18 on 18th Street: Linda Lutton

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!


Journalist – WBEZ Chicago Public Radio

Linda Lutton is Pilsen’s most recognized journalist. She lives in the colorful house on Cullerton & Wolcott and consistently reports on education issues for WBEZ Chicago Public Radio.

Very young she knew she wanted to work in Chicago instead of her native Minneapolis-St. Paul, so in the early 90’s she went to Guatemala to learn Spanish. She was intrigued to arrive at a refugee camp during the massive return of Guatemalans who had been in exile in Mexico and were now reclaiming their lands. For a year she lived with no electricity, little running water, and public latrines.

In 1994 Lutton arrived to Pilsen. “I was looking to locate in Chicago, and I wanted to live somewhere that transitioned me back culturally and economically to the U.S., and I found Pilsen was a good place to do that,” she said.

When she first moved to the east side of Pilsen, a professor from the Art Institute advised her against going “west of the tracks.” But shortly after, she married the muralist Hector Duarte and they are still raising their three children in the heart of the neighborhood.

Linda Lutton Hector Duarte house

As an education reporter, Lutton covers the Chicago Public Schools. She points out that with the charter school sector expanding within CPS, the rest of the system must find ways to contract.

In Latino neighborhoods, charter schools are generally welcomed by parents because they “look a lot like Catholic schools or Mexican schools.” They’re very interested in discipline, presentation and order, Lutton said, which interestingly contrasts with the education of the rich, which is “more creative, no uniforms, it’s about curiosity and kids expressing themselves.”

With more charters, Lutton thinks Chicago will see more public school closures ahead, and they may happen in neighborhoods with shifting populations like Pilsen.

She has written about gentrification and how different groups manage to co-exist (or not) in the same space. There are many businesses on 18th Street that she doesn’t recognize anymore, for example, and that’s because gentrification is more than high rents. “It’s also people’s sense of belonging,” she said. “And if all the businesses that open are very clearly not catering to my family anymore–my grocery store is gone, my taqueria is gone, my friends are gone, my kid’s school is shrinking–that factors into people’s decision to stay or go.”

Lutton says that cities everywhere have to ask themselves larger questions: What kind of communities do we want to have? Are wealthy people going to occupy the central cities and are poorer people going to be pushed to the suburbs?

Part of what makes Pilsen beautiful are the people’s fight. “Everywhere in the neighborhood are examples of where regular working-class people pulled together to collectively build the institutions they needed and didn’t wait for the city to bestow upon them,” Lutton said. “From Benito Juarez High School to Alivio Medical Center to the National Museum of Mexican Art to The Resurrection Project. It’s an incredibly inspiring place to live.”

Interview by Jackie Serrato and Paolo Cisneros
Photos by Jackie Serrato

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