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Pilsen is Not For Sale: The Forceful Displacement of a Community

As visitors get off the Pilsen red line stop, instantly, colorful murals of skeletons and Mexicans are seen, as they travel down the steps carts full of food and people can be seen everywhere. But as the years pass, more and more corporate buildings appear.

Pilsen’s neighborhood residing on the West Side of Chicago is as vivacious and culturally authentic as the people living in it, but increasing gentrification creates concerns for residents.

Home to roughly 36,000 people and located on the West Side, Pilsen’s lively neighborhood’s boundaries are 16thStreet, Cermack Road, Halsted Street and Ashland Avenue

Frank Gallegos, 53, born and raised in Pilsen, works at the Harrison Park Community center which provides a plethora of programs intended to give students something to do. Growing up, Gallegos notes that the once dangerous area is not what it used to be

“I have more freedom to go anywhere,” Gallegos said. “Before it was if you don’t know that area, don’t go in that area.”

He mentioned the precautions his family took growing up and the positive changes that have occurred.

“I knew I never wanted to be in a gang… and now that the housing has changed more people care,” Gallegos said. “It was [my father’s] legacy to make sure that I was safe, and now I have to pass it on.”

Gilberto Sandoval, also born and raised in Pilsen and tour guide at the Mexican Art Museum, notices a different kind of change occurring. Sandoval, 22, said his relationship with the change is complex.

“I benefit from a lot of things that are happening,” Sandoval said. “Whether the changes are in our best interests is still unclear.”

Living in a neighborhood with increasing numbers of corporate establishments created for younger audiences like Dunkin’ Donuts and Giordano’s, Gallegos tries to find a balance between supporting trendier spots while still staying true to his roots.

“People crave to be in an environment such as Pilsen that provides such a strong, cultural aesthetic,” Gallegos said. “It’s easy to displace the people… it’s harder to displace the people without displacing the culture.”