Who are your people? Some reflections on Standing Rock & ChiTown

By Juliet de Jesus Alejandre

Fifteen hours on the road. Our bodies and spirits were anxious to arrive to this place that’s been calling us for the last few weeks. We met our guide Mike Klonsky at the Prairie Knights Casino lobby in order to ride together into the campgrounds just outside of the Standing Rock Reservation.  Slumped into the hotel lobby sofas, protestors sat charging their phones and laptops. The temperature outside was about thirty degrees colder than in Chicago—they looked so cold. We didn’t care, we were ready to go join the Water Protectors.


As we soaked up the people, the smells and sounds, an elder, turned to our group and asked, “Where you all from?” We heard a couple of others answer this question reciting names of reservations and tribes.  We paused and felt the weight of her question. On the one hand her question assumed we were relatives, fellow members of the ancient peoples of the Americas. That familiarity felt good—like a welcoming. We also felt loss. Our silence spoke of colonization. Spoke of broken family stories. Partially we were here to recover a part of ourselves, of our past in this fight for a future that centers our humanity and relationships to the earth and to one another.


Through the Brown in Chicago Project, Latinx youth are sitting down with family to document our family migration stories and to explore the role of race and racism in our lives. With great care they are recording the names of their ancestors, the towns they lived and migrated from, the dates they walked the earth. DNA test results show that our Mexican students have between 60-90% Native American ancestry. Though because of colonization none of our young people have thought of themselves as a part of the indigenous diaspora before now.


We also traveled here because in this fight to stop oil companies and the government from decimating the homes and sacred burial sites of the Standing Rock Sioux, we see our own fight. In Chicago, our young people are waging their own battle against the further displacement of Latinx families from the gentrifying neighborhoods of Logan Square, Humboldt Park and Hermosa. Capitalism is killing our communities, exploiting our natural resources and disregarding our ties to the land and one another. The resistance put up by the community at Standing Rock is spiritually and culturally fueled as well as legal and political, and so is ours.  We met our people at Standing Rock.


Photo Cred: Arely Morales14590365_411121892344729_169090528004142272_n


Brown in Chicago – Decolonizing our roots and future

With the Logan Square Neighborhood Association

LSNA’s youth organizing work is founded on the values of racial justice. Youth are vital leaders in the push for both policy and cultural responses to the violence of displacement.[1] Displacement destroys culture. Youth leaders find themselves in a neighborhood experiencing swift racial and economic transition that feels violent and painful. They no longer feel welcomed in their neighborhood hangouts or feel secure that their parents (working-class immigrants) will be able to keep pace with the rising rents and property taxes. For our youth the fact that gentrification is a racialized process is common sense. They see the buying power young white people have in their community, and LSNA’s organizers help deepen their analysis through workshops that emphasize the historical housing policies in Chicago that created the Black and Latino ghettos of our city.

This July a group of seventeen youth leaders with the Logan Square Neighborhood Association started a journey to fight the erasure of displacement by documenting their families’ migrations from Latin America to Chicago.  Youth leaders were also commissioned by their abuelitas and parents as they submitted DNA ancestry kits to see where their families’ journeys actually started. Our ancestry results capture the mixing of people’s brought violently together in 1492.  Our Mexican students –the great majority of the group–carry between 60-90% indigenous ancestry.  Africa is also present with us—all of our youth came back with some African ancestry. And our young people from the Caribbean have between 15-35% African ancestry.  We suddenly feel ancient and feel the weight of the loss of our indigenous and African identities–colonization is also erasure of one’s stories.


In partnership with the Genealogy and Storytelling Project LSNA youth will:

  1. Uncover the history of migration and displacement and the impact they have on their lives today;
  2. Boldly claim their own place in history as part of the Latin-American and Pan-African Diaspora;
  3. Dismantle the dominant narrative of white supremacy within the specific process of gentrification and more broadly;
  4. Engage more Latinx[2] families to celebrate their place and histories in the community as one weapon against displacement.

[1] In the past year, 110 youth have been involved in LSNA’s anti-gentrification work taking significant roles in outreach efforts to residents, develogeneology commissions 3.JPEGping actions, introducing new strategies and concepts, and meeting with local officials about the need to create policy solutions to address rising displacement.

[2] Latinx= The “x” makes Latino, a masculine identifier, gender-neutral. The “x” also encompasses genders outside of that limiting man-woman binary. Pronounced “La-teen-ex.

