A family walks next to a railroad near Crawford Generating Station in Little Village neighborhood of Chicago. The coal power plant operated for almost 90 years, causing asthma and other respiratory issues to residents before it was forced to close in 2012 due to pressure from activists. In 2019, Hilco Redevelopment Partners gained city approval to build a 1 million-square-foot distribution center, creating concern in the community that the incoming concentration of diesel trucks will replace the former coal polluter with another harmful polluter.
Gabriela Marquez-Benitez, who is 22 weeks pregnant, receives a Mexican traditional healing massage from her doula, Isabel Gonzales-Smith, at her home in Little Village. Growing up most of her life undocumented in Memphis, Tennessee, Marquez-Benitez said she couldn't go to Mexico to visit her family and see what her community in Mexico looks like. Little Village is the "closest replica" to being in a Mexican community, she said. At the same time, the environmental health disparities between Little Village and areas mostly occupied by white residents are stark. "We're still resilient and we're able to thrive within what we have, but it doesn't negate the fact that we still need and deserve the same resources as other communities have, and not have to worry about the air that children and we are breathing, and not have to worry about the access to water that we have and the clean soil."
Young attendees play in the dirt during the annual Harvest Fest at Semillas de Justicia community garden in Little Village. After going through extensive remediation, the 1.5-acre industrial site where underground oil barrels were once stored was reclaimed to a community garden that provides fresh organic produce like fruits, vegetables and herbs for residents as a result of community activism.
Gabriela Wasserman, 11, uses her inhaler in bed at her home in Little Village. She uses an inhaler to treat her asthma, a condition shared by her two older brothers. “It’s hard, having asthma. It can stop you from doing a bunch of stuff,” Gabriela said. "For me, it stopped me from running.”
Gabriela Wasserman's desk features the poster of a dog, her ballet and dance awards on top of video games and her inhalers to treat asthma. Gabriela was born and raised in Little Village until her family moved to McKinley Park two years ago. Her mother, Kim Wasserman, said Gabriela loves outdoor physical activities, but high pollution levels and her illness impact her ability to take part in them. “If I let her be outside all the time, she would be outside all of the time," Kim said. "It’s heartbreaking to have to limit her abilities, but I’m hopeful that she’ll be able to beat this to the best of her ability."
Eddie Sanchez sits in his backyard with his neighbors. Sanchez has lived in Little Village for 35 years. The neighborhood's close proximity to a number of distribution centers means a steady stream of semi-trucks traveling through the area. Sanchez, who used to be a truck driver and now delivers mail for USPS, says he understands the logistic importance of locating distribution centers in Little Village, which is next to major freeways, but is also concerned about the safety of residents who will be impacted by the increased traffic.
Jose Hernandez waters plants during the annual Harvest Fest at Semillas de Justicia community garden in Little Village.
Via Crucis, a reenactment of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ enters La Villita Park after passing the Cook County Jail in Little Village. The park, which houses three natural grass athletic fields, a skate park, basketball courts and community gardens, occupies a former industrial complex that had polluted and degraded the site. Designated by the Environmental Protection Agency as a Superfund site, the property went through remediation. Not only does this area have one of the highest needs for open space in Chicago, but its residents long-contended with the negative consequences of living near a polluted site.
John Williams approaches the traffic to sell roses, peanuts and other snacks on an overpass near Crawford Generating Station in Little Village. Williams has driven to this same spot every morning for the past nine years to sell flowers, though he lives an hour away in a town near the Indiana border.
The skyline of downtown Chicago parallels the industrial corridor near the railyard in Little Village. The decades of disinvestment created a 30-year disparity in life expectancy between downtown and West Side residents.