Chicago Tonight in Your Neighborhood: Resurrection in Pilsen | Chicago News

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Pilsen, a largely Mexican community just southwest of Chicago’s Loop, comes together to celebrate Día de los Muertos, an important day across Latin America.

Día de Los Muertos may seem sad one day, but it’s quite the opposite. It is a celebration of people’s lives. It is a time when people come together to remember their loved ones. It is a celebration of death and life filled with colorful traditions.

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A resident of Pilsen took charge of creating a large altar to honor those who died in the community.

“You want to be remembered, not forgotten,” Hernandez said. “Just because someone died doesn’t mean they’re gone forever, so realize it. That death is part of life.

The tribute is filled with favorite items and foods of those who have passed away and is a tradition that marks the start of a two-day celebration seen on November 1 and 2.

The altars, also called “ofrendas” in Spanish, are decorated with sugar skulls, marigold flowers, and sweet bread – all meant to guide spirits to the altar to be greeted by loved ones.

The National Museum of Mexican Art celebrated through a Day of the Dead exhibition from September 12 to December 12.

Cesáreo Moreno, director of visual arts and chief curator of the National Museum of Mexican Art, believes the United States is embracing this tradition like never before.

“It’s now so marketable whether it’s Walmart or Target,” Moreno said. “You name it … The apprehension of the United States is now on the wane.”

He hopes people will come away with a true understanding of the Day of the Dead.

“Unlike Halloween, which is a lot of fun, the Day of the Dead is a celebration of life, a very spiritual time. It’s a time to remember and it’s a time to heal and it’s a time to do. mourning, “said Moreno.” It’s a celebration of Mexico that includes the bittersweet moments of being human, of letting go, but of remembering with nostalgia the times we had together. “

Video: Watch our full interview with Cesareo Moreno


Julio Cesar Velasquez, the owner of Escaramuza USA in Pilsen, owns hundreds of Mexican arts and crafts from all over Mexico. It is a one-stop-shop for finding items for Day of the Dead celebrations.

“These are a few of my favorites because we set them up on a table while waiting for the kids,” Velasquez said of the sugar skulls. “Whoever passes for a small child, you offer him one of these. It is significant for me … also the marigold flower which has a particular smell that we do not forget. It really helps you remember the holidays.

Velasquez took over this store five years ago and says he’s taken what he learned from his late father and brother to keep his culture and traditions alive as the neighborhood changes.

“When someone has never celebrated the Day of the Dead and asks me about it, I take great pride in being able to transform my culture and teach them who I am and what the store stands for. It’s not just the product that we sell, but the culture, ”said Velasquez.

Just two shops away, Artemio Casas, baker and manager of Panaderia Nuevo Leon, has baked special bread for the holidays.

“We start baking the bread in early October when people start asking for it,” Casas said.

The bakery has been a staple in the Pilsen community for 49 years and annually makes over 3,000 pieces of Day of the Dead bread.

Casas starts by measuring all of his ingredients to prepare to mix them all together. “It fascinates me because it’s a special bread and we do it once a year. For me it’s really beautiful, ”said Casas.

Once the dough is ready, he begins to mold it into different sizes. “Many use the small size symbolizing small children and the larger size for adults,” Casas said.

He puts the bread to cool for two hours in a refrigerator, then it’s ready to decorate with colored sugar and bake for about 45 minutes.

He says that this year they had to cut bread production in half due to a lack of workers. Despite the hurdles, Casas says it makes him happy to see customers coming in who are eager to participate in the vacation.

In addition to facing a labor shortage, like many other Chicago neighborhoods, Pilsen continues to struggle with gentrification and displacement. Guacolda Reyes, The resurrection project director of real estate development, says the fight began 31 years ago.

“We are resilient,” Reyes said of the Pilsen community. “I can say that the fight is stronger and we are working very closely with our community, with our residents, but also with the alderman. We share the vision of developing 1,000 new affordable rental housing units for the community of Pilsen.

Construction on their newest affordable housing development, Casa Durango at 1850 Racine, began earlier this week. Residents are expected to be able to move in by fall 2022.

According to Reyes, there will be a total of 53 affordable units in 37 apartments with 1, 2 and 3 bedroom units.

“Rents are going to be affordable for families earning up to 30% EMI, 50% EMI and the highest rent will be 60% EMI,” Reyes added.

Video: Watch our full interview with Guacolda Reyes


Father Adan Sandoval has been preparing for months to host a two-day Day of the Dead event where people can decorate fake graves outside of Saint-Procope Catholic Church.

“For our community, they may not have the chance to celebrate it in the past year due to COVID or some parishioners have relatives in Mexico or Central America, so for them to have a little space where they get together as a family to decorate and celebrate in a grave is a wonderful thing, ”said Sandoval.

This is the second year that the Saint-Procope Catholic Church has transformed its outdoor space into a cemetery. Locals are given a place to honor their loved ones and remember them with the community.

“It’s a time of prayer,” Sandoval said. “You see people laughing and crying and coming together. I see it as a spiritual experience.

With hundreds of Chicagoans lost to the coronavirus, Sandoval says this year’s festivities are different.

“I believe that life has changed and so has death,” said Sandoval. “We’ve all experienced death so close to us last year, so celebrating death this year brings a different tone.”

The free event will take place outside St Procope Catholic Church on Saturday and Sunday from 12pm to 9pm. There will be food, activities, and even an Aztec-inspired show.

Also this weekend, the National Museum of Mexican Art will host a Día de los Muertos Xicágo Festival from 3 p.m. on Saturday. Guests can build altars, enjoy live musical performances, artistic activities and a large illuminated ofrenda projected outside the museum.


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“Chicago Tonight” Expands Community Reporting. We take to the streets to speak with your neighbors, local businesses, agencies and leaders about COVID-19, the economy, racial justice, education and more. Find out where we’ve been and what we’ve learned using the map below. Or select a community using the drop-down menu. Points in Red represent our COVID-19 Across Chicago series; blue marks our “Chicago Tonight” series in Your Neighborhood.



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