04 August 2014

Signs of Old Age: Grey chest hairs and rants about white people

Last week, my mother sent me an article from Springfield's State Journal Register about "New life" in Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood. (The Tribune ran the same article with a less condescending headline.) Like a former English teacher grading a student's essay that I knew was not going to follow the rubric, I marked the article up with insolent comments and sent it back to my mother.

I work in Little Village, the neighborhood that borders Pilsen to the west. Ninety percent of its residents are Mexican, too. While its claim to fame is that 26th Street, its own "commercial epicenter," is second only to Michigan Avenue in generating sales tax revenue for the City of Chicago, it remains one of Pilsen's little step sisters.

My beef (or should I say my carne asada) with the article, whose author is an arrogantly self-disclosed North Sider, is that it credits the 2013 opening of a trendy restaurant and its basement bar with making the concrete Pilsen neighborhood uncharacteristically resplendent. Much like new Starbuckses used to do, no doubt. The author seems relieved that a restaurant in Pilsen has finally replaced the omnipresent 32-ounce jars of pickled carrots and cauliflower with roasted chicken bits from an organic farm in Michigan and that white guys with bushy beards are drinking craft cocktails in what looks like the wood-paneled basement of a thousand homes in Springfield.

Call me old and crotchety, but my real beef is that, more and more, we, like the author, rush in to re-create what we are accustomed to and comfortable with rather than sit back and take the time to learn about the unknown and unfamiliar. Nuevo Leon serves a uniquely Pilsen breakfast in Spanish with politicians, businessmen, caballeros, and families. During summer evenings, Harrison Park referees serious soccer games, while during the dark nights of Advent, 18th Street guides Las Posadas in their quests for shelter from the cold. The murals, which are residents, too, sell red and green tamales with unrebukable elderly women and mango and coconut ice cream with sketchy paleteros. This is the life of Pilsen. It doesn't exist - it shouldn't exist - on the North Side.