Iconic 1971 Pilsen Mural Honoring Mexican Heroes Is Latest Victim of Gentrification

Lead Photo: Art by Alan López for Remezcla
Art by Alan López for Remezcla
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With the swipe of a brush, a part of Pilsen’s history was erased. Gone is the colorful 1971 mural celebrating historic Mexican and Chicano figures, including Rudy Lozano, Frida Kahlo, Benito Juárez, and Cesar Chávez and in its place is a bare gray wall that doesn’t reflect the community that has made this Chicago neighborhood its home for the last few decades. The mural originally decorated Casa Aztlán’s façade. However, amid the rampant gentrification taking shape in Pilsen, the community resource center – an important space for the city’s Mexican-American community during the Chicano movement – closed in 2013. Though Casa Aztlán continues operating out of a smaller space today, the shutdown was a blow to the community. And the recent painting over the mural – painted under the supervision of Ray Patlan – sent shockwaves through the community. On Tuesday night, Pilsen Alliance hosted a vigil, called The Mourning of Casa Aztlán.

With a board print of Chicanas of 18th Street: Narratives of a Movement From Latino Chicago a book that follows six female community activists’s experiences in Pilsen and that features Casa Aztlán on its cover – images of Latino and Latin American heroes, and candles, the community came out to send a message: Despite the unwelcome makeover, the building on 1831 S. Racine Ave. will always be Casa Aztlán. In large letters, the sidewalk read, “Gentrification is colonization.”

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Byron Sigcho, executive director of Pilsen Alliance, said the group hosted the vigil to bring visibility to the gentrification that’s endangering their community. “We want to make sure we raise awareness of what’s happening – not even slowly anymore – in terms of displacement and shifts from the community space now to condos,” Sigcho told Chicagoist.
A limited-liability company plans to create the former community center into at least 10 luxury apartments. Sigcho reports that the company will create a new mural, but it’s unclear what the LLC envisions.

After Pilsen residents expressed their anger and dissatisfaction, Alderman Daniel Solis released a statement. “I am deeply saddened by the developer’s decision to paint over our beautiful mural at the former Casa Aztlán,” he said. “The mural was a reminder of where we come from, our culture and our traditions. Unfortunately, the developers have the rights to their property, however, I want to encourage everyone to remember that being a good neighbor means respecting the culture and wishes of your community. I sincerely hope these developers are interested in creating another mural with community artists, who share our culture and history through their creativity and talents.”

As this neighborhood undergoes a drastic transformation, this community has come together in various ways – including trying to fund Casa Aztlán. Though this Pilsen pillar is no longer on Racine Avenue, it continues providing services for the immigrant community and for working class Latino families. And it could use your help to keep its doors open.