Photo by William Guerrero

Remember when we’d walk to La Potosina to buy hot chips and juice? 

At the corner of Allport and 18th St. 

Do you remember those times?

Seems like yesterday when we were just kids

being fun, funny and happy,

My childhood was fun because of you! 

Because of you, I had friends. Good friends! 

Amigas to live life fully in this barrio sometimes tainted 

with violence, but also painted with cultura and colorful dreams.

I remember laughing with you,

I remember how it all used to be. 

Sometimes I still feel like that niña little girl on 18th St.

Pilsen has been home to many people and families. You can see its rich history in its buildings and lively murals. Pilsen is a living, vibrant breathing neighborhood in every way. 

Paula Acevedo, co-director of El Paseo Community Garden shared how she feels about living in Pilsen since 2008. “Growing up, I was the minority and had no sense of community. My only connection to my heritage outside my family was church. As most Latinos, it was all about family so my upbringing was a bit sheltered. I never had a sense of belonging. I do in Pilsen. We have community where people help one another and look out for each other.” 

“Here, the saying ‘it takes a village’ rings true. I am no longer isolated and I finally feel a part of something bigger. I’m connected. I feel purpose and grateful my son will grow up with all of this. Culture. Self identity. Belonging. Support. And all the culturally relevant events and spaces. Mexican corner stores and products. And food! Especially since my Abuelita moved back to Mexico.” 

Growing up in Pilsen you understand what Paula is talking about. There is a lot to see and experience in our community but what makes it special are the people in the community. Our ties and connections. 

This is why I get emotional at the thought of moving one day and living somewhere else. I can be having a bad day or feeling stressed, but then I go into one of our local businesses and suddenly my energy shifts. I get so much love from the people here. I open my bag of delicious food and I see that I got extra food. They not only know my name, they know my family nickname and feel comfortable enough using it. That is another level of community. How could I not feel happy? How could I not feel blessed and fortunate? 

As we continue to deal with a wave of obstacles, world events, political warfare and pandemics, our community is doing its best to keep going. We can help Pilsen by visiting their local spots and by being inspired by our parents and grandparents by opening our own small business or restaurant in Pilsen. 

There is so much possibility to continue to care for and nurture the beautiful spirit of our beloved barrio. And as much as things are changing, let us be part of that change. Let us be part of the next chapter of this Chicago South Side neighborhood. What are you waiting for?

Cristina Puzio was born and raised in Pilsen. She enjoys creating safe alternative healing spaces for the community. Cristina enjoys writing in her authentic bilingual voice and has been writing poetry since she was seven.

  • Best Latinx Shop: Mestiza

    Each time I walk east on 18th Street from Ashland Avenue, I always check the black gate in front of Mestiza. An open gate means an open store. I like to pop in even if I don’t have the intention of buying something that day. 

    The second you enter the store, the music is energizing, the colors on the wall pop, and the scent of palo santo evens everything out into a calming experience. There’s always something new to glance at: mugs, jewelry, candles, t-shirts, headbands, concha-shaped pillows, to name a few. 

    The store owners, Lorena Almanza and Sugeiri Martinez, set out with the intention of creating a space that felt like their own home. The original store opened in 2004 had a mix of vintage and Mexican items and art for sale, but after closing in 2009 due to family health concerns, Mestiza returned in 2017 with the more focused intention of highlighting the beauty of Mexican, Chicanx, and Latinx cultures. The artists showcased at Mestiza are thoughtfully chosen, as relationship building is a priority for them.

    The store owners create connections with other artists while vending at markets and connecting through social media. At Mestiza, you can find the work of local artists like AngMir, WerkMija, and Dachi por Adriana Rivera. You can also find items from Texas, California, Peru, Guatemala, and Mexico. Martinez’s artist pick is Edith Orozco from Guanajato who creates hand-painted paper mache jewelry with sacred heart imagery.

    Whether you’re shopping for a gift for someone or looking to add to your own home, Mestiza is the place to find colorful, calming, and creative pieces for a loving home atmosphere.

