It is a sunny day when I rent a bike near the waterfront of Chicago, and I decide not to take the fastest route to my destination of the day, but ride along the coast on the bike track, which turns out to be a good decision. Cycling from the waterfront to the west on 18th Street is great, too: the views of the Chicago skyline are great, especially from the bridges I cross. I know I am getting near my goal when I see the first murals on walls on the streets. I lock my bike near the metro station at Paulina Street, and start walking around. St Vitus church has a long row of murals around its base, depicting religious scenes, but also with Mexican motifs. Around the corner, there is a wall with brightly coloured Mexican animals seemingly chasing each other.
A little further on, around the Cooper Dual Language Academy, I find more Mexican murals, with historic Mexican scenes like Aztec temples, at the parking lot. Walking past the St Vitus church again, I come across more murals behind a kids playground, with a train depicted on the work of art. I am now happy with my bike (I considered taking the metro here): I can take my bike and explore the neighbourhood more easily, in search of more street art. I ride down small streets to reach Ashland Avenue, where I find some huge murals on buildings, houses, and over parking lots. Some cover much of a block of houses. Some depict daily scenes, others have a religious character. I get the strange sensation that I am the only visitor in a giant open air museum, where all other people are using the streets to get somewhere else. No one seems to be paying attention to the enormous figures painted on the walls. Then again - they must be used to them. When I take a picture of a mural depicting an old Mexican lady with the Stars and Stripes wrapped around her head, a passer-by grins at me.
Apart from the murals, the neighbourhood has a distinctly Mexican feel because of the restaurants and signs in Spanish. Originally started by German and Czech immigrants at the end of the 19th century, naming the neighbourhood after Czech city of Plzen, Mexicans gradually took over after the 1960s, and latinos are still the majority, even though it has now become a hip area for people of any descent. When I start my way back to the waterfront, I spot several smaller murals on both sides of the street, and stop frequently to see them from up close. There are more murals with Aztec themes: pyramids and gods, while there are also doors with voluptuous women with sombreros painted or murals with a political message. It is only when I see the skyline of Chicago again that I remember I am many hundreds of miles north of Mexico.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Pilsen Murals (United States). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Pilsen Murals. Read more about this site.