Pilsen’s Evolving Music

By Rebecca Katzphoto

Go to Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood during any Mexican or Spanish holiday, and there will be people filling the mural-decorated streets celebrating. There will also be music like “traditional Spanish and Colombian songs,” as Jose Sandoval, 39, of Chicago said emanate through the streets.

During these festivals, the Lower West Side neighborhood, will come together in celebration that includes “a lot of drinking,” Sandoval said.

The music scene in Pilsen is alive and well, especially inside the Nuevo Leon, a restaurant that is very popular among the locals, where a jukebox might play current Hispanic pop songs like “Soy De Rancho” by El Komander and “Ya Lo Se” by Jenni Rivera. One popular artist in Pilsen is Vicente Fernandez, according to Sandoval, and during the festivals his music is played often.

Despite Pilsen being known for its predominantly Hispanic culture, Daniel Gutierrez Jr., 42, of Pilsen describes how the town is starting to become more “diverse.” He explained how this is starting to change the music culture by incorporating more “folk art” and “hipster” sounds. Gutierrez further explained how there was a lot of “drums, violins, and guitar playing” to go with the new sounds.

Along with the music genres changing, Pilsen’s 43,000 residents are seeing changes as well. With the new waves of people moving into the area, the gangs are slowly starting to move out.

A few years ago there used to be “four gangs within a block,” according to Sandoval.

He is not the only resident seeing a change in Pilsen Mary Jane Gutierrez, 69, a retired resident of Pilsen for over 50 years, said she is starting to “feel safe here” again.

Pilsen is located within the boundaries of 16th Street to the north, Cermak Road to the south, Halsted Street to the east, and Western Avenue to the west.

Within the boundaries, Mexican culture is vibrant especially when there is a festival. “It’s like party city,” Sandoval said “with lots of drinking and dancing.”

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