The Complexities of Gentefication

I had a conversation with a friend recently about the term gentefication, a word that loosely refers to the movement of higher-income, educated Latinxs into urban areas. I was intrigued, so I decided to take this a step further and organize a discussion with more people.

A small group of us met at the Humboldt Park Boathouse Café this week, a fitting location for what we were discussing. The café played sophisticated music with the backdrop of the lagoon and the 59-foot tall Puerto Rican flags on Division Street. I had a series of questions prepared.

  • Have you heard of the term gentefication? If so, what does it mean to you?
  • Is the usage of gentefication helpful or hurtful?
  • Is gentefication the same as gentrification? Why or why not?
  • Do you think gentefication applies to Chicago? What examples/neighborhoods does it make you think of?

The conversation started by talking about what our first impressions of the term gentefication were. All of us had heard this term relatively recently, but had all noted the dynamics of upwardly mobile Latinxs moving into historically working-class neighborhoods even before knowing the term.

For some Latinxs, it’s about moving to a place that fits their cultural heritage, which is the case for many friends I talk to living in places like Pilsen or Little Village. There is this desire to be in a place that reflects their identity. For others, it’s a combination of this and wanting to return/remain in the area in which they grew up.

Little Village is one neighborhood that may come to mind when thinking about the term “gentefication."
Little Village is one neighborhood that may come to mind when thinking about the term “gentefication.”

All of us could relate, as we all live/intend to live in the areas in which we grew up for one reason or another. We all grapple with our identities in gentrifying neighborhoods. We delved into our family histories, upbringing, and education. I grew up in West Humboldt Park and attended an elementary school in the neighborhood. My family and I later moved nearby to Hermosa (which is to many still Humboldt Park, depending on what part of the neighborhood you’re in). As a U of C educated young person (whatever “educated” means), I consider how I fit into the neighborhood I grew up in. Does it automatically make me different? Has my status changed? What is my role in my community? This feeling of responsibility to family and simultaneous guilt for not always knowing how to address the issues in my community is real. After all, what does this piece of paper mean if I can’t use it to give back?

Others also discussed the dynamics of holding degrees from top universities and having a vested interest in the areas in which we grew up, particularly Little Village and Humboldt Park. Our passion for community comes from the responsibility to family, love of the people, and the desire to uphold the culturally-rich attributes that we see. We see the many ways in which the cultural affinity is showcased in neighborhoods throughout the city. From the historic Mexican Independence Parade in South Chicago to the murals in Pilsen, this pride of identity and history is constantly on display

So much of that pride is starting to be defined by the threats towards it.

There is this constant fear of there coming a day where we no longer recognize the community in which we grew up. A community is more than a geographical place. It’s a synthesis of people, homes, and spaces; it only holds meaning in the togetherness of it all. Once you start chipping away at the pieces, it slowly starts losing its form. We touched upon recent incidents in which frustration towards gentrification has come to a head. Places like Bow Truss in Pilsen and Grandma J’s in Humboldt Park have been the targets of anti-gentrification signs and graffiti. The eye-rolling attempts to rebrand Humboldt Park into Humboldt Heights (yes, it’s an actual thing) has also been met by opposition. We mentioned the extremity of what’s happening in some parts of Logan Square as a standard of whiteness we don’t want our communities to live up to.

Through the course of the conversation, it became clear that the term gentefication doesn’t capture the dynamics of our experiences. For us, it’s about building, not dismantling. We love the culture of our communities. We love the people. We love the pride that is exhibited through music, celebration, and identity. We have a vested interest in contributing to the continued vibrancy of our communities. We’re not the threat to that.

Gentrification fueled by rampant luxury development is. Gentrification dismantles, erases, and upends. It’s important to consider the role of gentefication (and also consider more language around the topic) and how Latinxs with more money and education fit into community, but this phenomenon doesn’t compare to the gentrification fueled by this pursuit of whiteness. We can’t conflate the two because they are not the same and can be a distraction from the true nature of neighborhood change. In neighborhoods, we need to be conscious of our identities and how we fit in, but we also can’t carry the weight of processes that have much deeper roots.

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