A little good news: The Chicago Area Ethnic Handbook

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A necessary addition to your Chicago reference library.
  • A necessary addition to your Chicago reference library.
With the news filled with tragic stories of senseless shootings in the streets and schools of our country, it's as good a time as ever to tell a story of peace and understanding.

So, some good news . . .

Jeryl Levin and Cynthia Linton have come out with the second edition of The Chicago Area Ethnic Handbook, which, as it sounds, is a book dedicated to the notion that we can and should have a little better understanding of the people who live around us.

Even if they live in a different neighborhood, speak a different language, or attend a different church, synagogue, or mosque.

"This is a labor of love," says Levin, who published the first edition when she was the executive director of the Illinois Ethnic Coalition. "Despite it all, I think Chicago's still a pretty tolerant place. The fact that a book like this could exist where 37 of the largest ethnic groups agree to be together in one book is a good sign."

The first edition came out in 1997. In fact, I wrote about it. Which just goes to show you—I've been around a long time!

"In the wake of 9/11, a near economic collapse in 2007, a historic 2008 presidential election, and the introduction of controversial immigration legislation in Arizona and other states, familiar nativist winds blew in: Who was a 'real' American and what right did 'they' have to be here?" Levin and Linton write in the introduction. "We knew it was time to update the Handbook."

The latest edition is filled with chapters dedicated to 37 different ethnic and/or racial or religious groups, alphabetically arranged from African-American to Vietnamese-American. With everyone from Czechs to Greeks to Nigerians to Filipinos in between.

Each chapter is written by a scholar or leader from the community being profiled. It's edited by Linton, an adjunct journalism lecturer at Medill. Among the subjects covered are population trends (with 2010 census information) and migration patterns, as well as holiday traditions, religious practices, political issues, and the histories of various communities, like Chinatown.

"There are four new chapters from the first edition that reflect the influx of new immigrants: Bosnians, Pakistanis, Iranians," says Levin. "We also wanted to have a chapter on Muslims in the same way we have for the Jewish community."

My favorite passages are those on food. After reading about various ethnic dishes made of lamb, rice, squid, pasta, and/or chicken—especially chicken—I got so hungry, I went downstairs and raided the refrigerator. I wound up consuming a very tasty leftover chicken curry dish I'd forgotten was even there.

Truth is, I'm always ready to eat just about anything that anybody—regardless of race, creed, or color—is nice enough to make me. Except ham! I can't stand ham. I don't care how it's served or who serves it. I'm with Isaac Bashevis Singer and Malcolm X on this one. No ham!

Sorry, I don't know where that tangent came from.

Anyway, The Chicago Area Ethnic Handbook is a necessary addition to your Chicago reference collection. To order a copy, go to the website.

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