Alex Harring

Pilsen

When Ty Kolup, 53, bought his auto garage in 1981, the streets alongside it were riddled with gangs and fighting. Now, 35 years later, the housing market is up and violence is down.

“I took a gamble when I came to the neighborhood,” Kolup said. “The people who are protesting (gentrification) do not own property in Pilsen. Fifteen or 20 years ago, the city was bad. When the gangs were here, I’d go to a funeral once or twice a week.”

Kolup’s garage is in Pilsen, a Chicago neighborhood located on the West Side between Little Village and Bridgeport. The city has become a melting pot of culture and a home for many Hispanic families. Graffiti covers buildings, and “Pilsen is not for sale” is written over walls and signs.

But the Pilsen melting pot is being stirred with a silver spoon. The city’s white population is rising, and gentrification, the renovation of a district to fit middle-class standards, is at an all-time high. According to a 2013 study by University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), there are 4,385 white people in Pilsen, a 22 percent jump from 2000. The total population: approximately 36,000.

Store manager Charles Roberts, 40, moved from Boston to Pilsen because of its thriving artist community, murals and vintage shopping. Now he has to leave the neighborhood because of high rent.

When he came to Pilsen 10 years ago, it was the only neighborhood he could afford. Since then he has noticed a drop in crime but a rise in house costs.

“I have people coming through here all the time asking where the murals are and I tell them ‘they’re everywhere,’” Roberts said. “I really tried to stay here because I really like the community a lot, but I have to find somewhere more affordable.”

Students are choosing Pilsen because of its close proximity to the UIC. Families and young adults are finding good house prices compared to suburbs closer to downtown.

Kolup understands the protests. However, he finds the positives of gentrification outweigh the negatives.

“What will happen is that Pilsen will change with the students because it is good for UIC,” Kolup said. “My prediction is that in 20 years Pilsen will no longer be Hispanic, it will be mixed.”

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Chinatown

The Movement of Pilsen

Timeline of Pilsen
‘Timeline of Pilsen’ Photo by Kelsey Neumann

By Kelsey Neumann

Stepping off the train and walking through the Chicago’s Lower West Side streets, the voice of Pilsen illuminates off the brick walls. The strong spoken and talented individuals that must have created these tunnels of painted flowers, impresses new visitors.

Strangely, the streets are quiet and dreary around noon. It isn’t until following the yellow brick murals to the locally acclaimed Nuevo Leon restaurant, where the heart and soul of Pilsen’s 43,000 residents enjoy lunch.

Daniel Gutierrez Jr., 43, upholds the vibrant and authentic feel as third generation owner of Nuevo Leon.

He looks around the crowded tables and booths filled with families and little kids whose heads are constantly looking up and taking in the scene.

“There’s a mixed culture, there’s something called… Now, I don’t know the definition of a hipster,” he laughs. “People at a young age, very energetic and very artsy, they’re very carefree and they’re a lot of the people you see now in Pilsen.”

He simply states that with gentrification, “Business has increased. Lots of new stores have opened.”

Knowing the way things go, he points out that, “The downtown area is moving down here and people in Pilsen are moving out.”

While people fear the outcome of gentrification, José ‘Primo’ Sandoval, 39, from the South Side of Chicago and head manager of ‘Sabinas Tortilla’, explains the benefits he sees.

He feels like the gentrification is not a threat to a culture, but the movement, “…affects the gangs, the gangs are leaving. There are no more people to fight with… It was really bad when I started but it’s calmed down a lot.”

Pilsen is located within 16th Street to the north, Cermak Street to the south, Halsted Street to the east, and Western Avenue to the west. Although these areas hold a history of gang violence, resident Mary Jane Gutierrez, 69, says, “It’s sad. We do have violence here like any other neighborhood.” But as a resident since 1951, “maybe other people don’t agree with me, but I feel safe here in Pilsen.”

With her community background as a retired Board of Education administrator, Gutierrez explains that the violence mainly occurs when gang members actually try to leave the gang life. “I know a lot of young guys that try to get out of the gangs, some have succeeded but they don’t come back into the neighborhood,” she says.

The problems in Pilsen seem to happen within gangs, which may decrease with the new demographic as well as the growing community programs.

