Mexico in the Heart of Chicago

By Gabby Abesamis

For 18-year-old Itzel Dimas, hearing “buenos dias” and going to pastelerias and taquerias have always been associated with home.

“Pilsen through my eyes will always be home. It’s a community where everyone knows each other and it feels like everyone belongs though it’s going through gentrification,” said Dimas.

Pilsen: a community that carries Hispanic heritage and culture is located on 16th street on the North, Cermak Road on the South, Halsted Street on the East, and Western Avenue of the West.

What is now distinguished by landmarks such as the Los Comales restaurant, Rudy Lozano library, and the Benito Juarez Community Academy, wasn’t always the case.

Pilsen, in the 1870s was an area that was dominantly a community for Czechs. But, because of the construction of the University of Illinois in Chicago in the 1961, the people of Czech Republic and other places in Europe were forced to move away, according to the Encyclopedia of Chicago.

As some of the Europeans moved out, groups of Mexican families started to move in. They worked in the lumber mills and factories in the area and established a sense of community with the other Hispanic people.

“My parents moved to Pilsen in the late 1980s because he wanted to be connected to his people,” said Dimas.

Maren Celeste, 25, employee at the Pilsen Thrift Shop concurs.

“I see the people who have lived here their whole lives, and this is their community,” she said.

The neighborhood is now home to more than 43,300 people that aren’t solely Hispanic, the city data website stated.

But the culture is still preserved. As more galleries, educational programs, restaurants, stores, and local businesses serve the people of Pilsen, it is evident that the culture won’t disappear through gentrification.

“I feel a connection with this town, and I won’t be going anywhere,” said Edna Estrada, 50, Spanish Bookstore manager.

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