Meeting #6 08/08/2016


  • Lecture from Dr. Jesse Mumm on  The Latin American Migration to Chicago
  • Follow up on questions with geneticist Kerry Cochrane on how to use search engines to investigate public family records.

Lecture Notes from Dr. Mumms Lecure:

  • First mixed peoples of Chicago were the Metis (mixed French and Native)
  • 1900’s saw great labor migrations: The Great Migration and subsequent labor recruitment of different immigrant groups depending on the need of the US for labor

Two key concepts when thinking of our ancestors (and our) life choices:

    • Agency v. Structure

→ Culture v. Political-Economy

→ Personal Experience v. Cultural, Economic, Political, Social Experiences

  • So when we interview our relatives we need to balance what their personal experiences are and what was happening on the macro-level
  • Also, this concept helps us know that there may be societal expectations and cultural ones but that people often defy the norms. (i.e. women who smoke)

Research questions/ historical questions:

  • There are some big questions that you might want to ask your relatives. (i.e. Did the Irish see themselves as “white” upon arrival?) However, you probably do not want to ask your relatives directly about those big sociological questions about race. But there are kinds of questions that you can get ask that will solicit their stories that address your big question about race.
  • How you ask a question will determine what kind of stories you are going to get.
  • So instead you can ask questions about race, like:
    • Where did you live? Describe that place? Were most of your friends X (ie. Mexican/ Latinxs). Did you have friends that were not Spanish-Speaking? Where did you hang out and with who? What was the neighborhood like / feel like when you walked around it in 19xx?
    • Gender-based ones: Where did you work? What was that like? Did other women do that work?
  • What are some examples of bad questions: Yes/No questions, short-answer questions are horrible.
  • Good question form: Not yes/no or short answer. Not too general and not too specific.  Ask questions that ask you a story: Tell me about when….
  • Content: you want to ask questions that get your information you need, gets at core issues, and productivity *questions that get you to many kinds of answers.
    • “After you had your first two children, what concerned you the most?” (Jesse interviewing his grandma).
    • “Walk me through the day that xxx happened”
    • “Walk through me a day in your life when you were 25?”
    • “You tell me about a lot of the rancho, take me through the house, room by room.”
    • “Was it possible to get a job in management in those times?”
    • “What was it like to live in the second neighborhood compared to your first?”
    • You want questions about personal information, family, household, education, work
  • What’s a kind of story your family will not talk about?
    • You can ask: “What was life like before or after?”
  • Tricks of the Trade:
    • “Claiming ignorance” – saying you don’t know the story, or you want to hear about it from their point of view. “I don’t know what that’s about can you explain that to me?”
    • Express interest. I really want to know this.
    • Restating: INCORPORATING their words into your later questions.
    • Don’t interrupt them. Don’t over-explain what you know–let them tell you their experience.
    • Affirmations: let them know you are listening and that you are feeling them. You are part of the conversation, so let them know you are with them.


  • [We went over an interview with Arthur & Tamara Griffin – a couple who have lived for a very long time in Garfield Park in order to see how we can get to race /structural issues without directly asking the question in those overly academic ways].
  • Take 5 minutes to write down 3 basic questions that are open ended questions for a Latinx person living in Chicago?
    • What was the neighborhood like when you first arrived in 1965?
    • I love your food, I wonder what was it like for you to find food you liked to eat when you first came?
    • Who did you work with and what was your experience like with management?
    • Growing up how was your neighborhood like? What do you think about the changes? What do you miss?

Taking Notes / Documentation of your interviews:

  • Quotation: Direct, exact, word-for-word transcription. “ “
  • Paraphrasing: general ideas, accurate summary, in your own words. (….)
  • Jottings: ideas, places, dates, words, names, objects.

A note on “Dangerous Neighborhoods:

  • Some research demonstrates that Gentrifying hoods become more dangerous-

Ethics on researchers:

  • Some people are proud of what they’re saying and want their name
  • Some people want to be noted as a pseudonym (i.e. Exotica Jones)
  • Nameless – they want what they’re words noted but no identifying markers.
  • Redacted – they don’t want what they said to be shared at all!
  • Informed consent: the person knows you’re doing an interview and what it is for; and where this will be shared (scholarly articles, grant reports, blogs, perhaps a book, exhibits)

[Read the “Belmont Report – Summary on the Principles Relevant to the Protection of Human Subjects in Research].

Kerry Cochranewww.Familysearch.org