By: Lauren Miller
The faint smell of crispy tortillas lingers delicately in the air from the early morning production. People lazily move, precariously stopping for a casual conversation on the heat-swelled pavement, in front of vibrant murals that line the street.
These sights and smells are found in the small Chicago neighborhood of Pilsen.
Pilsen is dynamic community of 43,000 in the lower West Side of Chicago, with the boundaries falling roughly 16th Street to the north, Cermak Road to the south and Halsted Street to the east and Western Avenue to the west.
Often thought of as the epicenter of Hispanic culture in Chicago, Pilsen has not always been this way.
Pilsen was originally a home to many Czech immigrants in the early 1900s. The eastern European influence can still be seem in architecture of the buildings and last names of some of the residents, but this area has since progressed, with the arrival of many Mexican immigrants in the 1960s, to a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood.
This tight knit neighborhood isn’t done progressing yet. Recently more Anglo-Americans have been moving into Pilsen and many new American restaurants have also been popping up across town.
The process of gentrification has started in Pilsen because of this, and the Hispanic residents have nothing but open arms towards the change.
“To me I feel great, everything is changing… There’s a lot of different areas that needs change, this street (Laflin) used to be crazy. Now it’s changing, little by little. They’re (gangs) moving on somewhere else,” said Erendira Gomez 42, a Pilsen resident of 20 years.
This new sense of tranquility does have a catch to it though, higher taxes, said Juana Ramirez 74.
“If we can afford the taxes, we will stay, but if not we will move up, and the white people will live in this Pilsen area. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good, the environment is changing, becoming safer.” Ramirez said.
The residents of Pilsen try to keep their Hispanic culture alive, and leave a life long stamp of their presence on the community much like the previous inhabitants, the Czech, especially in the younger generations.
“Some people come to America and they don’t speak the language, so they just let their kids forget about Spanish culture,” Gomez said. “That’s not me. I always have my kids read and talk Spanish, so that he doesn’t lose that tradition.”