Six months ago, 25th Ward Alderman Danny Solis’s grip on power was starting to feel a little shaky. After serving in City Council for twenty-two years, aligning himself closely with Mayor Richard M. Daley and then Rahm Emanuel, criticism of Solis was reaching a fever pitch. While longterm ward residents faced increased property taxes and skyrocketing rates of displacement, Solis greenlit new developments marketed toward young white professionals. Community organizations were fueling a swell of anti-gentrification activism, with Solis cast as the central, money-grubbing villain. And candidates were lining up to run against him in 2019, with five challengers ending up on the ballot.
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Ricardo Gamboa is a South Side artist, playwright, youth educator, and activist who has lived and worked in Pilsen since 1999. They are a member of Free Street Theater and the Southside Ignoramus Quartet, and the creator of the live radical news show The Hoodoisie. Their work exists outside of—and counter to—established cultural institutions and explicitly affirms the stories of Chicago’s Black and Latinx communities. Gamboa spoke with the Weekly about gentrifying forces in Pilsen and the many reasons why people fight so hard to keep them out.
Raquel Garcia, her husband, and their four-year old daughter moved to Pilsen in 2012 to be closer to their jobs at local elementary schools. They were in search of an affordable place to live, but more importantly, a place they could put down roots and be surrounded by a like-minded community. “This is the first time we have stayed anywhere for more than two or three years…I had moved around the city so much growing up,” she said in an interview. “Coming to Pilsen, for the first time, I felt in community. It’s been like coming home.”
They don’t want to give agendas to the community. They don’t want to give us anything,” reflected Anderson Chávez, a youth organizer with the Pilsen Alliance. The “they” Chávez was referring to is the Pilsen Land Use Committee (PLUC), an advisory committee set up by Alderman Daniel Solis (25th) to advise him on large-scale developments seeking a home in Pilsen. PLUC is intended to represent the community voice in decision making and uphold an only-in-Pilsen mandate of twenty-one percent affordable housing in all new developments over eight units. The committee is comprised of executives from four local nonprofits: The Resurrection Project, Alivio Medical Center, Eighteenth Street Development Corporation, and the Pilsen Neighbors Community Council.
When I visited La Catrina Café last Saturday night, my view of the commotion inside was at first restricted by the lines of condensation on a large window. I stepped closer to inspect the crowd: books held to their chests, they shuffled eagerly around a busy table. As they came and went, I caught a glimpse of one small figure, bent over slightly, signing a copy of his book. It was Japanese photographer Akito Tsuda. He looked up at and I noticed his smile, one that encompassed the entirety of his face. I entered the venue, and Latin music wrapped around me, ushering me inside to a gracious assembly of Pilsen locals.
An empty parcel of land in eastern Pilsen, sitting between Metra and freight tracks and 18th Street, draws little attention to itself—but for some residents, the site has become a battleground for the future of the neighborhood. The luxury developer that owns the land, Property Markets Group (PMG), recently announced big plans for a 465-unit apartment complex on the site called “ParkWorks.”
Eighteenth Street Development Corporation’s (ESDC) eighth annual Mole de Mayo Festival was held from Friday, May 26 to Sunday, May 28, in Pilsen. With Lucha Libre matches, live music, authentic Mexican cuisine, and clothing and jewelry vendors, the weekend-long festival offered a glimpse into Mexican culture above and beyond “Mucho Mole!” for residents all throughout Chicago.
On the evening of February 28, about thirty congregants of St. Adalbert Church huddled under a tunnel of scaffolding outside the main doors of the church, seeking refuge from a downpour of rain. Holding posters, candles, and various Catholic paraphernalia, the churchgoers collectively chanted “La iglesia no se vende.” (The church is not for sale). At around 6:30pm, a few of the elderly parishioners, standing on the steps at the entrance of the church, began a prayer vigil.
On January 10, as then-president Barack Obama prepared to deliver his farewell address at McCormick Place, Rosa Esquivel was setting up chairs and tables at a Chicago Public Library named after another prominent community organizer, Rudy Lozano. Esquivel, a Guatemalan immigrant who has lived in the area since 2003, volunteers as a community board member for Pilsen Alliance, a grassroots social justice organization headquartered two blocks west of the Rudy Lozano library. The day’s community meeting marked the latest chapter in the organization’s nearly two-decade history of working to protect its neighborhood.