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!
Resident and Administrator – Pilsen Neighborhood Facebook Page
The Pilsen Neighborhood Facebook page began in early 2012 and in just three-and-a-half years the page has taken off, becoming the community site celebrating all things Pilsen. With more than 17,000 followers, the page is a platform for community residents eager to chime in on the news of the day.
“Created by the people for the people” has been the motto for the page, said the founder. While the page has its share of fans, it has been embroiled in various heated exchanges with residents and it often courts controversy by commenting on issues of gentrification, CPS schools, gang violence and issues related to 25th Ward Alderman Danny Solis.
The identities of the persons managing the page have remained anonymous. While the community as a whole has never called into question this decision, Pilsen Neighborhood said it has received threats in the past for their postings. So their decision to remain low-key is not surprising. At first they were reluctant to speak to Chicago Voz, but after weeks going back and forth they agreed to be interviewed over the phone for this piece.
From the interview, I was able to determine that the page is managed by a couple of people. The person on the phone was a young woman in her mid-twenties and a life-long Pilsen resident. Since this is the first time Pilsen Neighborhood has opened up to any media outlet, Chicago Voz will post the interview in its entirety.
Chicago Voz: The Pilsen Neighborhood Facebook page is a very popular page in the community. Can you talk about how it began?
Pilsen Neighborhood: I was on Facebook one day and I noticed that there were a bunch of pages about Pilsen and I decided to follow these pages. This was around November of 2011. One of the pages that I was following posted something about gangs. I know gangs were a part of Pilsen, but the way they were talking about gangs it was as if they were proud of it. I felt like people shouldn’t be promoting that. For me personally, I feel that our community is so much more. So I said, “Maybe I need to do something about it.” New Year’s was coming up and I thought, “I might as well do something new.” I didn’t think anything of it. I thought maybe no one would ever know of this page, “I am going to post whatever I like,” and that’s how it started.
CV: What does Pilsen mean to you?
Pilsen to me is my story. It’s a part of who I am. It’s my family. It’s where I grew up and where I feel the most happy. I have been living here all of my life. I feel safe here. I know that sounds weird because we still have gangs here, but it’s true. Every time I travel outside of the community and when I’m heading back, all of a sudden I get happy cause I know I am home.
CV: How would you describe Pilsen to anyone unfamiliar with this Chicago neighborhood?
Pilsen is place where you can feel connected. You know that Pilsen has its own identity. You can’t really feel that in other neighborhoods. Pilsen is a place where you can learn about community. Whether it’s going to a panaderia or seeing a mural, you are going to find something here that you will want to learn more about.
CV: Is the page managed by one person or more people?
Initially it was just managed by me because I was the one that created it. But then I decided that I needed more help. People would send me a lot of messages so I found people that would provide some support. They would say, “Yeah, I can help you.” Right now it’s me and someone else.
CV: Why do you think your page has had an impact on the community?
I don’t know. There is a pride in being from Pilsen. I wanted other people to feel the same way I feel. Let’s share this pride together. Maybe someone else will say, “Yes, I feel that way about our community!” I think that of our followers, I am one of them. I try to be honest on the page. I think about things that I would want to see on the page if I was a fan. What would make me feel connected? I try to post things that people would want to see. You can tell that I love my community.
CV: Maintaining your page active must take a lot of time and work. In a way, you are helping to bring people together through social media. Do you ever feel like you should take credit for the work that you are doing?
I guess it’s obvious I am passionate about Pilsen. When you have something become successful, to me it’s obvious that it’s because you are doing it from the heart. There are times when it gets tough because there are a lot of opinions and I don’t want people to think negatively, but at the same time I am doing this because it makes me happy.
CV: The Pilsen Neighborhood page touches upon on a lot of issues and many of them have been controversial. How do you deal with the controversy.?
I have to remind myself of why I started the page. I have to remind myself about what makes me happy about Pilsen. Once I don’t find joy in what I’m doing then it’s not even worth it for me to continue with this page.
CV: Reading through some of the comments that people post, it looks like the page gets attacked sometimes. How bad has it gotten?
I’ve had my share of threats but I won’t get into that. There have been people getting upset over nothing. I have never posted anything on the page to really hurt anyone in particular. I have been very vocal about Alderman Solis, but who isn’t vocal about the alderman?
