Pilsen’s new persona

When Charles Roberts moved from Boston to Pilsen 10 years ago, he was drawn to the low rent prices. He was an artist and it was one of the only neighborhoods he could afford, so he’s lived there ever since.

However, because Pilsen is becoming more of a tourist destination, which Roberts attributes to the fact it’s covered in murals, the price of rent has increased.

Roberts, 40, is the manager of Knee Deep and will soon have to move because his rent is too expensive.

“[I’m trying to stay here] as long as I can. I’ve tried to stay here because I like it a lot, and I like the community,” Roberts said. “There will always be places that are affordable; it’s just getting harder to find them.”

Though the price of living has gone up, Roberts and Pilsen resident Aurelio Barrios, 69, agree that the crime rate has decreased.

According to Barrios, when he moved to Pilsen in 1959, there were killings every weekend. He now feels safer and like the area has come a long way.

“It used to be a ghetto; now it’s full of townhouses,” Barrios said.

On the contrary, the colorful town of 36,000 has signs plastered and graffiti painted all over that say, “Pilsen is not for sale.”

Some people believe that the changes have hurt the Hispanic culture and want Pilsen to stay the same. They’re fighting for St. Adalbert, a historic church in the town, to stay open.

Barrios also would like for the church to stay open, and even volunteered to help raise money for the church with a concert.

“It’s a shame,” Barrios said. “That thing — they should keep it open. It’s beautiful.”

However, Barrios believes that, at the end of the day, it’s too expensive to keep open for the small number of people who attend the church on a regular basis.

Others believe the fact that Pilsen has gained popularity has strengthened its Hispanic heritage.

“It didn’t kill the culture,” Roberts said. “I’ve actually seen more of it. A lot of it is done for the sake of tourism — When I moved here, there weren’t sugar skulls in the bakeries.”

Sugar skulls, sweet skulls sold to celebrate the day of the dead are traditionally sold in bakeries or open-air markets.

“Now they’re all over the place,” Roberts said.

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