By: Tyler Dixon
Walking down 18th Street, visitors see the colorful murals, smiling faces, and friendly people who make up the Chicago neighborhood of Pilsen.
The unique and cultural neighborhood represents a home away from home for Latinos in the Chicago area. Pilsen has nurtured many residents throughout the community into the world of success.
“ It’s diversity it’s vibrancy, “ said Victor Zilinskas, 34, business owner of Round Table Resale. “ Creates an actual calming feeling to become an entrepreneur”
Pilsen is a neighborhood of 44,000 people on the north South Side of Chicago bounded by 16th street on the north, Cermak Road on the south, Western Avenue on the west, and Halsted Street on the east. These boundaries in the early 1840s were home to German and Irish immigrants that traveled to this Chicago area for a better life.
Later in the 1870s, the creation of unskilled jobs such as garment furnishing sweatshops and railroads yards attracted Bohemian immigrants. The Opening of “ At the City of Plzen” to honor the second largest city in West Bohemia (Czech Republic) brought the name Pilsen to the neighborhood.
Until World War 1, Pilsen sustained a Czechoslovakian population. Following the war, the shortage of labor attracted immigrants to settle in Pilsen, Mexicans being the majority.
Along with the growing Hispanic population came an abundance of family owned restaurants, energetic murals and occupied homes strengthening the culture.
“ Always been rich in its art and culture,” Zilinskas said. “ A lot of gang activity until now has pushed itself out and allowed more culture into the area.”
Pilsen has grown into a thriving community, allowing for families to raise their children in a safe environment. The abundance of restaurants and murals located in Pilsen tell a story of the community’s journey.
Taqueria Los Comales has been a restaurant in Pilsen for 25 years. Visitors are welcomed with the smells of fresh cooked tacos, the specialty, consisting of meat tomatoes, cilantro, and onions.
The authenticity of the restaurants in Pilsen bring a natural Latino vibe to the neighborhood, as do the murals. From the bold faces to the small intricate details the murals separate Pilsen from other Chicago neighborhoods.
“ The Latino population will continue to grow,” said Ralph Braseth, 55, A Loyola University Chicago Professor who has done research on Pilsen. “ Pilsen is the entry community for Mexicans, its home.”