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Bohemian Rhapsody in the ‘Spiritual Home of Mexico.’

Written by: Sean Froelich

Photography by: Jessica Van Fleteren

Latin parades of colors and smells entice the senses during a stroll down 18th street. Sombrero wearing seniors march down the avenues pushing and pulling colorful carts loaded with hanging churros and spiced fruits. The dinging of food carts and the beats of Mariachi music guide guests towards sustenance and good times in the parks, on the basketball courts and towards the restaurantes. Stop in at the dozens of Taquerias where burritos and cow tongues are simmering on plates of rice and refried beans with queso blanco. After a nice meal, feel free to stop in at the

National Museum of Mexican Art to view the largest collection of Mexican artwork in the United States, free of charge.

This has been the state of Pilsen, a largely Mexi-can-American neighborhood, for the past fifty years. In the past decade, Pilsen is seeing changes that are both modern and classic. The neighborhood is just one example of the gentrifi-cation that has swept across low income neigh-borhoods across the United States from Brooklyn to Oakland. The gentrification of Pilsen is occur-ring at a rapid rate, largely unnoticed, raising con-cerns for low income residents and the presence of Mexican culture in the neighborhood which many are working to preserve

The owner and Founder of the Mexican Museum of Art, Carlos Tortolero, believes one of the main efforts of his museum is to “conserve and pre-serve his culture”. But is this preservation at risk due to gentrification? While low income families are feeling the stress of steeper housing costs, artists and students, mostly white, are finding a comfortable, affordable environment to inhabit in low-cost neighborhoods. Pilsen may be moving closer to a hybrid neighborhood rather than a neighborhood with a specific culture. While Pilsen has a reputation as a Latin neighborhood, the his-tory of Pilsen runs much deeper than the 1960’s Mexican movement. Pilsen is named after the city of Plzen, one of the largest in the Czech Republic, where the original Pilsner beer was brewed. The

drink is most commonly seen on American store shelves today as Budweiser. These Bohemian roots are starting to spring up again in Pilsen, but it also fragments the current Latin culture that is planted.

One of the most poignant examples of gentrifica-tion in Pilsen can be seen at Dusek’s and Punch House, situated inside Thalia Hall at 1807 S Allport St. A dig into history shows that the re-vival of the Bohemian established location may be closer what Pilsen once was than what its’ be-come.

Dusek’s restaurant currently stands out like a frankfurter served on a corn tortilla. Dusek’s re-placed an Italian gelato café that died among the overwhelming Mexican presence surrounding it. But it does not appear that Dusek’s and Punch House will succumb to failure as easily. Walking past the wide glass walls and golden lettering that reads, “Dusek’s, reestablished 2013” dozens of patrons can be seen sipping on selected brews, smoking cigarettes near a bike stand, or enjoying the company of a lover over candle light and Couscous.

The Dusek’s and Punch House experience is a far cry from what Pilsen generally offers and at a cost much more expensive than your average taco pollo. The success of a more upscale and hip restaurant in Pilsen is a clear sign of gentrification in the neighborhood.

Thalia Hall is the historic monument that presently houses Dusek’s. The name comes from the founder of the location, John Dusek, who oversaw the completion of Thalia Hall in

1893, offering a place for Czech immigrants to get the feeling that they weren’t far from Prague.

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