“They’re very family oriented, there is a very strong commitment in family and in church,” Daniel Gutierrez says, “There are several big communities. And you see a lot of support in churches for children.”
Mary Jane Gutierrez overlooks the street from her window. “I love the art. They’re great inspiration for our younger ones coming up. They should have a great big art studio around here. I think that would help for some young kids who want to go into that field,” she says.

Support for the community is growing from eventful gatherings such as the Fiesta del Sol, which is open to the public.

“The church here, they have twice a year what they call a fiesta, and they sell food and they have games and they have a DJ. They sell clothes but the food is fantastic,” Mary Jane Gutierrez says.
This community still holds a unity with the change by beautifully accepting new culture.

At these fiestas, Daniel Gutierrez says, “You have your Spanish music, folk music, country music, a little bit for everybody.”

Chinatown

Little India

Finding the Heart of Pilsen

 

Murals adorn many buildings in Pilsen. Photo by Nina Molina
Murals adorn many buildings in Pilsen.
Photo by Nina Molina

By Nina Molina

 

Visitors taking the first step out of the Pink Line L into Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood observe that each crevice and stair of the station is not wasted, overflowing with splashes of culture, displaying religion, family and colorful dancing skeletons.

Jose “Primo” Sandoval, 39, manager of Sabina’s Tortillas, has grown with the evolving Hispanic neighborhood for 14 years.

“The people here are family-oriented, church going, and focus on children and programs for them,” Sandoval said. “Your friends can be your family here.”

Snuggled in the Lower West Side of the city within the boundaries of 16th Street, Cermak Road, Halsted Street and Western Avenue, Pilsen delivers a burst of Latino flavor into Chicago’s urban vibe.

Inhabited by a population of 43,000, this once primarily Eastern European neighborhood turned Hispanic, continues to grow, now with younger faces, or “hipsters,” according to Daniel Gutierrez Jr.

“There is a diverse crowd. Now, we have hipsters coming in,” said Gutierrez, 43, a third generation owner of Nuevo Leon restaurant, “Young, artsy, carefree people increasing our business.”

Attracting younger crowds starts from the various attractions found in the neighborhood, centering on the bustling buzz of life on 18th Street.

“Fiesta del Sol is once a year. It’s at the end of July…there’s Spanish music and activities for children too,” said Mary Jane Gutierrez, 69, a 50-year Pilsen resident and ex-Chicago Board of Education member.

The life of the fiesta is the authentic Mexican food made by locals. A potluck style party can be topped off with restaurants like Milagro, Don Churro, and Nuevo Leon, local favorites.

These parties are not limited to the streets though. Since the Czechoslovakian influence in the late 19th century, the churches of Pilsen have been used for more than solely prayer.

“We have a party two times a year at the church [St. Adalbert],” Gutierrez said. “There is music, clothes for sale and food.”

Auctions, including cars, have been used to raise money at these church fiestas for art for the children of Pilsen.

Though mostly Hispanic, the Pilsen neighborhood is being changing with its fresh melting pot of people. These changes are not met without consequence though.

The increasing gentrification spurs higher rents in Pilsen, forcing some to leave the area in search of cheaper rent. Some believe this gentrification is at the fault of expansion from the University of Illinois at Chicago campus.

“UIC construction forced us out of Taylor Street also,” Gutierrez said.

The Pilsen neighborhood continues to grow with its people, morphing to conform to its new groups. Life in this culturally diverse area never fails to disappoint the hungry or adventure-hungry.

Perla Delgado, 33-year-old general manger of L’amour Beauty Bar, describes the new Pilsen as, “Americanized, with a touch of Latino.”

 

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Pillar of Pilsen: Nuevo Leon

By Zoe Davis

High School Digital Media Workshop Students interview Apel Sirngua, who says his favorite Pilsen restaurant is Nuevo Leon.
High School Digital Media Workshop Students interview Apel Sirngua, who says his favorite Pilsen restaurant is Nuevo Leon.

Mary Jane Gutierrez moved to Pilsen in 1960 when her family was displaced during the construction of the University of Illinois at Chicago.

“In those days you couldn’t fight it. You had to take what they gave you,” said Gutierrez, 69.

