Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Pilsen losses another of its children to senseless violence…

Pilsen is the greatest neighborhood in this country bar none, anytime of the year, but the community really comes into its own in the Summer. Pilsen is one of those front porch neighborhoods that were common place in working class communities 40 or 50 years ago, before the proliferation of central air, smaller families and gentrification turned even urban neighborhoods into imitators of their insular suburban cousins. But in Pilsen, were air conditioning is still often a luxury, apartments are still over crowded and the outdoor culture of the zocalo or centro is a still recent memory, life is in the streets in the Summer time. The chatter of families on their front steps spreading family gossip, the giggle of kids playing in a spraying fire hydrant, the tinkling bells of the paleta vendor, the smell of barbecue grills, and the laughter of a bunch of grandmas engaged in a game of cards on their front sidewalk into the wee hours of the morning, all this has given way in most communities to ice cream stores and fast food chains in strip malls and to an atomized existence in front computer screens and flat screen TV sets within artificial cooled fortresses of solitude. One of the greatest pleasures of life in Pilsen is the way the sidewalks, alleyways and streets come alive at this time of year. And If I might hazard stepping over the line and revealing that I remain all to much a flawed male, I can’t help but take extra delight that in the Summer the women of Pilsen, some of the most beautiful in the world, are all the more so in their Summer attire.

Unfortunately, Summer in Pilsen often brings with it a remainder of the persistence of one the neighborhood’s greatest challenges. Gentrification, pollution, poverty, all of these often seem to be intractable problems, but perhaps none is more disheartening than the gang violence that has claimed far to many of our local youth. Sadly this Summer is no exception. Last Saturday (July 25th) my cousin Arian lost a good friend. Jeff Maldonado had just celebrated his 19th birthday on Friday. On Saturday at 2:00 PM in the afternoon, at the neighborhood’s busiest intersection, Blue Island and 18th St., a gunman took Jeff’s life in a case of mistaken identity. Coincidental I was at the intersection only moments later as multiple squad cars converged on the scene.

Jeff was a music and graffiti artist, some of his work graces a few walls in the neighborhood. You can find more details about Jeff and the circumstances of his violent death at the following websites…





Below are pictures of some of Jeff’s enormous network of friends. They are holding a car wash at the corner of Carpenter and Cullerton, a short distant from Jeff’s home and across from Dvorak Park, to raise money for Jeff’s family. As of today they had already raised nearly $2,000. They say that they will continue their fundraiser all week. So if you need your car washed, or even if you don’t, stop by and drop a few bucks in the donation tin.


  1. Pilsen is the greatest neighborhood in the world. Sadly, gang violence is deeply embedded into its structure. I was once part of that violence as a confused, angry, anti-social young man. Back in 1979 I fled to Utah as a fugitive from justice although social justice was a joke for kids like me, victims of sexual abuse by a pedophile at St. Pius priest who abused neighborhood kids either under the radar or to the blind-eye of St. Pius.

    It is easy to became angry and anti-social under those conditions.

    I enjoy returning whenever I can. I do not want return to my home in Utah when I am there. There is an incredible energy in Pilsen that is non-existent here in Utah where I now live.

    But there is an incredible spiritual force here in the desert and also in the deep forests of the mountains.

    I am always deeply saddened when I read about another death in Pilsen from gang violence.

    Somethings never change. We need to change that reality.

  2. This is a perfect example of people being affected by the positive energy and passion of one individual...and how that can upset a whole avalanch of positive reactions...Talk about relativity! This type of energy truely never disapates, it changes...and manifested in what you see here. Thank you for capturing such an excellent period in all our lives.

  3. You missed a story. Cops and the landlord tried to shut the carwash down. Some of the carwashers called Copwatch, which was quickly on the scene and helped deescalate the situation. A neighbor and a Solis staffer helped it get restarted after two hours of police harassment of carwash supporters of all ages, and Copwatchers offered to work to keep the car wash open for an extra two hours the next day to make up for the lost time.

    The offer was happily taken up, so we cleaned cars, trucks, and bikes with the youth the next day. Another cop eventually came and shut it down again, but by then, J-DEF's friends were all about ready to close shop and head to his wake.

  4. Thank you to everyone for your comments. Sorry I have not responded sooner...

    Xicano: Thank you for your comments. Have you ever tried to seek justice for your abuse at St. Pius? I share your fondness for the natural beauty of Utah & the Southwest. I drove through Southern Utah on the way to California in June. I have always loved the Desert Southwest.

    Bayano: Thanks for the update. Is that why you were in the hood the other day? Thanks for you work with Copwatch. We are all going to miss you here in Chicago.

    The whole situation around Jeff's passing is really amazing in how it has revealed once again what a tight knit community Pilsen is. I practical witnessed the incident as I drove up to the intersection as Jeff's killer was being pursued through the alley. But I didn't know what the situation was all about until I found out a couple days later he was a close friend of my cousin. Than the day after that, I went to the Harold Washington Library to do so research on Pilsen history and found out the Librarian that was helping me was a close friend of his father. Almost everyday since I have talked with someone who was close to either Jeff Sr. or Jr. And here at Casa Atzlan they are preparing for an anti-violence march in the neighborhood on Sunday in response to Jeff’s death and other recent incidents in the hood. Jeff's passing reminds us of course of Pilsen's challenges (as does the police harassment of the car washers) but I really think there are very few urban communities in the country that are interconnected in the same way we are here in Pilsen.

  5. rest in paradise JDEFOREVER<3