The front of the DANK Haus German American Center in Chicago.

Chicago is a city of immigrants, a city of neighborhoods, and a city of stories. Like the communities from which they emerge, these stories are diverse. Some are about legendary figures like the Polish military leader and Revolutionary War hero Tadeusz Kosciuszko. Others are attached to particular places, such as the stories that surround the construction, the residents, and the varied uses of the DANK Haus building in Lincoln Square. And others pertain to mystical narratives of creation and destruction like the Aztec legend of the Fifth Sun.

Polish Museum of America

The front of the Polish Museum of America in Chicago.

Despite their diversity, however, all of these stories share a focus on community, on retaining connections to places of origin, and on building connections to the city of Chicago. These are not just stories of the past or stories about distant lands. They are stories that bridge the past, present, and future; stories that tie disparate landscapes together; and stories that foster community identities. They are stories, in short, that make people feel at home in new lands. Community stories have the unique ability to recast the foreign as the familiar, to make Chicago home.

OPEN Center for the Arts
The front of the Open Center for the Arts in Chicago.


Personal memories, the built environment, archival material, and museums help to keep these legends alive in the present. They also help to project them into the future. Community legends are not just remnants of a past long departed; they are living things that tie communities together in the now. They help us relate to one another, to our pasts, to our futures, and to our environments. Community legends have and will continue to make Chicago feel like home. They are worth taking seriously.