On Tuesday October 25 of 2016, a freshman explore class took a fieldtrip to the art museum in Pilsen. They were there to admire the beautiful Hispanic art, specifically, to learn about El Dia De Los Muertos and its history behind it. While some students saw this as a fun say, since they were not going to be in a classroom, their teacher, Professor Seeley, asked of her students to look around the Pilsen neighborhood. Their professor wanted them to understand that the beauty Pilsen held, would sadly, and quite possibly be victim to gentrification. While making their way to the art museum, some noticed slaps on the already emptied, out of business, buildings. They read “Pilsen is Not for Sale.” To understand the anger, and more importantly worry, that the residents in Pilsen feel because of this gentrification, is it important first to understand why Pilsen was and is as segregated as it currently is. Then, it is important to really grasp the definition of gentrification and the effects it has on neighborhoods. Most importantly, what will eventually happen to Pilsen and other neighborhoods if Chicago allows this to happen.
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Pilsen, like many other urban neighborhoods, are home to many residents, specifically minorities. In Pilsen’s case, it is a predominant Hispanic neighborhood. Walking around Pilsen, one can smell the different aromas of the delicious food that is being prepared, since there are restaurants at virtually every corner. As soon as one is off the train, they only need to cross the street to be able to smell the scent of sweet, warm bread. Stores have Mexican candy, pinatas, toys that any child would enjoy; they have everything one needs and more. All in one neighborhood, and that didn’t happen by coincidence. The truth is, it took time, it took white people not wanting them around, and pushing them into neighborhoods where they had no other choice but to be each other’s neighbors. When minorities started to move into whiter neighborhoods, Red Lining was introduced, where people were denied certain insurances or even loans because they lived next to or close to minorities. So what did white people do? They moved into the Suburbs, away from neighborhoods like Pilsen. White flight but all of these minority families together, and reduced the property value, making it more affordable for othe minorities to move in. However, that isn’t to say it wasn’t hard. Because property value went down, they received little to no help from the government. As a result, schools were underfunded, hospitals were closed down or far away. Yet, minorities managed to make something out of nothing, even with all the cards stacked against them. The white countrymen don’t know the struggles of minorities or what they have gone through, they don’t know the culture, they are strangers to it. Most importantly, they are extremely ignorant to their capacity (Alexander, 2010). However, when they do see minorities make it, and they see the beauty that they have created, they tend to want to come back. When they do, they do so by also kicking out the minorities.
Gentrification is when people (mostly white) move into a neighborhood and decide to open up their own shops, or tear down a building and make something “new and better”, when they come in and decide that they want to “fix” a “broken” neighborhood and make it “better.” As a result of this, property value increases, making it close to impossible for the current residents to be able to afford their old place, forcing them to move out and find some place cheaper. This is of course, easier said than done. Some families are there because they wouldn’t able to live in any other place, for example if one or the primary bread winner has a criminal record. Throughout the U.S. housing agencies have created exclusionary policies that deny eligibility to any applicant with even the most minor criminal background (Alexander 2010). If a parent has been arrested and convicted for driving without a license because he didn’t have papers, that alone can make it extremely hard for him to find a home for him and his family. Where would they go if Chicago allows Pilsen to become a victim of gentrification? This isn’t just one family, it is an entire neighborhood, being taken over by white people who are “infatuated” with a “trendy” culture. They always want our cultures, they just want it without us. If gentrification were to be successful in Pilsen, that would mean El Dia De Los Muertos would no longer be a holiday with roots behind its meaning, it would be a price tag at a local trendy white run store. It would make the neighborhood restaurants and bakeries close down. It isn’t just about taking away the business that minorities have worked so extremely hard for, it would mean taking memories away, taking culture away. Most importantly, it would be taking homes away.
There comes a point in time where people can no longer find a place to run to, with no other place to go, where would they live? Thankfully, for Pilsen, the process of gentrification has been slowed down, this is one neighborhood that won’t go down easily. An article from the West Loop newspaper quoted Byron Sigcho, the executive director of a group dedicated to stop the gentrification in Pilsen. He states that “Pilsen is in a defining moment, we can remain a working class neighborhood or let corrupt politicians and special interest groups destroy its great heritage and diversity,” (2016). This is important because people won’t stop with Pilsen, it will only stop when there is no longer any place to go for the minorities. When the cycle of people leaving and only coming back to destroy a neighborhood finally ends, it will only end with families being jobless, and most likely homeless. When that happens, and people are forced to leave America, it will then, and only then, that America will realize that there is no America without neighborhoods like Pilsen.
Sometimes it is very hard to open someone’s eyes to the events occurring in places they have no connection to. People often forget that silence is an action just as strong as violence, and allowing others to destroy someone’s neighborhood, and culture, is no different than being the one controlling the bulldozer. If we allow this gentrification to continue, it will not only be Pilsen, it will not stop until there are no more neighborhoods to destroy. Until there is no culture, nothing but Chipotle and Taco Bell restaurants to represent the “Hispanic” dishes. Gentrification will not make America great again, it will make take away the very thing that makes America great. The different cultures that have influenced art, music, literature and many more. There will no longer be a desired American dream, freedom will no longer be a thought in a father’s head when he is deciding on whether to risk his life to come and work as a slave for the “United” States of America. United we never stood, and divided we have fallen.
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