Chicago’s neighborhoods burst with cultural prowess

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Approximately 2.8 million people live in Chicago. A host of cultures bring life to the city with various celebrations, festivals and parades as well as sundry restaurants, markets, small businesses and museums. The enriching diversity of an urban population provides an excellent opportunity for children to learn and appreciate the world around them. Children are able to marvel at the incredible contributions that culturally rich ethnic groups offer. Got a free weekend? Suit up the kids, pick an area: north, south, west or downtown/central and explore one of Chicago’s 77 distinctive neighborhoods.

Chicago’s Chinatown, which is the second largest Chinatown in the U.S., has delicious restaurants and many shops. Check out Chinatown Square, a hub for entertainment, celebrations and festivals as well as the home of the Pan Asian Cultural Center.

“Chinatown is wonderful for children and families. In addition to high-quality restaurants, we have lots of landmarks, old and unique buildings and a diverse community,” said Steven Lu, Chicago Chinatown Chamber of Commerce. “Children love seeing the Chinatown Gate, The Nine Dragon Wall, Ping Tom Memorial Park and the Chinatown Square Zodiacs.”

For beautiful domed Orthodox churches, colorful murals, art galleries, museums and tree-lined streets, visit Ukrainian and East Village. The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art is a mecca for modern and contemporary art. In addition to exhibits, this museum also hosts concerts, film showings, readings and lectures, which creates inspiration within the community.

“We are open to the public. We display six or seven exhibits a year-group and solo shows,” said Andriy Hudzan, Ukrainian Institute for Modern Art. “Our museum also has a children’s art exhibit once a year. We reach out to local schools and children submit their art.”

Devon Ave. in West Ridge is the heart of Chicago’s vibrant Pakistani and Indian communities. Dine in one of the many delectable restaurants, shop boutiques for a multihued sari, get a temporary henna tattoo or buy goods at one of the ethnic grocery stores or bakeries. Jewelry, book, music and textile shops line both sides of the street, fostering bustling eye-candy for children and families. Strolling the sidewalks in this sparkling community is an inimitable way to feel like you’re venturing abroad without leaving Chicago.

Many spectators filled the streets of the historic Pilsen neighborhood during the Chicago Marathon this past October, and it’s easy to see why people return. Pilsen is an art filled community with residents that are bonded together with community pride. Theater and art thrive and the dominant Hispanic culture keeps this community alive.

One of the most popular attractions is the National Museum of Mexican Art (NMMA), which is the only major Chicago museum that is free to the public every day. Weekend, after-school and summer classes, with thematic lessons, are offered to children to help them learn about art and culture.

According to the NMMA website, “Since 2004, the Education Department has been offering high quality, year-round after-school classes through grant partnerships with Chicago Public Schools. Classes include visual arts, dance, theater and music, and integrate reading and writing.”

The main prospectus includes creating art as well as art literacy and elucidation, cultural awareness and social justice-all important for children to develop well-rounded critical thinking skills.