Many families who lived in the neighborhood that is now University Village moved to Pilsen in the 1960s. Today, the boundaries of Pilsen are 16th street to the north, Cermak Road to the south, Halsted Street to the east and Western Avenue to the west.

What was then a mostly Czechoslovakian neighborhood became populated with many Mexican immigrants.

Pilsen, a center for Mexican culture in Chicago, is home to many authentic Mexican restaurants and taquerias. According to Pilsen residents, the most popular restaurant is Nuevo Leon, located at 1515 W 18th St.

“My family eats there a lot,” Gutierrez said.

Nuevo Leon first opened in 1962 and specializes in food from Nuevo Leon, a northern state in Mexico. It serves mostly Northern Mexico cuisine.

The restaurant has many brightly colored murals on both the inside and outside of the restaurant. Upbeat music plays from a jukebox and traditional Mexican artwork hangs on the walls. The many pieces of art are gifts from customers over the years

“We are a pillar here in Pilsen,” said Nuevo Leon owner, 42-year-old Daniel Gutierrez Jr. He is the grandson of the original owners Emeterio and Maria Gutierrez.

The menu includes a variety of dishes, from tacos to tostadas to enchiladas to soups to the famous and popular Carne Asada.

“I [usually order] chicken or some soup with rice,” said Apel Sirngua, 57, who sells popsicles and ice cream in the neighborhood.

Pilsen is located on the Lower West Side of Chicago and today is home to approximately 43,000 people. The neighborhood is becoming more diverse and many college-age people are buying apartments in the neighborhood.

Despite some cultural shifts, Mexican culture is still very prevalent throughout Pilsen, especially through restaurants like Nuevo Leon.

“That’s the best one,” said Jose Sandoval, 39, manager of Tortilleria Sabinas, a tortilla factory located next door to Nuevo Leon. “If someone famous comes to town, that’s where they go.”

Chinatown

Little India

 

Pilsen’s Evolving Music

By Rebecca Katzphoto

Go to Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood during any Mexican or Spanish holiday, and there will be people filling the mural-decorated streets celebrating. There will also be music like “traditional Spanish and Colombian songs,” as Jose Sandoval, 39, of Chicago said emanate through the streets.

During these festivals, the Lower West Side neighborhood, will come together in celebration that includes “a lot of drinking,” Sandoval said.

The music scene in Pilsen is alive and well, especially inside the Nuevo Leon, a restaurant that is very popular among the locals, where a jukebox might play current Hispanic pop songs like “Soy De Rancho” by El Komander and “Ya Lo Se” by Jenni Rivera. One popular artist in Pilsen is Vicente Fernandez, according to Sandoval, and during the festivals his music is played often.

Despite Pilsen being known for its predominantly Hispanic culture, Daniel Gutierrez Jr., 42, of Pilsen describes how the town is starting to become more “diverse.” He explained how this is starting to change the music culture by incorporating more “folk art” and “hipster” sounds. Gutierrez further explained how there was a lot of “drums, violins, and guitar playing” to go with the new sounds.

Along with the music genres changing, Pilsen’s 43,000 residents are seeing changes as well. With the new waves of people moving into the area, the gangs are slowly starting to move out.

A few years ago there used to be “four gangs within a block,” according to Sandoval.

He is not the only resident seeing a change in Pilsen Mary Jane Gutierrez, 69, a retired resident of Pilsen for over 50 years, said she is starting to “feel safe here” again.

Pilsen is located within the boundaries of 16th Street to the north, Cermak Road to the south, Halsted Street to the east, and Western Avenue to the west.

Within the boundaries, Mexican culture is vibrant especially when there is a festival. “It’s like party city,” Sandoval said “with lots of drinking and dancing.”

Chinatown

Little India

Pilsen’s Hope and Inspiration

By Jorge Ramos

Jose Sandoval a.k.a. “El Primo” started his love for art at a young age, asking people in the Pilsen neighborhood if he could paint murals.

Now 39, Sandoval is the manager of Sabina’s Tortillas and a watchful viewer of the next generation of artist.

“I don’t mind it at all,” Jose Sandoval said. “It’s better then having them vandalizing the streets.”

Located in the Lower West Side of Chicago, Pilsen and its 43,000 residents, all seem moved by the great potential in the art community.