    Mestiza, 1523 W. 18th St. Tuesday–Friday 1–6pm; Saturday–Sunday, 12–5pm; closed Monday. (872) 395-1814. Follow Mestiza at @mestizashop

  • Best Youth Initiative: Peace in Pilsen

    Summers in Pilsen can be full of many festivals and events, but sometimes our summers need more than just these things. Our comunidad needs spaces and events for our families and our youth. In 2022, Leonardo Quintero officially founded Peace in Pilsen with his son Romeo. And we are so grateful that they decided to make it happen! 

    You can pass by a block like Cullerton Avenue and Wood Street and you’ll see young boys and girls playing basketball side by side, and the smiles of parents sitting in lawn chairs watching from a distance as they enjoy the summer in a peaceful and fun way. It is so refreshing to see families together taking over our streets and feeling at home. 

    Inspired by the old programs like B-Ball on the Block and Hoops in the Hood, they decided to bring those kinds of programs back. Leonardo and Romeo saw the need for youth programming in that area. “A youth mentioned being interested in gaming more than basketball. So we were able to create a gaming event that took place at El Paseo Garden”, Leonardo said.

    Peace in Pilsen listens to the youth even if it’s just an idea for a new kind of event. Sometimes our youth need support to bring their ideas to life. Leonardo works alongside other community members dedicated to preventing violence. Felipe Luna, a long time Pilsen resident, is also a part of the program. “We originated by a grassroots initiative and our purpose is helping parents keep their kids out of trouble,” shared Luna. 

    Peace in Pilsen truly gives a positive vibe in the community! You can notice how proud the youth look in their Peace in Pilsen gear. It really gives the community hope. 

    As much as people notice the demographics changing in Pilsen there are still many youth and families living in Pilsen that need safe and nurturing spaces. Leonardo and Romeo asked themselves a few years back, “How do we give our community peace of mind?” They have now created a way for the youth and their families to feel that way by getting involved in positive activities and meaningful circles. 

    “Having ‘father figure and me’ events [through] men’s circles for the parents or dads, father figures, step parents, whatever it is, and…young people…We kind of teach that positive male interaction and then we put it into practice that same day,” he said. “In order to create a healthier bond with dad and son or dad and daughter, whatever [that relationship] may be.”

    The youth initiative just kicked off this year and they truly stand by what they want to see, and that is friendship, kinship and happy, healthy male relationships among the youth. 

    What is their vision or goal for Pilsen? “To build enough community and create a dense deterrence for violence,” Leonardo said.

    Follow Peace in Pilsen on Instagram and Facebook @Peace in Pilsen.

  • Best Arts Hub: Pilsen Arts and Community House

    When I think of a dynamic duo, I think of the founders of Pilsen Arts and Community House (PACH). They are a team who work for the greater goal of their community. Teresa Magaña is a poet, art curator, and visual artist who focuses on line work representing femme bodies and the Chicana experience. Pablo Ramirez is a poet and artist who uplifts hip-hop culture and the artistic history of Pilsen. 

    Teresa and Pablo founded their art gallery, Pilsen Outpost, in 2015, and have since grown the gallery into PACH, a non-profit organization that creates accessible events for the community and highlights work of local and international BIPOC artists. 

    I remember meeting Teresa years ago when I visited the Pilsen Outpost gallery, which was originally located on 21st Street and Damen Avenue. The gallery stood because of Sam Kirk’s colorful mural of Frida Kahlo I lived down the block and didn’t have wi-fi at the time. Teresa was open to me stopping by to use the internet when I needed to. 

    This was just one of the many invitations she has made over the years to community members like me. Teresa mentioned that she had recently left the corporate world to focus on her true passion: art. She hoped to one day have a non-profit that would focus on making art accessible to the Pilsen and surrounding communities.

