Gage Park Latinx Council creates space for residents to be their authentic selves

GPLXC combats stigma, helps residents overcome obstacles faced in community

A dragon is painted in vibrant colors on a building in Gage Park, representing just one of many murals in the area.

Gage Park, a working-class neighborhood on the southwest side of Chicago that is six miles due west of the Laboratory Schools, 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 strives to create a space for Latinx people — 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, GPLXC co-founder, says she felt the need for an organization like GPLXC after returning from college to Gage Park, the neighborhood where she grew up. 

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? 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 Martinez

“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?” Ms. Martinez 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.”

Ms. Martinez and her team have started multiple initiatives 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. 

Artist Lizz Ortiz supported GPLXC by painting portraits of some of the undocumented families the organization has helped. They said using their talent to help such an important cause has been a pleasure.

“It really felt good to be able to help them,” said Mx. Ortiz, who uses gender-neutral pronouns. “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.” 

While GPLXC primarily focuses on helping undocumented families, Ms. Martinez believes that they’ve also used their role to help Latinx 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,” Ms. Martinez said. In March 2020, the GPLXC began to distribute thousands of pounds of foods to those who needed them, in addition to essential supplies like groceries and hygiene products.

Another initiative that the GPLXC started used the power of art and the youth to preserve the significance of their community 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,” Ms. Martinez  said. 

They found the space to showcase the voices.

“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,” Ms. Martinez said. 

The GPLXC even has a public gallery on 55th Street in Gage Park made up of murals created by Latinx youth. 

Ms. Martinez believes 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,” Ms. Martinez 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 Ms. Martinez believes that the GPLXC wants to do everything it can to help the Latinx community of Gage Park to embrace and enjoy their uniqueness — whether through tightening their bond or by fixing obstacles caused by socioeconomic statuses that block their community from flourishing.