Gage Park, a neighborhood on the south side of Chicago, is an area made up of a diverse Latinx community – old, young, undocumented, queer, the list goes on. However, living in a city as large as Chicago, it’s easy for communities to lose their tight bond and the culture that holds them together.
The Gage Park Latinx Council (GPLXC) is an organization that strives to create a space for Hispanics – who make up the majority of Gage Park – to not only embrace their community, but also to find their voice and gain access to resources that their community is deprived of.
Samantha Martinez, the co-founder of GPLXC, says that she felt the need for an organization like GPLXC after returning from college to Gage Park, the neighborhood she grew up in.
“The biggest question that my friends and I had at the time was, why is it that there’s this pressure to get out of our community to make it in this world?” Samantha said. “Because we strongly believed that the direction of our community should be decided by us, not by others. And so we began all the work that we’ve been doing to strengthen that sense of community that was lacking at the time.”
Samantha and her team have upstarted multiple initiatives in order to achieve this goal – one of which was supporting undocumented residents of Gage Park. Collectively, GPLXC managed to raise over $90,000 for undocumented families. According to artist Lizz Ortiz, who supported GPLXC by painting portraits of some of the undocumented families the organization has helped, using their talent to help such an important cause has been a pleasure.
“It really felt good to be able to help them. Especially because given what undocumented families have been experiencing with the administration and what-not, doing the work that [GPLXC] has been doing to guide these families through these scary times is important,” Lizz said.
While GPLXC primarily focuses on helping undocumented families, Samantha believes that they’ve also used their role to help Hispanic people all across the board in Gage Park that are struggling to put food on the table – especially during the pandemic.
“Some of the issues that our community was already facing were exacerbated by COVID-19, and the unemployment rate that came with it, which made us start to create a system of support and care for these people,” Samantha said. “In March of 2020, we began to distribute not only thousands of pounds of food, but also essential supplies like groceries and hygiene products.”
Another initiative that the GPLXC upstarted in order to preserve the significance of their community was using the power of art and the youth – especially through murals.
“We launched the Gage Park Mural Project, which was an initiative because there were a couple of young artists from our community who wanted to reclaim public space. And we knew that having a space to have a voice is not something that’s quite accessible within our community,” Samantha said. “So they started by doing murals and we were able to provide paid opportunities for youth from our community to paint what they wanted for our community.”
The GPLXC even has a public gallery on 55th street in Gage Park made up of different murals created by their Hispanic youth.
Samantha believes that GPLXC’s diversity when it comes to queerness has helped many people in the neighborhood to overcome the stigma surrounding the LGBTQ+ community.
“We didn’t feel, growing up in Gage Park and the Latina community, that queerness is something that is openly talked about and is often shamed,” Samantha said. “And so within our organization what we want to do is to be authentically ourselves in not only the work we do, but also in openly showing these narratives that many of us are carrying to kill off some of that stigma that used to stop us from being our true, authentic selves.”
Every neighborhood has its own stories and individual history – and Samantha believes that the GPLXC wants to do everything it can to help the Hispanic community of Gage Park to embrace and enjoy their uniqueness; whether it’s through tightening their bond, or by fixing obstacles caused by socioeconomic statuses that come in the way of their community flourishing.
We hope that many of our Latinx and hispanic readers can turn to the Gage Park Latinx Council to find a new community or seek help during the pandemic if they need it! The murals in the neighborhood are gorgeous, so if you haven't already, I'd definitely recommend strolling around the area to come across magnificent pieces of art.