those that

  • do not look like me
  • do not love like me
  • do not think like me
  • do not talk like me
  • do not believe like me

Fear turns good, smart, decent people into KNOW NOTHINGS.

How sad……so when they rewrite the history of Rogers Park they will need to add chapters that tell the story

  • How gay families found a wonderful refuge in Newgard Avenue in the 1990’s
  • How Latino immigrants built vital businesses on Clark Street
  • How East Indians came to Devon Avenue and brought Mumbai merchants with them
  • How the displaced Croatian community built homes on Ashland Avenue
  • How young people just starting their adult lives found apartments they could afford near Chicago’s Red Line train

Living in Rogers Park has taught me to throw out the welcome mat.

For wasn’t it true – that mat was thrown out for me when I landed as a refugee from the Northwest 22 years ago.

Just a thought…


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