Thursday, December 9, 2010

A Slice of Mexico in Chicago

Pilsen Chicago

I had plans to go to St. Xavier University and support Saint Francis in the NAIA football play-offs. I was so excited I awoke at 5 AM. So I figured I might as well see some more of Chicago before the game. I first drove to Pilsen. I lived in Chicago 36 years and had never been there. It is great. It is a Hispanic, gentrified, hipster neighborhood. It has plenty of churches, huge churches, to visit. It has murals all over the place. It is an area of wonderful urban landscapes. The “el” cuts across the horizon. To the east is Sears Tower (I know Willis Tower) and everywhere there are colorful restaurants.

Pilsen Murals

When I say there were murals all over the neighborhood I am not exaggerating. These are large, proud pieces of community art. They celebrate family, tradition and identity. They come out of a tradition of mural painting in Mexico. In fact, they influenced the public work projects of FDR during the Great Depression. When you go into a bank and view the murals from the 30’s know that they were influenced by the public murals south of the border.

Hector Duarte Paints As You Watch

The churches were all closed and it was too early for lunch. However, the National Museum of Mexican Art was open. The museum is in the hart of the neighborhood. It is a large, open museum. It is free! I found myself getting lost in t he history exhibits. They did an excellent job of tying together the history of Mexico with the history of Chicago. I appreciated their collection of rt objects, over 6,000 though I am sure I only saw a fraction of them. There was ancient, pre-Columbian art, Spanish art, Mexican modern art, murals and crafts.

By far my favorite was the exhibit on the Day of the Dead. It made the holiday stand out. It placed it in context, of the family and community. I found myself deeply touched by the exhibit on Haiti and the Day of the Dead.

Out of the Loop-Little Village

After the visit to the museum it was time to visit one more neighborhood before the big game. I was going south and west to Little Village. It was a somber ride because past Blue Island you drive right past Cook County Jail. This is a large, run down fortress with secutiry towers and high walls. It just looks like a world of sadness and pain. However, the drive gets better as you proceed west. You know you have entered Little Villge when you driveunder a large banner welcoming you.

Chicago Mexican Independence Day Parade 2007

There is no doubt you are in a Mexican neighborhood. This is not the arty, gentrified neighborhood of Pilsen. Still, it is a colorful neighborhood full of wonderful smells and great music. Like Pilsen it is an area of large public murals. However, this does not feel like a destination neighborhood tht one visits to see historic churches or participate in art gallery openings. This is a well-lived in neighborhood. I am familiar with the Hispanic neighborhoods on the north side of the city. However, this neighborhood felt like a slice of Mexico. I would like to visit it again someday.

And what about the game? Well, I ended up having to miss the game. That was OK. I would have liked to support our guys but I was OK not seeing us lose. I am in Chicago so I might as well say it, “there is always next year!”

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