By Hannah Bader

Although it’s hundreds of miles from Mexico, Pilsen is located at the heart of Hispanic culture. How the neighborhood came to be though is a whole different story.

In the late 19th century, Pilsen was originally inhabited by Czech and Bohemian settlers. It wasn’t until the 1960s that the Hispanic population arrived, but since then, approximately 40,000 have made this neighborhood their home.

Located between 16th Street, Cermak Road, Halsted Street and Western Avenue, Pilsen boasts some of Chicago’s most vibrant artwork, architecture and passion for family and culture.

Pilsen native Evan Erral, 23, a broker relations specialist, loves the neighborhood for its always active community.

“Every single weekend in the summer, you can turn the street corner and there will be something going on,” he said.

One of the major aspects of Hispanic culture is the food. Tortilleria Sabina, a tortilla company located near the center of town, is home to Jose Santoval, 38, the resident truck loader.

Santoval has been living in Pilsen his whole life, following in his father’s footsteps at the business. Growing up, he said, gangs and violence were prominent in the area. Now he feels safer.

“It’s changing for the better,” Santoval said of the neighborhood.

Arguably the most important part of Hispanic life is family. Close-knit ties to loved ones are almost an essential part of living in Pilsen.

Lynn Ponicki, 31, from Arlington Heights, is a middle school reading and writing teacher at the Pilsen Community Academy of Computer Sciences. Even though she herself is not Hispanic, she’s learned a lot about the importance of family through working with the children.

“I really like working here because the kids do have that family connection, and I just think that it makes for a good kid when you have that many people that care about you around looking out for you.”

“It makes you feel like part of the community,” Ponicki said.

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