    Fast-forward to this summer and PACH hosted an exhibit titled A Tribe Called Chicago, showcasing visual artists from the city on Chicago-themed pieces. “A Tribe Called Chicago” is the perfect way to describe how PACH invites artists to form a tribe that works together in the name of art. 

    Screen printer Carlos Barbenera and art educator Adriana Peña support the PACH team by providing workshops in the space of their respective art forms. PACH not only showcases existing artists but holds workshops to expand community skills.  

    Hecho En:, a community market, also brought together vendors from around the city for a weekend outdoor market. PACH was able to close down 18th St. from Ashland Avenue to Paulina Avenue to showcase ceramics, clothing, jewelry, photography, and visual art, and healing vendors. Families, friends, and individuals strolled through the market to show support for local artists. 

    Though primarily an arts space, PACH also uplifts the community by supporting fundraisers. This fall, they will be co-hosting a community mural walk for Pilsen Food Pantry, as well as curating the mural to expand La Malinche Coffee’s goal of creating their own community space. PACH also rents out the gallery when community organizations need a location for fundraisers to be held. 

    Whether it’s to sign up for a creative workshop, attend a gallery opening, or if you’re just in the neighborhood and would like to purchase some local art, Teresa, Pablo, and the PACH team will help you feel like a part of the community. Take a step inside and see what connections you make.

    Pilsen Arts and Community House, 1637 W. 18th St. (312) 468-9046. Follow PACH @pilsenartscommunityhouse

  • Best Tortillería: El Popocatepetl

    How can Pilsen be Pilsen without a tortillería? The oldest tortillería in Pilsen is El Popocatepetl on 21st Street. It was established in 1958 as El Popocatepetl by Ernesto Avina. Before that it operated under a different owner.

    I spoke with Avinas’s grandson, Julian Rodriguez. Julian can be found on certain days taking orders at the register and serving you hot, fresh tortillas with a friendly demeanor. Julian is the general manager and software technician among many other things at El Popocatepetl. “I do a little bit of everything. [I’m] kind of more involved with the software end of everything, but I’m also not afraid of doing deliveries,” Julian said. 

    There are three generations of family running the business. The current company president and vice-president are Mexican women, Elizabeth and Yvonne Avina. 

    Why do I love “El Popo”? They have the best “tortilla caliente,” in other words, the best hot, fresh tortilla! Julian mentioned how they only use local ingredients in their tortillas. The corn for the dough comes from southern Illinois. There is nothing like hitting up El Popo for tortillas calientes “en papel.” As soon as you get them, you want to take one and make a taco, and you want to eat it with mole or other delicious food waiting for you at home. 

    I also love it because of the memories that it brings up for me. The other day I was eating some tacos with El Popo tortillas. As I bit into my taco, I was like this reminds me of someone. Then I thought of my father. Yep, we’ve been eating tortillas from El Popo for so long that I remembered eight-year-old me being in the kitchen with my father making tacos. Years later, the quality and recipe haven’t changed. 

    I told Julian how sad I was when I came to the realization that there are only two tortillerías in Pilsen remaining. He understood my pain. “Access to fresh food that is affordable and nutritious is very important. Obviously tortillas in a Mexican community are synonymous; they go hand in hand,” he said.

    Having fresh affordable food in the community is important for Julian and El Popo. This is why they pride themselves on their tortillas and other tortilla products. This is why they have donated to food pantries and food drives. Even during the pandemic they did not raise their prices. They’ve also sponsored events like Día del Niño and have given scholarships to students. They care about the community. This is why I love El Popo. 

    I want local fresh food that reminds me of my culture and I will never stop going to El Popo. If you are in Pilsen, support El Popocatepetl Tortillería! Get your tortillas calientes en papel, fresh masa for tamales, crispy chips, tostadas and more! 

    Lastly, don’t forget to take a picture of their huge beautiful Mexican mural painted by Manny and Brenda Macias.

    El Popocatepetl Tortilleria, 1854 W. 21st St. Monday–Saturday, 7am–3pm; Sunday, 7am–1pm. (312) 421-6143.

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