Every year, on Good Friday—the Friday before Easter—crowds of hundreds gather on 18th Street in Pilsen to watch the Via Crucis procession, a live reenactment of the fourteen stations of the cross and crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
This story was produced by City Bureau
Read in English. This story was produced by City Bureau. Traducio por Mago Torres.
Leer en español. This story was produced by City Bureau.
It’s a few minutes after noon, and families are still trickling in through the large wooden doors of St. Adalbert Church in Pilsen. Young and old are quietly making their way through the pews. A Kimball organ, one of the largest pipe organs in the Midwest, plays its final notes from the upper floor as Father Michael Enright and Deacon Juan Dominguez begin the introductory rites for mass.
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.