Whether it be the young and the wreckless or the elderly and wise, the people of Pilsen seem felicitous to have such talented neighbors.

The art in this beautiful area, whose parameters stretch from 16th street, Cermak Road, Halsted Street, and Western Avenue, does not restrain itself in any way.

Art is represented from train stations, to city streets, and the typical back alley all done in a well thought-out perspective.

Daniel Gutierrez Jr., 42, owner of the well-known restaurant, Nuevo Leon, shares his understanding of the art in Pilsen and how he helps contribute to it.

“The murals are painted by local artist and recently more like them have been entering the city for the cheap rent,” Gutierrez said, “Artsy crafts it’s cool the more the better. Most of the art in the restaurant are gifts brought in from customers or employers. So as a token of appreciation we hang them around the building. In fact most of the murals are all painted by these famed local artist.”

Daniel Gutierrez wasn’t the only one who thought highly of the art in the community, in fact former board of education member, Mary Jane Gutierrez, 69, believed it could go farther.

“I love the art. It’s great inspiration for the youth here. There should be an institute for those students who look to this activity,” said Mary Jane Gutierrez.

The community of Pilsen has a long history behind it as well as a traditional reputation.

Jose Sandoval hopes the progress keeps on going: “It’s nice and peaceful now that more gangs are leaving.”

Chinatown

Little India

Fifa Fever in Pilsen

By Tim Herdphoto

The World Cup has kicked its way across the globe, giving everyone that “fifa fever” that has people yelling and cheering for various teams.

On the Lower West Side of Chicago in a small Mexican area known as Pilsen, residents had also seemed to have caught that fever as well.

“I’ve been watching America and the American games,” said Agel Sirngua, 57, a popsicle vendor who sported a gray button up shirt and team U.S.A. hat.

Although Sirngua watched the American games and wore the hat as if he was silently stating that the U.S. was going to win the World Cup, he had a different team in mind… “Australia, I believe, is going to win the World Cup,” he said.

Daniel Gutierrez Jr., 42, owner of the Nuevo Leon restaurant, had two other teams in mind.

“U.S.A. or Argentina, I have to go for my home country though,” Gutierrez said.

Other significance the World Cup has to offer is unification…at least in the mind of Gutierrez.

“…I enjoy the overall attention that the World Cup has been getting, I think as the World Cup goes along more people are becoming united,” Gutierrez said.

Gutierrez wasn’t the only person to think this, however, and upon entering the Sabina Tortilla factory, manager Jose Sandoval made this very clear with his witty responses.

“Culturally, we all just come together and vote for the same team…this is a big time here,” said Sandoval, 39.

This fever was visible upon the first few steps from the train on the Lower West Side between a multitude of streets including 16th street to the north, Halsted Street to the east, Cermak Road to the south, and Western Avenue to the west.

It was here where colorful displays of artwork on the walls and the sounds of people celebrating and placing their head in their folded arms as almost to mourn while watching the World Cup games on television occurred, showing that Pilsen was quite indeed, a place where the World Cup was embraced.

“We just come together ya know,” Sandoval said. “They call it football but I just say its soccer, but it’s just a good time, the World Cup is.”

Chinatown

Little India

Put The Guns Down Chicago

By Justin EscalonaEscalona

Apel Sirngua, a 57-year-old popsicle vendor from Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood, has seen shootings first hand while walking 16th Street selling his treats.

“The other night someone was shot in the arm very badly at 1a.m. Blood was everywhere on his arm,” he said.

Pilsen is a Mexican neighborhood on the Lower West Side of Chicago. It doesn’t take long to notice Latinos fill the neighborhood due to the amount of murals painted on 16th Street, Cermak Road, Halsted Street and Western Avenue.

The acts of gangs in Chicago have sparked campaigns such as #SAVECHICAGO, Put The Guns Down Chicago, and many more.

Mary Jane Guiterrez, a 69-year-old South Side native explained that, “Gangs use kids like dust rags. They force them to sell drugs and store guns without their parents knowing their gang involvement until it’s too late.”

Before Guiterrez retired, she worked as a school administrator and she noticed that, “Many children are trapped into gang lifestyles at a very early age. Gang recruiters convince future members at a very early age when they don’t know better.”

