“Oye, ¿Me puedes decir dónde están los murales aquí de Pilsen? I asked the waiter as I left one of the typical Mexican restaurants on 18th street. Although I had already found many paintings on some side streets of the neighborhood, it was the hunch that I had missed some that made me pocket my phone and go free-style, using what I shall call Mexican Google: simply asking locals for information, the old-fashioned way.
The waiter told me to check the train tracks just a few blocks north of 18th before he smiled from under a shiny curl of black hair and whisked away his tray back to the kitchen. Outside the restaurant, a short and spriteful older woman saw my lost face through her large lenses like the round disks of magnifying glasses. A crossing-guard, she quickly hustled children across the street like a mother hen to point me in another direction, a few blocks south of 18th.
That was four years ago after having just arrived in Chicago from a visit to family in México. Since then, I have always tried to make it to Pilsen upon every visit to my hometown, collecting the latest from the vibrant neighborhood, the most colorful island in the sea of grey in Chicago’s Lower West Side. Everytime I go to Pilsen I cannot help but remember the tense political debates that hovered around the asinine plans to construct a wall to separate two countries. Walking around Pilsen made it all the more apparent that such a wall would never separate much—much less culture—which made the encounter with the mural “The world is changed by your example, not by your opinion” even more poignant.
Besides —as the Vedic wisdom goes—the total space created within walls is no more nor less than before their existence, which can easily be proven by removing them, whereby no more or less space in this world is created. Thus, walls do not separate space; they exist in space, and therefore separate nothing.
So you might as well paint them.
Guides to Pilsen, Chicago:
Although Pilsen might be the Chicago urban art scene’s most coveted neighborhood, it is hardly the only place to find street painting throughout the city: