Locals taking an afternoon stroll past Nueva Leon, a restaurant in Pilsen. The streets are now safer thanks to increased police enforcement.
Locals taking an afternoon stroll past Nuevo Leon, a restaurant in Pilsen. The streets are now safer thanks to increased police enforcement.

By: Sydney Chuen

Erendira Gomez, 49, was born and raised on a small farm in Mexico in 1965.

Despite living in a steamy and tropical climate, things weren’t so hot for her family of hard workers.

The only way to survive was for the family to relocate to a place that would be more hospitable, like Chicago’s own Pilsen neighborhood on the lower West Side, which now has close to 43,000 residents.

The vast majority of people living here are immigrants form Mexico, which means that they brought over their culture’s traditions of art, style, delicious food, and, of course, close family ties.

“Everything is different, culture is the same,” said Gomez smiling as she compares her lifestyle here as opposed to Mexico.

While Pilsen’s boundaries, 16th Street, Cermak Road, Halsted Street, and Western Avenue may not be familiar to most, Gomez doesn’t know where she would be without them.

From the classic Mexican restaurants to the murals to the residents themselves, Pilsen is nothing short of an exact replica of Mexico cut-and-pasted into America’s third largest city.

It wasn’t always this way Gomez continues to explain. Since the beginning, gangs were common on the streets of Pilsen.

She remembers being “worried for the safety of the kids,” Gomez said.

But the residents decided that they had enough, and with the number of police officers and arrests increasing, the streets became safer which allowed the Mexican atmosphere that even non-Hispanics have grown to love to shine through.

Even so, recently there has been a new development that residents of Pilsen tend to have strong feelings about: gentrification.

Surprisingly, Jose Fuentes, 62, who has lived in Pilsen for almost half a century, sees this as a good thing.

He goes on to say that the new families are contributing to the culture of Pilsen, not destroying it like some people think.

“We live in a free country,” Fuentes said. “Live wherever you want as long as you can afford it.”


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