At a meeting held by Pilsen Alliance at La Catrina Cafe last Wednesday, residents from the neighborhood reflected on erasure of the murals at the location formerly known as Casa Aztlán and on the future of Pilsen, in the face of gentrification.
During the week prior to the meeting, a contractor hired by the developer Andrew Ahitow painted over the vibrant murals that covered the facade of 1831 S. Racine where Casa Aztlán was housed. A couple of days later, a vigil was held in front of the building, where residents, current and former, reflected on the historical importance of the space for the activism, resilience, culture and vibrancy of the Mexican, Chicanx and Latinx communities of Pilsen; on the realities of displacement and evictions in the neighborhood; and on the need for a new community center and housing that is affordable. Reflections ranged from stories, to songs, to prayers. The building was written on with chalk, and later with with spray paint, as expressions of the frustration and resistance being felt in the community.
In light of the backlash, the developer has claimed that the murals will be re-created, but during the meeting at La Catrina Cafe and in other gathering spaces, it has been largely agreed upon that the real harm was the complete lack of regard for the experiences, history, needs and livelihoods of the people living in Pilsen. This is especially the case for those who made the neighborhood a home for their families and cultures years ago, in spite of intense circumtances like housing and other kinds of discrimination and the need to immigrate to a foreign country. The symbolic weight of erasing the murals, which celebrate those cultures and histories, was overwhelming.
Pilsen Alliance and neighborhood residents will be holding a press conference today at 12:00pm CST in front of the site formerly of Casa Aztlán, as a follow-up to their meeting with the developer and to make announcements regarding plans to address gentrification and developer accountability in the neighborhood. It will be livestreamed via the Pilsen Alliance on Facebook.
For more context, please read the following press release from Pilsen Alliance, written by Ilene Palacios of Gozamos and community activists from Pilsen Alliance and ChiResists.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
PILSEN COMMUNITY MEMBERS MEET WITH DEVELOPERS TO DEMAND ACCOUNTABILITY, CULTURAL PRESERVATION
Monday press conference to detail community needs after the loss of Casa Aztlán’s iconic mural
PILSEN, July 10, 2017 – Pilsen Alliance and several community members will meet with Andrew Ahitow on Monday to discuss ways to engage with and be accountable to the Pilsen community moving forward.
The meeting comes just three weeks after Ahitow’s contractors used bland, gray paint to cover the historic murals that adorned the outer walls of what was Casa Aztlán in preparation of the building’s conversion to luxury housing. This change of the former community center occurs in the context of and contributes to the displacement and evictions of long-time residents and businesses who cannot afford increasing rents.
The mural had been a colorful and clear invitation into a necessary space where the identities and experiences of Mexican and other Spanish-speaking and Latinx peoples would be understood and valued, a space that throughout its existence had housed adult and art education classes; contained a much-needed health clinic and other social services; and was a gathering place for the Brown Berets and other community activists and leaders who fought for everything from racial discrimination to immigrant rights to labor protections. It is with good reason that María Gamboa called Casa Aztlán, “the center, the Mecca of the Chicano Movement in Chicago,” in the book Chicanas of 18th Street.
The now-erased murals, which were created in 1971–principally by Marcos Raya, Ray Patlán and others–depicted heroes and icons of Mexican and Chicanx culture and history, and were a constant reminder of the beauty and resilience of our ancestors and communities.
“That murals depicting our history can be so thoughtlessly washed away is symbolic of the complete lack of consideration given to our communities by developers of luxury real estate and others who value profit above all else,” said Magda Ramirez Castaneda, Pilsen Alliance Board President
A petition to protect the murals of Pilsen and La Villita (Little Village) has gathered over 2,000 signatures because residents of these communities recognize the symbolic importance of these works of public art that affirm and celebrate them. It has been reported that of the 100+ murals that have existed throughout Pilsen, only 30 or so still exist today, and over the past decade the neighborhood has seen the departure and displacement of over 10,000 Latinxs.
Community demands of Andrew Ahitow, are as follows:
- Make the new development at least 60% low-income housing. We use the description “low-income” intentionally because the description “affordable housing” is no longer a relevant and realistic standard, especially when a neighborhood is experiencing increased displacement of residents by skyrocketing rents, evictions (oftentimes that which are illegal) and an influx of luxury housing and business that skew cost of housing.
- Utilize its resources to donate a functional building that will be for a community center for Pilsen, a Casa Aztlán of the 21st century.
- The public art that has been painted over can never be re-created, as what has been done can never be undone. We ask that the developer work with residents of Pilsen on a plan to re-create a re-imagining of the Casa Aztlán murals, on site or at another location in Pilsen, to be determined
- Work with residents in its petition to protect the murals of Pilsen and Little Village.
We expect an empathetic and thorough reflection on our words and demands and hope that Andrew Ahitow and all companies and individuals who seek to do business in Pilsen will begin to do in a manner with a new awareness of their obligations to the needs of people in this community. Pilsen is not for sale, Pilsen no se vende!
Press conference to report on meeting with developer and to make further announcements about initiatives the Pilsen Alliance and friends are working on in the ongoing fight against gentrification of Pilsen and other communities of color in Chicago.
WHEN: 12 pm. Monday, July 10th 2017
WHERE: In front of what was formerly Casa Aztlán (1831 S. Racine Ave., Chicago)
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