Pilsen: A Taken Neighborhood

Bridget Johnson

People of mixed nationalities get off the CTA Pink Line to explore the Chicago neighborhood of Pilsen.

Spanish language fills the streets but some English is spoken. There are flower shops, book stores, thrift stores, restaurants, and the National Museum of Mexican Art. Spray paint saying, “Pilsen is not for sale” is spattered on the doors of the closed St. Adalbert Church.

Pilsen is located on the West Side of Chicago and is home to 36,000 according to the 2010 census. Bounded by 16th Street, Ashland Avenue, Cermak Road, and Halsted Street, the neighborhood originated in the late 19th century with a primarily Czech population. Mexicans were forced to move from the Near West Side to allow for the expansion of the University of Illinois at Chicago in the 1960s, transforming Pilsen into the Hispanic neighborhood it is today.

Gilberto Sandoval, 22, is a tour guide at the National Museum of Mexican Art. He grew up in Pilsen and has seen many changes throughout his life. He said he’s seen demographic changes in the neighborhood, as well as many new business opening.

“The problem is it’s forceful..the external forces are like real estate or the alderman,” Sandoval said.

“I can benefit from the changes because I want to go to UIC and it’s very close by,” Sandoval said.  

Many storeowners are forced to learn English or hire English speaking workers because of the new demographic. The rent sometimes goes up, therefore, tenants may need to move out and leave their families behind.

“Every neighborhood changes, this is Chicago, this is a melting pot..everything is going to flux and change depending on availability and desirability, ” said Carlos Lourenzo, 38, owner of the Knee Deep thrift store in Pilsen. “[Whether or not it’s good or bad] depends on which view you take…if you’re taking it from a long time land owner I don’t think they’re going to give you the same answer as someone who has been renting,”

Even with these changes, Pilsen remains beautiful and filled with diversity. As Lourenzo said,

“Chicago’s a diverse city,” he said. “I think it should stay that way,”  

 

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