Andrew John Schoonover
Saint Thomas Aquinas High School
-Overland Park, KS-
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By Andrew Schoonover
Frank Gallegos, 53, has spent a lifetime in Pilsen. From running home from school in his youth to avoid gangs, to raising a family in the historical neighborhood, Gallegos has witnessed the highs and lows of Pilsen.
“There’s a lot of strong families who have survived the neighborhood through all of the problems that have passed,” Gallegos said.
Despite all of these great victories, Gallegos and the whole community of Pilsen is bracing for yet another battle: gentrification.
The neighborhood has received battle scars from this war. Big name chains have invaded buildings once owned by locals. The Catholic church, once a key staple of the community, scheduled to be knockdowned and crumbling. In many spots on the streets, people have spray painted the phrase “Pilsen is not for sale”.
Pilsen is working to adapt to the gentrification. Despite the relationship and memories people have made with the community, many cannot do anything to save their neighborhood where they were born, raised, and have worked to make a better place. However each resident has a different perspective as to whether this gentrification is benefiting or hurting the neighborhood.
Pilsen is on the West Side of Chicago with a population of roughly 36,000 residents. Although it is predominantly a Mexican community, the area has Czech roots. Bordered to the north by 16th Street, the south by Cermak Road, the east by Halsted Street, and to the west by Western Avenue, the residents have worked to make Pilsen a better place for them to live and work.
Each culture has left a mark on the neighborhood, whether it be the Czech style of architecture or the artwork from the Mexicans. During the 1950s and 1960s, the Czech immigrants were replaced with Mexican immigrants. Today the Mexican majority still reigns, but yet another shift may be coming. Pilsen is becoming gentrified once again, this time by upscale, modern restaurants and housing.
“This summer is the worst change that we have seen,” said Gilberto Sandoval, 22, worker at the National Museum of Mexican Art in Pilsen. “For the past 10 years, it has been happening visibly.”
Sandoval said that the Mexican culture is changing with the new people. However, Sandoval said that this change is definitely benefitting him as a 22 year old. He said that he enjoys the new, trendy bars and restaurants coming in, even though he misses the old “mom and pop” restaurants. Whether the change is helping the community as a whole is still unclear.
Despite all of the people being forced from the community, long time residents are still doing what they have always done: helping the community.
“I always say you have to give back to the community, you have to give back somehow,” Gallegos said. “I can’t say they are pushing us out, I would say they are teaching us. I embrace people, and that gets me really far.”
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