By: Grace Guthrie
Frank Gallegos, 53, makes his daily commute to the very park he was once too afraid to visit.
He lives in Pilsen, a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood on the West Side of Chicago that was once a gathering place for gang members.
Gallegos now works at Harrison Park, helping organize programs from gymnastics, to parades, to senior lunches. He believes the gentrification of Pilsen has made the community safer, and generally a better place.
“The housing has changed…I saw people say ‘OK, we’re getting rid of the riff-raff, and now we’re seeing people who really care about the community.’” Gallegos said.
Not everyone, however, believes that this change is for the better. Gilberto Sandoval, 22 , who also grew up in Pilsen, believes rising prices due to gentrification will push out the Hispanic residents, and the culture they brought with them.
“When I was 12 or 14, we were paying $450 for a 3 bedroom.” Sandoval said. “Right now we’re doing $750 for a 2 bedroom.”
Pilsen is no stranger to changing communities; founded by Czech immigrants in the 1800s, the area changed hands during the construction of the University of Illinois in Chicago, which displaced a large Mexican population.
The current change however, is not due to another ethnic group being displaced, and is in fact displacing the Mexican community again. Young white people are beginning to move into Pilsen. As more and more new money gets poured into the neighborhood, the property value skyrockets, and many families can’t afford their new rent.
“This summer is the worst that we’ve seen” Sandoval said. ”It’s forceful displacement.”
Sandoval said he will be moving out of the neighborhood soon, because it is cheaper to buy a house elsewhere than it is to own an apartment in Pilsen.
The neighborhood that Frank Gallegos has strived to make available to the Mexican American community may soon be unaffordable to all but a few. The community is crying out, the message “Pilsen is not for sale” scrawled across buildings alongside the murals that once exemplified the vibrant culture of the neighborhood.
The community is changing. While it may be becoming a safer place, the onslaught of young white people has begun an erasure of the culture and hispanic community that once thrived in Pilsen.
Gallegos said he will try to keep his culture alive in the neighborhood.
“My dad was a social worker… It was his legacy to make sure that I was OK.” Gallegos said. “He passed it on to me, and I pass it on to my daughter.”