Every place I’ve ever lived has changed me.
The first time I set foot in Anderson, Indiana, I hated it. The first time I visited Pilsen, I felt like I had boarded pink line in Chicago and ended up in Mexico. I was only a few el stops away from the loop, but it felt like a completely different world – full of mariachi music and taco stands and hyperactive children running around at all hours of the day and night. I never thought at first that I would make my home in either one of these places, but I did.
I’ve been reading up on my local history, and this area was originally built by Czechs and Bohemians in the 1800’s, which is why some parts of it look like old Europe. As the ethnicities have changed over the years, poverty has saved much of Pilsen from the wrecking ball of Progress, leaving most of the original buildings intact.
Currently, two major groups live in Pilsen – the Mexicans and the hipsters. In the 50’s and 60’s, Pilsen became primarily hispanic when the Spanish-speaking immigrants were displaced with the expansion of UIC and University Village. More recently, Pilsen has become the home of many artists, college students, teachers, and other city-dwellers in search of close public transportation and cheap rent. It’s fascinating to see these two cultures collide – most notably seen at cafes and coffee shops such as the Jumping Bean where you can order a side of rice and beans with your double espresso. The murals and artwork in the neighborhood are a testament to both cultures as well. There are many murals depicting Mexican history and culture, but the most recent mural added along 16th street is of a monkey eating pizza.
I never thought I would feel as at home here as I do. It seems like Pilsenites are always looking for reasons to celebrate – I like to joke that it’s Christmas and Cinco de Mayo here all year round. There’s always music playing, always people out in the streets, there’s always some event going on. The ice cream trucks play “Jingle Bells” and “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” all year round (which always makes me laugh).
It’s been really interesting to live in a place where I sometimes feel completely out of my comfort zone – it’s a little bit like living overseas (while still in Chicago). I’ve learned to love and depend on people who are different from me. I’ve learned how to say “No, thank you” in Spanish when people try to sell you things in the laundromat. I’ve learned to be cautious, as the C on most sinks in Pilsen stands for “Caliente!!”
I would never have envisioned myself living here, but my neighborhood now holds a piece of my heart.