By Kelsey Neumann
Stepping off the train and walking through the Chicago’s Lower West Side streets, the voice of Pilsen illuminates off the brick walls. The strong spoken and talented individuals that must have created these tunnels of painted flowers, impresses new visitors.
Strangely, the streets are quiet and dreary around noon. It isn’t until following the yellow brick murals to the locally acclaimed Nuevo Leon restaurant, where the heart and soul of Pilsen’s 43,000 residents enjoy lunch.
Daniel Gutierrez Jr., 43, upholds the vibrant and authentic feel as third generation owner of Nuevo Leon.
He looks around the crowded tables and booths filled with families and little kids whose heads are constantly looking up and taking in the scene.
“There’s a mixed culture, there’s something called… Now, I don’t know the definition of a hipster,” he laughs. “People at a young age, very energetic and very artsy, they’re very carefree and they’re a lot of the people you see now in Pilsen.”
He simply states that with gentrification, “Business has increased. Lots of new stores have opened.”
Knowing the way things go, he points out that, “The downtown area is moving down here and people in Pilsen are moving out.”
While people fear the outcome of gentrification, José ‘Primo’ Sandoval, 39, from the South Side of Chicago and head manager of ‘Sabinas Tortilla’, explains the benefits he sees.
He feels like the gentrification is not a threat to a culture, but the movement, “…affects the gangs, the gangs are leaving. There are no more people to fight with… It was really bad when I started but it’s calmed down a lot.”
Pilsen is located within 16th Street to the north, Cermak Street to the south, Halsted Street to the east, and Western Avenue to the west. Although these areas hold a history of gang violence, resident Mary Jane Gutierrez, 69, says, “It’s sad. We do have violence here like any other neighborhood.” But as a resident since 1951, “maybe other people don’t agree with me, but I feel safe here in Pilsen.”
With her community background as a retired Board of Education administrator, Gutierrez explains that the violence mainly occurs when gang members actually try to leave the gang life. “I know a lot of young guys that try to get out of the gangs, some have succeeded but they don’t come back into the neighborhood,” she says.
The problems in Pilsen seem to happen within gangs, which may decrease with the new demographic as well as the growing community programs.
“They’re very family oriented, there is a very strong commitment in family and in church,” Daniel Gutierrez says, “There are several big communities. And you see a lot of support in churches for children.”
Mary Jane Gutierrez overlooks the street from her window. “I love the art. They’re great inspiration for our younger ones coming up. They should have a great big art studio around here. I think that would help for some young kids who want to go into that field,” she says.
Support for the community is growing from eventful gatherings such as the Fiesta del Sol, which is open to the public.
“The church here, they have twice a year what they call a fiesta, and they sell food and they have games and they have a DJ. They sell clothes but the food is fantastic,” Mary Jane Gutierrez says.
This community still holds a unity with the change by beautifully accepting new culture.
At these fiestas, Daniel Gutierrez says, “You have your Spanish music, folk music, country music, a little bit for everybody.”