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.