Incredible the things they see

Where we are in the world. Pilsen.

A place rich with a cultural resistance, walls of art adorn the streets gathered through the years, created by people who stay and those who get pushed to leave. Gentrification.

I never realized the true implications and the seriousness of gentrification until I visited the US.  For Chicagoan it contributes to the sense of uncertainty that so many already have to live by.

Benjamin is explaining to the young people at ATPT about Pilsen an area of Chicago we’re going to explore today as part of a program to educate young people about their city.

He asks them what they think gentrification means

“Poor people getting pushed out of housing, condo’s getting built”

“Rich white people buying cheap housing and developing the area”

“You can’t have poor people living in rich places”

‘It usually begins with a wave of artists’ Benjamin chips in ‘they buy cheap apartments that they can have studios in, they move in and the companies follow. The bring resources, cafes, shops things that the artists might need but not things that the people who live there might need or afford.’

Pilsen has lost 20,000 Latino’s over the last 5 years; it has gained 15,000 white people.  An attractive area close to Downtown and with excellent transport routes to the city – young professionals snap up cheap housing stock and are transforming the area brick by brick.

Benjamin is taking us on a tour of Pilsen. We’re exploring the murals of the past and making sense of what the word gentrification might mean for the future of Chicago.

We visit Aztec House; it’s a beautifully poetic ruin of a community center – empty – currently being turned into flats. The front a painted celebration of the Latino heroes who came before, a beautiful reminder of the ones that have fought – Che Guevera faces out watching, still standing.

A local man stops on his bike. My uncle painted this. He describes in detail the rooms the old community used to inhabit – ‘people came here to dance, to make art, to meet people. We didn’t talk about the street, we talked about this place. This neighbourhood’s changing, look at this it’s all bricked up, there’s no where left to go, everything’s closed.’

The young people write a postcard to Pilsen – to everything it was to everything it could be.  We continue the journey, it feels sad that things are so drastic.

‘Incredibles las casas que se va sa’

‘Incredible the things they see’

The words shine down on us from a mural on the high street a important reminder that in history we are not alone, that people have come before us shaping the world, fighting for freedom. Faces of mothers, doctors, teachers, children, workers, people migrating across borders – the old faces of Pilsen.

It’s about miracles one of the young people says.

Against all odds I think.

We leave Pilsen a gift – inspired by the murals and the colour splashed across the walls we give 33 young people coloured chalk and let them colour the sidewalk. They dance in the street, covering every surface with shapes, pictures and words of solidarity.

A beautiful resistance. WE ARE PILSEN.