Welcome to Chicago Voz’ inaugural 18 on 18th Street, an annual series that profiles 18 people from the Pilsen community. This series will feature residents, leaders, artists and small business owners who have contributed their time and skill toward the betterment of Pilsen. Various names were nominated and voted on by our editorial board and they will be released throughout the month.
While there are many influential Pilsen individuals to choose from, one criteria was to highlight people who are not media regulars. Chicago Voz will profile those who have not received proper media recognition for their work, but are nevertheless the unsung heroes of our community. Congratulations to Pilsen’s 18 on 18th Street!
Chief Curator and Visual Arts Director – National Museum of Mexican Art
It was the late 1980’s when Cesareo Moreno was an undergraduate student at Loyola University and got word that people were starting a Mexican museum in Pilsen. A couple of years later he was asked to construct an ofrenda for a Day of the Dead exhibition and he remained involved in the museum ever since.
In his role as the Visual Arts Director at the National Museum of Mexican Art, he concerns himself mostly with logistics. But as Chief Curator, he’s responsible for putting together compelling art exhibits and being the “caretaker of culture.”
With a Master’s from the Art Institute of Chicago, Moreno collaborates regularly with local, national and international artists to showcase the diverse cultural history of Mexico and its diaspora across the United States, especially the Midwest.
Originally from the North Side of Chicago, as a kid he would come to Pilsen and Little Village to buy groceries and specialty items. “Up north they didn’t have no tamales, no tortillas, no nada,” he remembers. To throw a family party, it required a trip south. “It’s another world now. The mexicano community has developed incredibly since my youth.”
The biggest differences he’s seen in his artistic surroundings are the inclusion of women, LGBT and other marginalized groups within the Latino community. And the museum has doubled in size.
As Mexicans become the largest group in this city, he believes the community will not be defined by geography. “In the beginning it was important to have a parish or a ward, but as we grow in experience, politically and economically, we will expand and it will take breaking out of Pilsen and Little Village,” he said.
Moreno says that gentrification is not unique to Chicago and, in fact, it has transformed many neighborhoods from New York to Los Angeles. That’s because artists tend to seek vibrant communities and cheap rents, which in turn attract developers and more privileged crowds.
He doesn’t like that immigrant families are being pushed out, but whereas in the 70’s and 80’s it wasn’t discussed, “People in Pilsen are talking about gentrification. They’re not afraid to say the word,” Moreno said. “They understand what it means, and they understand that there’s an exclusionary idea behind it.”
We may have to share the neighborhood with other people, but that’s not necessarily the demise of the Mexican community, he said.
What this means for the museum: “The museum will stay here, the museum will stay in Pilsen. Pilsen will always be a fundamental important neighborhood to the mexicano community, whether it is in numbers or in our history.”
Interview by Jackie Serrato and Paolo Cisneros
Photos by Jackie Serrato and Paolo Cisneros