By: Nick Kowalski

Artwork by the L.
Artwork by the L.

Yasman Alvarez, stands behind the cashier counter at her family’s grocery store, Lagos Fruit Market, greeting customers with an enthusiastic smile. Homemade baked goods and fresh watermelon cover the store as customers browse at ease, as if they were home.

Alvarez, 17, explained that customers from all over come to her family’s store to be able to feel like they are still in Mexico.

“We’re making it a place where people are welcome… someone from Mexico would find Pilsen like home,” Alvarez said.

Bounded by 16th Street, Cermak Road, Halsted Street and Western Avenue, families like the Alvarez’s are working to keep Pilsen rich with authentic Mexican culture and heritage.

Family owned stores and art galleries cover the neighborhood, which has a population of 43,000.

Alvarez continued on to explain that the art in Pilsen is one of the factors that make the community so special.

Just a block away, on 19th Street and Wolcott Avenue sits the National Museum of Mexican Art.

Inside the art museum, gift shop sits an abundance of handmade Mexican decorations, overlapping with richness of fabrics and colors.

Behind the register stands Ariana Porras, 27, inquiring how people’s experience in the museum was while cheerfully bagging newly purchased decorations.

Porras gladly tells how Pilsen is bustling with new art left and right.

“Hang around 18th Street on the weekends. Walk down [the] street and galleries are open with wine and families… Pilsen is a family friendly environment full of art,” Porras said.

Porras went on to explain that on the 2nd Friday of every month, there is a small art festival within the Lower West Side community.

Porras claims that she attends every art event possible and wouldn’t give them up for the world.

Due to people who care about Mexican art living on in 21st century Pilsen, the spirit of Mexico lives on in The Midwest Heart of Mexico.

“People expect true ethnicity when they come to Pilsen”, Porras said, “and they get it.”