When people leave gangs, it’s extremely hard to assimilate back to a normal lifestyle in Pilsen.

“People who succeed in leaving gangs never return to their families. They can’t see their relatives anymore because they will be shot at if they return to town,” Guiterrez said.

To make light of Pilsen’s current state, there is hope for this Latino town due to the construction of University of Illinois Chicago.

According to the University of Michigan Economic Department, UIC has spent over $700 million on its Chicago West Side developments.

Gentrification comes with many economic issues, but on the other hand, the property value increase might urge gangsters to move out of town.

There is still hope for the citizens in Pilsen, but for now, put the guns down Chicago.

“The fighting needs to stop,” said Sirngua. “I want everyone to be safe.”

Chinatown

Little India

Art of Pilsen

By JaCarla Anderson

Creative, colorful, inspirational, and influential are some words that describe the neighborhood in Chicago called Pilsen.

Pilsen is now home to Mexican residents but was home to the German and Irish first in the 1840s then home to the Czech Republic immigrants in 1871 and was named “Plzen” after the second largest city in now what is the Czech Republic. Then in the 1950s and 60s this influx of Mexican immigrants drastically grew.IMG_1696

Pilsen is located on the Lower West Side of Chicago surrounded by many different murals, mosaics, and museums.

Examples of the art include a painting of jail T-shirts on 16th Street, The Chicago Urban Art Society on Cermak Road, and the decorated stairs on Halsted Street.

There are murals all over the neighborhood that are set by the boundaries of 16th Street, Cermak Road, Halsted Street, and Western Avenue.

Among the many different places art can be found on roofs, the side of buildings, and on subway steps.

The murals on the walls represent many different symbols such as the violence in the city, the loss of a loved one, or just an expression of freedom.

“Many local, and young artists are moving in,” Daniel Gutierrez Jr., 43, a restaurant owner. “They create art crafts… I think it’s cool.”

The art in the town is distinctive from other cultures; it seems to make people happy to see that the art in town is turning their community into a less violent place with less gangs.

“I feel safe here,” said 69-year-old Mary Gutierrez

This shows that the art is slowly dispersing the gangs in the neighborhood of 43,000 people and is making the community feel safe and secure.

“They should have a great big art studio around here to help young kids… it creates inspiration for kids,” Mary Gutierrez said.

The art in Pilsen is described as a free pass for young kids to get away from all the violence in the Chicago neighborhoods and to get more involved in their community.

Pilsen offers many images that people are probably most likely to never see it anywhere else.

“I love it…the art is pretty good, “said Jose Sandoval, 39 “I rather them express themselves through art instead of violence.”

 

Chinatown

Little India

 

Pilsen: A day in Mini-Mexico

By Caitlin Gunty

Gunty

Carlos Arago was sitting in a restaurant, enjoying some Mexican food, near what he considers Pilsen’s town square when he said,“ This is the part where two Pilsens get together at heart.”

Pilsen is located in the lower West Side of Chicago. Pilsen is a Hispanic community with more than 43,000 people.

This neighborhood runs from 16th Street to Cermak Road and Halsted Street to Western Avenue.

The Germans and Irish first settled Pilsen sometime in the
mid- 1800s, but later on Czech settlers came and replaced them. Pilsen was a diverse neighborhood until the 1960s, when there was a growth of Hispanic people in the neighborhood.

Pilsen holds two big festivals each year, Fiesta del Sol and Day of the Dead. Fiesta del Sol is a huge festival in July that tries to raise money for students. In October, Pilsen also holds Day of the Dead, which is a day to remember those who are no longer with you.

Pilsen also offers things for artists. When walking down the streets in Pilsen, there are murals everywhere. There is also a Museum of Mexican Art.

When asking people what makes Pilsen unique many said the fact that it is largely a Hispanic community. Chicago is one big mix of different cultures and almost each culture has their own neighborhood. These neighborhoods serve as a place to see how people live in their natural environment.
From the art to the food, Pilsen serves as a mini Mexico. A day in Pilsen observing everything it has to offer, will give people a better understanding of Mexican culture.

“This is the real Pilsen,” said Arago.

 

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Little India