Pilsen: Don't Go There At Night

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So, ending the day at work, closing on the 99th floor, pretty slow day, I decide to check out the displays at the gift shop, when I bumped into this deck of walking tour cards, tours of 50 neighborhoods in Chicago. The neighborhoods vary from Lincoln Park, Wicker Park, Gold Coast to Pullman Historical District, Chinatown, and my home hood: Pilsen. I was caught by surprise at the DESCRIPTION of Pilsen!

Despite all of this rich history, the publishers of these cards decided to describe the neighborhood as a former enclave of Czechs (true, Pilsen IS the capital of the Czech Republic [Plzen]), but decided to continue to describe the neighborhood in a very negative tone. As you can see in the photo the description continues to read “Although considered safe during the day, it is unsafe at night.”

I was of course, stoked, but not shocked, that Pilsen would be the only Latino neighborhood advertised to those wanting to get a feel of the ’real’ Chicago from people who knew these neighborhoods (this alludes to the mass gentrification of Pilsen which has occurred dominantly since the late 1990’s when the city decided to start advertising the area as a trendy arts district.

For any non-Chicagoans, here’s a real small scoop of Pilsen. Pilsen is the largest Latino neighborhood in the Midwest and one of the largest Mexican neighborhoods in the U.S. It was home to the Chicano movement in Chicago evident in the various murals around the neighborhood. It is home to one of the oldest Latino oriented schools and libraries (Benito Juarez H.S. & Rudy Lozano Public Library Branch), and home to the largest Latino festival in the Midwest. Since 1998, Pilsen has been renovated to show more of its Mexicanness through public art, and thus a giant Mexican Eagle statue mirroring the Angel De La Independencia in Mexico City was erected in the 18th Street/Blue Island intersection, some who jokingly call it the “Mexican Times Square”

Are you SERIOUS?!

This is how you’re going to describe my grandparents’, my mother’s, and my own neighborhood?! Simplifying it to a dangerous neighborhood with Eastern European roots now home to one of the larger Mexican populations in America?

Of course the publishers don’t try and stop there. When further describing what you can expect to find on the main corridor, 18th Street, they decided to point out that you will see “people of all ages throughout the day, from older men in cowboy hats to young mothers to street vendors selling candy”.

I didn’t know young mothers were such an attraction for tourists. I guess Plaza Tenochtitlan, The Aztec Calendars on the sidewalks of 18th St., the Mexicanized light poles, or the quad of Mexican National Hero statues are not something to run to Pilsen for, but young mothers, THIS you need to point out!

After reading through the rest of the neighborhoods, no other were described as such, as neighborhoods so unsafe that they need to inform you not to visit at all hours. With the exception of Wicker Park, which is described as “one of Chicago’s trendiest neighborhoods, was not long ago one of its most dangerous”….not long ago it was a Puerto Rican neighborhood. What the hey are you trying to say? Not long ago is when it became ’trendy’ so when the demographics shifted so did the image, NOW it’s safe to live in?

Despite the VAST rape incidents in Lincoln Park, there is no disclaimer to anyone about going there alone at night, despite a high crime rate surrounding Hyde Park, there is no disclaimer for that neighborhood, despite high robbery cases (especially around closing time), there is no warning for those interested in touring Wicker Park, so clearly there is a hidden message here.

I don’t find it surprising that Pilsen is the only Latino neighborhood advertised, I did find it surprising and offensive  that the author would distinguish Pilsen as a dangerous neighborhood at night with emphasis on the young mother population in the area.

This is yet another clear example of people’s biases play into their description of others, and how, even though ’well meaning’ they can grossly misrepresent and totally degrade a people and think it to be true.

The publisher of  “City Walks: Chicago 50 adventures on Foot” by Christina Henry de Tessan Copyright 2007 is:
Chronicle Books
680 Second Street
San Francisco, CA 94107