Pilsen Struggles to Maintain Mexican Identity

Pilsen is home to generations of working immigrants and their families, but interviews and analysis by NBC 5 Investigates and the Chicago Reporter reveal the neighborhood's close proximity to downtown Chicago may be pushing long-time neighbors out.

And businesses are feeling the pinch.

Arturo Cortes owns a photography studio in Pilsen. He said many of his customers are moving out of the community and there are fewer birthday parties and weddings to photograph.

"It's a transition that we were not expecting," Cortes said.

Ten-thousand residents of Mexican heritage left Pilsen between 2000 and 2010, according to census data obtained by community organizer Nelson Soza of the Pilsen Alliance.

"We see the diminishing amount of affordable housing," Soza said. "So a lot of times people become resigned and sometimes they move away."

But Soza said there is a way to make room for new residents and keep long-time residents. He said the city must create more opportunities and affordable housing for neighbors. That includes urging city leaders to free up TIF funds to purchase abandoned properties for conversion to affordable housing.

"The question is, can we remain to be a working class community 15 minutes from downtown, or is that forbidden if you aren't making the big bucks?" Soza said.

A spokesperson for The Resurrection Project said public resources must be made available to help Pilsen residents. However, the community group said many people who grew up in Pilsen are moving back there.

The 18th Street Development Corporation said it is seeing "positive changes" taking place in Pilsen. The group also said there are a lot of organizations in the community devoted to providing affordable housing.

New residents said the lure of Pilsen is its authenticity.

"It seems like everyone's friends here and have known each other for a long time," Michelle Goins said.

Other business owners said they like the changes.

"It's getting better and stronger," thrift store owner Paul Gizar said. "I think that it's a unique blend of people moving in."

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