The immigration stories in this exhibit represent one of the earliest groups, the Swedes who settled here in the 1870s and those from Mexico who moved here about 100 years later in the 1970s.
Above: G.H. Carlson
Above: Swedish Lutheran Church, corner of Charles and Somonauk Streets.
Although 262 Swedes lived in Sycamore in 1848, most traveled to the city temporarily in search of work. For Swedish immigrants, the first step in becoming permanent Sycamore citizens was to build a church. Temporary immigrants prayed in private homes or the courthouse, but to grow a community required a church to call their own. The Sycamore True Republican praised the new community of immigrants, stating, “The Swedish population has more than trebled in numbers during the past two years: they are a useful, industrious, valuable class of population” (June 17, 1871).
In 1870, immigrants organized the Salem Evangelical Lutheran Church or Svenska Evangelisk-Lutherska Kyrkan. With money raised during a Christmas concert, the first church went up on Charles Street. By 1896, the Swedish community raised enough money to build a larger, stone church at the intersection of Charles and Somonauk. The church flourished with a parochial school as well as Luther League, Ladies’ Aid Society, Fidelis Society, and Salem Men’s Society.
One individual, Gustaf Carlson, epitomizes this immigration tale. Carlson’s family and their eight children emigrated from Sweden in 1869 and lived on a 60-acre farm on Brickville Road in Sycamore. In 1898 he married Helen Johnson of DeKalb and settled in Sycamore. He served as a deacon of the Salem Lutheran Church and played the organ for church services. Further assimilating into the city, he also served on the Board of the First Trust & Savings Bank and as the Director of the Farmer’s Farm & Lumber Company. The True Republican obituary reported in 1941 that “His honest sincere and untiring efforts results in his success in his farming career. . . G. H. Carlson strived and worked diligently for the future, a marked characteristic of the family.”
Devoted to his family, his church, and his community, Carlson left $100 to the Salem Lutheran church and another $100 to religious missions.
Right: Swedish Wedding in Sycamore.
Above: Kristina Garcia’s Family
Below: Cinco de Mayo celebration dance
Kristina Garcia is passionate about Sycamore. She explained, “You don’t just move into a great community. You make a great community.” She truly embraces this philosophy. She has not had an easy life, but that has not held her back.
Garcia has lived in Sycamore her entire life, but her mom came here from Mexico in the early 1970s. After working in Chicago, her mom moved to Sycamore after finding factory work in DeKalb. They were one of the first Mexican families to move and stay in this community. Her family had met other families of Mexican decent in the area. They were either migrant or factory workers that came from Texas and were already familiar with the English language. Today many of the Mexican families in the Sycamore, DeKalb, and Genoa area are related to the Garcias.
Although her family struggled by today’s standards, she remembers how neighbors and extended family helped out in a variety of ways. Meals were dropped off while her mom was in the hospital recovering from surgery. Parents of friends took it upon themselves to engage her and her siblings in park district sports. Sometimes helping cover the cost of the fees while telling her mom that it was free to join. She credits many of her teachers for encouraging her throughout school and their local bank, The National Bank & Trust Company (now First Midwest Bank) for working with her mom to buy two houses.
Kristina summarized that her overall experience in Sycamore was being around people who see others for their potential, not simply their background. Admitting it could just be part of her personality, she explained, “Maybe it’s part of my character, but I’ve never really noticed being treated differently because of my cultural background. I’ve never let discrimination affect my behavior either. It just holds you back. I am a positive person and I look for the best in situations.”
Kristina gives back by serving on the board of Conexión Comunidad. Jesus Romero, owner of Taxco Restaurant, invited her to an event at Conexión, but she was convinced by Romero that she would be right for a role as treasurer by the time the event was over. Today, she serves as their voluntary Executive Director.
Conexión started in 2001 as a Latino resource center. Since then, it has evolved to a place that preserves the Latino culture while demonstrating leadership opportunities. Today, its programs such as their Mexican Folkloric Dance & Mariachi programs are two of their most popular programs. You can see them perform during the local Cinco de Mayo events. Sycamore celebrates Cinco de Mayo the first Sunday in May with games lead by local nonprofits, mariachi music, Mexican folk dancing, and traditional foods for the entire family.