Up next in our series of interviews with notable, in-the-know locals: Esmirna Garcia, CEO of Pilsen Fest. The event kicks off Friday at the National Museum of Mexican Art with Pilsen Family Encounter, an archival exhibition highlighting the intersection of Pilsen’s Bohemian and Latino communities.
Explain the premise of the Pilsen Family Encounter project. How did it come about?
It’s been over two years in the making, in collaboration with Cicero’s T. G. Masaryk Czech School. We wanted to highlight the historical relevance of the different immigrant communities that have traveled through Pilsen. That includes the Latino and Mexican communities as well as the Bohemian and Czech community.
How does the project link those two communities?
We’re trying to bridge the gaps between Pilsen’s past, present, and future. For this event, we’re putting together a blend of historical pictures and stories, comedy, and music—all to highlight what Pilsen looks like now and what it’s looked like throughout the years.
A large part of the exhibition is photos gathered from people in the community. How did you get a hold of those?
We’re working with the Czech community to gather some of the images for us, but we’re also pretty active within our neighborhood. We know which members of the community have tenure here and request images from them. We sought out pieces from every corner of the neighborhood.
Most people know Pilsen for its Czech name, or for the murals reflecting its Latino culture. How else have those two communities affected the neighborhood?
The architecture in Pilsen is very indicative of its Bohemian past. You’ll see it within some of the landmarks of the city, like Thalia Hall.
Pilsen is at the center of Chicago’s gentrification debate. Is this project a response to that?
Mostly, we’re trying to open up a dialogue. This exhibition is a great way to do that, because we’re not just giving an opinion—we’re giving historical context. We hope visual art and photography can lead to a more positive conversation about gentrification—one we can have even through our differences. We believe change is important for growth, but it’s important to consider our past when making decisions about the future.