Apel Sirngua, a 57-year-old popsicle vendor from Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood, has seen shootings first hand while walking 16th Street selling his treats.
“The other night someone was shot in the arm very badly at 1a.m. Blood was everywhere on his arm,” he said.
Pilsen is a Mexican neighborhood on the Lower West Side of Chicago. It doesn’t take long to notice Latinos fill the neighborhood due to the amount of murals painted on 16th Street, Cermak Road, Halsted Street and Western Avenue.
The acts of gangs in Chicago have sparked campaigns such as #SAVECHICAGO, Put The Guns Down Chicago, and many more.
Mary Jane Guiterrez, a 69-year-old South Side native explained that, “Gangs use kids like dust rags. They force them to sell drugs and store guns without their parents knowing their gang involvement until it’s too late.”
Before Guiterrez retired, she worked as a school administrator and she noticed that, “Many children are trapped into gang lifestyles at a very early age. Gang recruiters convince future members at a very early age when they don’t know better.”
When people leave gangs, it’s extremely hard to assimilate back to a normal lifestyle in Pilsen.
“People who succeed in leaving gangs never return to their families. They can’t see their relatives anymore because they will be shot at if they return to town,” Guiterrez said.
To make light of Pilsen’s current state, there is hope for this Latino town due to the construction of University of Illinois Chicago.
According to the University of Michigan Economic Department, UIC has spent over $700 million on its Chicago West Side developments.
Gentrification comes with many economic issues, but on the other hand, the property value increase might urge gangsters to move out of town.
There is still hope for the citizens in Pilsen, but for now, put the guns down Chicago.
“The fighting needs to stop,” said Sirngua. “I want everyone to be safe.”