I was very vocal when they were closing the field house at Whittier Elementary. In my head I am thinking that we have to defend the people. I am not going to defend the people in power because they are not going to lose the school. I had to do whatever I could so that people could see that we have to do our part. That’s the only thing I can think of when I was targeting someone like the alderman. But it wasn’t intentional, I just didn’t want us to lose the school. Some person thought that I was running against the alderman. They were like, “Who are you working for?” They thought I was hired by someone to attack the alderman. They didn’t think I was a real page. I thought, “Oh, that’s interesting!”
CV: But on the flip side, there are a lot of people that really love what you do. Is there a moment you can talk about when you realized the page was impacting the community?
There is a story but I don’t really remember the guy’s name. Someone contacted me about their neighbor. This guy contacted me saying that his neighbor was going to get kicked out of his apartment. He said he was elderly and he had been living in Pilsen for years. He had just lost his wife to cancer. “This is an emergency,” the neighbor said. “If he doesn’t pay his rent, that’s it! Can you do anything for him?”
I was like, “Have you tried 311?” I thought maybe he should start a GoFundMe page. I wanted to stay anonymous because I was not comfortable and I didn’t know if it was real to begin with. So I told him to go to one of the community organizations and they should be able to help. “I don’t have a computer, I only know Spanish,” the guy said. Apparently the elderly man did go to one of the community organizations but they couldn’t help him.
Finally the guy said, “I am going to do it.” So the neighbor created a GoFundMe account and shared it on the Pilsen Neighborhood page. I think he raised $3,000 and the elderly man was so happy because he was able to pay his rent. He was able to pay a few months of rent and he still lives there. This was because people were able to help. It’s not about me, it’s about the community. I was able to put this out there and people helped. Without them, he wouldn’t have been able to live in the community. The thing is that he wanted to live in Pilsen. The community made that happen through their donations and kindness.
CV: You have been doing this for a few years now. What have you learned about the community through managing this page?
I am surprised that people do love this neighborhood and that they want to help each other. Maybe people think that we don’t talk to each other. But
I have learned that people love the community but they are scared. I sense that people are scared because they don’t want to be displaced and think, “This isn’t the Pilsen I know.” I don’t know if people are dealing with that. I think there is a lot of fear but there is also an opportunity to do a lot.
There have been a lot of changes in Pilsen over the last few years. How has this affected your sense of community?
I feel that it’s easy for people that are new to be like, “This is Pilsen and people are so protective of their culture. People are anti-this.” But I don’t think people are anti, we are just afraid. The new people coming in don’t understand where we are coming from. For example, a lot times people comment on the page saying, “Oh, well this used to be a shit neighborhood.” And it bothers me because they don’t know that we had to fight to have a high school. Stuff like that makes me wonder, do they even know all the good things we did for the community? Do they know all of the work that we have done for the community?
I just feel that the newcomers come in thinking that we don’t care about our neighborhood just because it’s not gang-free, for example. But the truth is that we do care.
CV: How can the Pilsen community come together to address the change?
I feel like there are a lot of organizations that have the capacity and the manpower and staff to create dialogue. I understand that we, residents, should do it, too. But if they are already working with the community and they have the space, then start the dialogue and educate people. “This is what gentrification means. Let’s learn about Pilsen.” I just feel like some organizations are busy with whatever they are doing that I feel they ignore what’s going on. I don’t know if it’s because they don’t want to get in the middle because it’s a hot debate. But hey, the community has done so much for you guys, why not start a debate? Be a leader as well. People from these organizations can help balance it out. They can be the mediator.
CV: I am curious, why did you decide to do this interview with Chicago Voz?
I don’t want people to think that I have something to hide. People may want to know a little more about the person behind the page. I don’t want people to think that I don’t care about the community, because I do.
CV: You agreed to this interview with Chicago Voz on the condition that you remain anonymous. Why?
Just because I don’t want the page to be about me. I want it to be about Pilsen. What makes the page special is the neighborhood. I would rather keep it like that.
CV: To those who don’t know about Pilsen, this neighborhood and this community, what do you want them to know?
I want them to know that we really do love our neighborhood. It makes us happy. We are a close-knit community. We have lost a few valuable people in our community and you can feel it. People feel it when we lose someone. But I don’t think the new people who move in understand that the death of one person affects the entire community. This community is so connected. We are all aware that it’s all a thread. That’s why when we see new people come in we think, “Oh no, that thread is going to be broken.”
That’s why I hope the new people that come in can look for a way to be a part of that thread. They don’t have to cut it, but I hope they think, “How can I connect to it? How can I be a part of this community and a part of Pilsen?
Interview by Luiz Magaña
Photo by Luiz Magaña