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The Latino Business Explosion in Pilsen

Liquid Artz

©Robert Valadez

I have noticed an interesting trend in Pilsen in the past few years: New Latino businesses.  Young Latino entrepreneurs are popping up all over 18th Street.  I just bought some paint at Liquid Artz art supply store run by a young man named Sergio Martínez.  Right across the street you have a couple of vintage clothing stores, both Latin owned!

I also know of a few people who are developing their business models with great success. You have Jesse Iñiguez and Miguel Cambray with their No Manches Clothing Co., Marcela Gallo and her Tonantzin Cultural artesenías and book shop, Zorayda Ortiz with her Love Zoils perfumery, Luz Castillo and Derric Clemmons have got their CocoMocha “artwear” company and Sandra Santiago with her Coqueta Jewelry. The list goes on.

Zorayda Ortiz with her Love Zoils

©Pilsen Portal

Pilsen is also home to award winning restaurants. You have The DeColores restaurant, El Mundial, and the May Street Café, all of which have been critically reviewed. The Latino owned Ciao Amore provides excellent Italian cuisine, and Kristoffer’s Café offers up the best Tres leches Cake in town, and let’s not forget the one of the first pioneers in this movement, Eleazar and Sylvia Delgado Lanza with the Café Jumping Bean, which got the ball rolling almost 20 years ago. The list goes on.

Tonantzin Community Arts & Cultural Gallery

On the cultural tip, you have numerous institutions that address our people’s cultural needs, the stuff that feeds the soul.  First and foremost is the National Museum of Mexican Art, an accredited museum that brings artists from Mexico and all over the US. The Museum also launched a youth arts initiative called Yollocalli as well as Radio Arte, which started out as a radio station but is now a multimedia powerhouse .We also have Calles y Sueños arts collective, the Metzli theater and gallery, Casa Michoacán and of course, the padrino of us all, Casa Aztlán Community Center, where I got my start as an artist and muralist.

Pilsen also has a vibrant music scene. Jaime Garza Rodríguez and Lupillo Rock founded Rocotitlán Music Promotions a few years ago. They have organized countless music events here in our community as well as citywide and beyond. The range of musical styles is glorious, from the traditional Son Jarocho and Caribbean sounds of Fandanguero to the high powered Latin Ska of Malfacha.  Add to that the Chicago influenced bands Azul de Noche and Maria Blues and you have a formidable musical mix.

No Manches Clothing Co.

All of this encouraging activity exists within a specific context. It is the rich artistic, creative and cultural environment that Pilsen provides to the entrepreneur that makes our community so attractive. In 2008 the national economy started going south. This halted or tabled many of the plans that the outside developers had to remake our community into something completely different, much as they had done in other areas such as Wicker Park. This afforded us the chance to come in and establish our own vision of where we would like to see our community go in the future.

The Jumping Bean,which got the ball rolling almost 20 years ago

Back in the 90’s many of us that grew up in the Pilsen community were afraid that our beloved neighborhood would fall prey to the north side gentrifiers and realtors; that the community’s unique character would be replaced by faceless, impersonal corporate entities like Starbucks. It hasn’t happened so far. Our best defense against that sort of outcome is deliberate and considered economic development. Let’s do this y’all!


Robert Valadez is a painter and muralist from Pilsen.

Keywords: Business and art in Pilsen, pilsen business, Robert Valadez

Posted in Arts, Opinion

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