I live right up here, on top of the bakery. I have been living here since 1973…well, since I opened the shop. I remember that I bought the bakery back in the seventies. In those days they were giving money away. That is to say, when I came to Pilsen back in the day from Mexico I met a man who talked to me about opening up my very own bakery. He said, “Come with us. You open the business, and we’ll provide the money.” It was hard to believe, having just come from Mexico, where at the time things like this were just not happening, but in Pilsen it was so easy. This neighborhood welcomed countrymen like me and gave us opportunities.
“It’s just an all-in-one empowerment device.”
“When I want to something to sound passionate, I write in English. But when something passionate arises within me when writing, it manifests itself in Spanish.” – Vivian Garcia
I was supposed to meet Jesse Butcher on Saturday afternoon for a tour of his new gallery exhibit, “Until It Becomes Us,” but he was running late. When he arrived, he told me that his bus had been stopped in a riot: protesters had managed to block traffic entirely on Homan Avenue until police broke them apart. Butcher was split between admiration for the rioters’ passionate collective action and irritation at the thirty-minute traffic jam he had endured, an ambivalence that echoed strongly in his exhibition, presented by Ordinary Projects at Mana Contemporary through March 20. Continue reading
When I entered Cultura, an arts and community space on the corner of 19th and Carpenter in Pilsen, it was a quiet Friday afternoon. Just a block from Pilsen’s busy 18th Street, the snowy intersection was mostly devoid of cars and pedestrians. Inside, Cultura’s main room was also calm. The black stage against the front window was empty, and the white walls of the room were dotted with only a few works of art. Continue reading
On Saturday night, there’s a ten-foot Christmas tree lighting up the lobby of ChiTown Futbol. Packs of teenagers carrying soccer gear pour out of cars and into the stadium, a repurposed industrial building at the end of a quiet block off Cermak Avenue. The street dead-ends just past the parking area, giving way to beached shipping containers and one of the Chicago River’s freightloading channels. Continue reading
It’s a moody September evening at the Church of Templehead—clouds bruise the sky, and bursts of rain seem intent on ruining the party. Templehead, a DIY artists’ living space converted into a queer- and feminist-focused community venue, sits on the corner of 19th and Allport in Pilsen. It’s in a quiet pocket of the neighborhood, removed from 18th Street’s trickle of winers and diners. Tonight is JOSE FEST, a performance art festival named after Chicago-based artist Jose Hernandez and featuring an eclectic set of theatrical vignettes. Continue reading
There’s something about Shred Fest, She Shreds magazine’s annual festival celebrating female musicians, that seemed perfectly at home inside Pilsen’s ChiTown Futbol.
When I was twelve years old, my oldest brother brought me to visit the National Museum of Mexican Art. I took in everything around me, excited to know that someone who shared my culture and experiences had created the pieces that I was seeing. When I think back to this first visit I remember knowing with a fierce confidence that my history and culture were important. On September 19, the NMMA held an opening for “Rito y Recuerdo,” its annual Day of the Dead exhibit. The event drew so many people that the museum staff was forced to turn away visitors, and even as they did more people continued to make their way to one of Pilsen’s most vital cultural centers. The NMMA boasts a great history coupled with an impressive permanent collection of 7,500 pieces. Founded in 1987 by Carlos Tortolero and a team of educators, the museum has since grown, not just in the scope of its collection and programming, but also in its impact on the community. Vanessa Sanchez directs Yollocalli Arts Reach, a youth education initiative of the museum. I recently had the chance to speak to her about education, Yollocalli’s beginnings, and the museum’s 60,000 students. Continue reading
Cafe Jumping Bean, on the 18th Street main drag in Pilsen, is a microcosm of the eclectic neighborhood. On any day of the week, you can find large Mexican families, UIC students, and disheveled artists caffeinating and chatting over hearty paninis and freshly baked pastries. Although the Jumping Bean has served as a nucleus of the neighborhood for two decades—“in the nineties, it was the only place of its kind,” one artist said—recent history has seen the opening of many new coffee shops and cafés, not to mention monthly art events like 2nd Fridays Gallery Nights, hip eateries like Dusek’s and Nightwood, a burgeoning Sunday farmer’s market, and the newly renovated Thalia Hall. Continue reading