Hero Street came into existence in the 1930s as an unpaved road that was part of a 3-block wide section of Silvis, Illinois. It was the only land Mexican-American immigrants were allowed to own.
Years ago, the Rock Island Rail Road Lines faced an acute shortage of labor, which created a wave of immigration from Mexico, and the resulting tight-knit community kept a sense of cohesion and purpose internally ─ but were isolated from other Americans in a ghetto called “Little Mexico.” The community fought for a way to find a balance between assimilation and segregation, to live ‘off the Little Mexico campus’, and pursue the American dream. This land purchase signified a major win for the community. Despite the many financial and social hardships, the community thrived and had faith in the American dream.
Faith in the American dream was expressed by heavy participation in military service. Fighting for freedom became a way of life for this minority enclave. In fact, the Department of Defense determined that “there is no other street of comparable size that has had as many men and women render service to the Armed Forces of the United States,” hence the many memorials to veterans throughout the street. Tributes to the veterans range from humble, hand painted and weathered signs and spray painted stars on the street in front of homes to less transient, weather resistant bronze plaque kiosks.
Hero Street USA is the unification of space and time for the original settlers and their descendants. It remains a Hispanic neighborhood, but much has changed since its early days of dirt streets and boxcar homes. Today, Hero Street USA now hosts beautiful art installations that feature personal histories and photographs of family members from the previous generations that called this street home.
Know Before You Go
Get out of the car, walk around, and talk to visitors, neighbors, and shopkeepers. But save a few minutes for quiet time to absorb the park’s kiosk content and the memorial grotto. If you're lucky, handmade tamales might be available at Tony's Groceries across the street in the freezer. The store features their own tortillas that are made on site in their tortilla factory, along with other jars of savory salsas and various sundries not found in large chain stores.
If you are hungry for non-Mexican cuisine, a traditional Italian Napolitano pizzeria (Frank’s Pizza) is just around the corner (family owned and operated, it’s been there for 60+ years). A local deli is also nearby (The Hungry Hobo). Other small, mom-and-pops restaurants dot the local Streets.
Directions: Off of I-80, take the last exit before the Mississippi River (4A). Merge onto IL-5/IL-92 West (4 miles). Keep heading west. Merge onto IL-84 N/IL-92 W/1st Avenue via the ramp to Silvis. Turn left onto Hero Street.