Dispelling the Hispanic Chicago Pilsen Myth: We're - GASP! - Everywhere

Pilsen has its charms and all, but I've never lived there, gone to school there or spent much time there, like the overwhelming majority of the approximately 800,000 Chicago Latinos.
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At approximately noon Monday I got so angry I sent out this Tweet:

"Note to the world: as lovely as it is, ALL of Chicago's Hispanics DO NOT live in Pilsen!"

Not five minutes after that, my Blackberry started going crazy -- my Tweet had hit a nerve.

Let me back up a minute, though -- without naming names or unnecessarily embarrassing anyone -- this is what happened: I got a call from a magazine photographer who wanted to take a picture of me to accompany an upcoming article.

I gave my office location -- in Chicago's Loop -- and was asked about my home address. Dissatisfied with my answer, the photographer just flat-out asked me if I could travel to Pilsen so I could take a picture in a place this person perceived as a more proper setting for a Hispanic.

Summoning every bit of my self-control, I politely -- for about the five-thousandth time in my young life -- explained how wrong, wrong, wrong that is!!!

Now stop right there for a moment, don't you get me wrong: nothing wrong with Pilsen, per se. It's a fine, storied place where school buses of white suburban children are taken by their well-meaning Caucasian Spanish teachers on field trips to see the real-live "Lah-tee-nose" making tortillas and selling pinatas.

Pilsen has its charms and all (I have an excellent curandera whose botanica is on Cermak Road), but I've never lived there, gone to school there or spent much time there, like the overwhelming majority of the approximately 800,000 Chicago Latinos who call the city limits home, or the other million or so Chicago metro region Hispanics!

Yet, I cannot tell you how many non-Hispanics have assumed I was from Pilsen (nor yet Wrigleyville, back before it was Yuppie Town) or otherwise refer to Pilsen as the be-all and end-all heart of the Latino community in Chicago. I think not!

I certainly spent way more time in Little Village, and others said the same about Humboldt Park and Albany Park. This post from "memo-92" on city-data.com pegged it concisely:

"The days of Pilsen being the Mexican neighborhood in the city are long gone. 26th street eclipsed 18th street 30 years ago, and you will find countless 'Little Mexicos' scattered all over the metro area, including far-flung suburbs like Elgin and Aurora.

Pilsen remains important as a cultural center and for historic reasons, but at this point it is more attractive to immigrants from the suburbs and UIC [students] -- who tend see it as cool, funky, cheap, and close by -- than it is to immigrants from Mexico, who tend to see it as not all that cheap, crowded and dirty."

Turning back to my nerve-hitting Tweet, I immediately got messages from my Facebook pals:

Gabriel Garcia commented: "I live in Lincoln Park!"

Veronica Arreola commented: "West Rogers Park representing!"

Charles A Serrano commented: "They also live in one of the four sections of Humboldt Park... And a few in South Chicago -- duh!"

Ed Mlakar commented: "some live in Brighton Park"

Gerardo Cardenas commented: "And don't forget the Oak Park Latinos ... the few... the proud..."

David Diego Rodriguez commented: "I'm in Beverly. And a lot of them live in Mt. Greenwood."

Roberto Sepulveda commented: "This reminds me of when my sister was asked to share her experiences of the 'barrio.' Her high school English teacher assumed [this]. We lived in Berkeley, IL at the time."

Ricardo Serrano commented: "Like it or not, we also live in condos Downtown! (you don't have to be Oprah or Gates to afford one) Latinos can own one too :)"

Perhaps the one I liked best, courtesy of Veronica Tapia, says it all:

"Batavia, Lincoln Park, Bucktown, the Gold Coast... we are everywhere, aren't we??? lol!"

Yes we are -- and don't any of you non-Hispanic readers forget it :)

Esther J. Cepeda is an opinion journalist and expert on the issues of U.S. Hispanics/Latinos. She writes about that, and much, much more on www.600words.com

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