Chicago – This city's Pilsen neighborhood nowadays has a marked Mexican flavor, but during most of the 150 years of its existence six different immigrant groups have dwelt there, according to a new history.
"Chicago's Pilsen Neighborhood," by Peter N. Pero, contains more than 200 photographs.
The 59-year-old Pero is a historian who specializes in urban studies and he has written about several neighborhoods in Tokyo, Venice, Buenos Aires and Cuernavaca, Mexico.
During the past 10 years, the author has also taught history at Chicago's Benito Juarez High School, where his interest in Pilsen was awakened.
"Every day, I passed through this neighborhood and passed by these monuments, some of them in other languages like Slovak, Czech and Croatian," Pero said in an interview with Efe.
He decided to investigate the neighborhood more thoroughly, saying that "I saw all this on my way to work and all this became a whole book."
Over the two years that his research took, two things emerged about the neighborhood, in particular.
"First, it's a very small neighborhood, barely half a mile wide by a mile long, it's not very large in terms of living space, but for that reason Pilsen historically has been a vertical (zone) with three-story buildings, many apartments and row of houses," Pero said.
"And second, it's (experienced) what I call succession, the arrival of one group after another, and I found that six ethnic groups have passed through here in the last 150 years, they've come to live here when the (previous) group was getting ready to leave," he added.
The immigrants always arrived seeking work at "ports of entry" like Pilsen, also known as Chicago's "Ellis Island."
German, Croatian, Lithuanian, Polish, Czech, Slovak and Mexican immigrants have left their mark on the architecture, churches and businesses in the neighborhood.
Although currently Pilsen is still markedly Mexican and Hispanic, this is changing due to the daily influx of young affluent whites seeking to experience the neighborhood's colorful environment.
"It's changing a good bit," said Pero. "Some people call it gentrification when young professionals arrive, not to work, but rather for the comforts, the color and atmosphere of living in a community that has traditionally been a port of entry."
Perhaps it's "inevitable," the author said, that Pilsen's Mexicans and Hispanics one day will find themselves forced to leave their neighborhood, which they call "La 18" instead of Pilsen, based on the name of the Czech city of Plzen.
"But Pilsen also has a characteristic of being very political and organized, it's a courageous neighborhood that resists the changes that don't benefit it and are not good for the majority of its people," said the author. "What I predict is that the gentrification could win in the end, but the people of Pilsen will hold it up and delay it a little."
One of the author's favorite locations is the Jumping Bean Cafe, a business owned by Mexican Eleazar Delgado.
During his research, Pero got to know the grandson of Czech immigrant Francis D. Nemecek, who built the building housing the restaurant in 1907 in a baroque style reminiscent of Prague.