Tony Robledo

What brought you to Chicago?

I grew up on the east coast, and as a kid would regularly visit New York City to see my grandma — a fierce, sacrificially hardworking, and sweet Mexican woman we endearingly called Abuelita. Our family would pack into the car, drive into the city for the day, and I remember looking out the rear side window at all those ‘city people.’ Amazed me that people grew up and spent their whole lives there. Now, every once in a while walking downtown, I find myself held in the gaze of a little face staring from the back seat of a car passing through the Loop. Here I am now, a city person. 

The first time I came to Chicago, I came for school and spent four amazing years in the city, and when I returned two years later, it was for work. Chicago — partly thanks to wide streets due to the Burnham Plan, partly thanks to Midwest charm — left an immediate impression on me and has always carried itself with an openness I couldn’t resist. 

 

What do you find challenging about living here?

On the left corner of my desk at work, there’s a small lamp designed to trick the cones and rods in your eyes. It simulates sunshine for the brain. One of the challenging parts of living in Chicago is the grey veil that covers the city for most of the winter. This January we experienced the longest stretch without sun in 25 years. Let’s say my soul felt the loss. 

More than anything, though, by far, is the distance from my family. Sometimes you have existential moments between a coffee shop and riding the L and think to yourself, this is my life. I’ve spent most of my twenties away from family, and while they’ve been incredibly supportive, I miss and am missing small, beautifully mundane, irreproducible moments of our lives. This is a real challenge, and one they’ll readily attest I’ve attempted to remedy by repeated attempts to woo them to Chicago. 

 

What are some of the reasons you love it?

Nothing beats Chicago summers. This is what I try to remember in the dead of winter. Everyone is thawing from the cold and double-dosing on sunshine and street festivities. The air is thick with enthusiasm for life — for music and food festivals, for biking neighborhood to neighborhood, for wine and hammocking in the park, farmer’s markets, evening fireworks, and sunrise marathon training. The city is positively electric with life in the summer, and it makes me fall in love with Chicago every year all over again. 

 

Can you speak into the creativity found in the Chicago community (specifically in the circle of people you spend time with)? How does it inspire you?

The kind of creativity I’ve most encountered here reflects my own particular application of creativity, namely, the creative process of disarranging and rearranging, deconstructing and reconstructing my faith. So it’s an ideational creativity that bears down on — or ruptures from within — everyday living. In particular, this creativity takes place at the intersection of people’s stories and what we believe about God, ourselves, others, and our world. It inspires me that many of the haunting questions plaguing my faith have turned out to be the very sites where beauty, connection, solidarity, and hope shone through most brightly.

There are others, many more than I ever thought, who share the same questions I have about the brand of faith of my childhood, and — sometimes laughing, sometimes weeping — have done the difficult and dirty work to machete through the jungle of their own psyches, our collective history, various theological tribal territories, and everyday practical questions. And somewhere in that jungle, our paths crossed and we decided we’re better together, wherever we end up. There in the thick of it all, I found brave, courageous souls whose minds and hearts fire in strangely beautiful ways. They have made creative connections I never thought possible, opened new visions of faith I couldn’t have dreamed, and hope against hope for the Love that invites us all to home and healing.