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Table of Contents > Chapter 7

Lower West Side (continued)

In the past few years much controversy has surrounded the area's public schools. The Mexican community on the Lower West Side scored a major victory in 1977 when the Benito Juarez High School opened at 2150 S. Laflin (See Fig. 1). Designed by Mexican architect Pedro Ramirez Vazquez, this new high school symbolizes the emerging political power of the Mexican community. Mexican families have successfully fought the Chicago Board of Education's attempts to bus their children outside the neighborhood to underutilized schools. At a time when the city's public school population is declining, grammar schools on the Lower West Side remain at peak capacity, with mobile units used to handle the overflow. In the Little Village neighborhood, for example, several new schools have been constructed, among them the Gerald Delgado Kanoon Magnet School at 2233 S. Kedzie. So great is the number of young children in the area that in 1983, Harrison High School at 2850 West 24th Boulevard was converted into a grammar school, and renamed Maria Saucedo.

A recent study of Chicago's Latino communities funded by Northwestern University's Center for Urban Affairs concluded that Pilsen has the highest density of any Hispanic community in Chicago. As one of the poorest areas of the city, it includes its share of dilapidated housing. Aside from the problems of economic survival, hundreds of Pilsen residents are classified as "undocumented," persons who lack proper naturalization papers. The roundup of undocumented workers by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) is a familiar and dreaded event in the neighborhood. Many Mexican workers who are sent back to their native land return once again to the Lower West Side where they are willing to work at Jobs for low wages. Despite the problems of poverty, language, poor housing, and gangs, Pilsen provides hope for thousands of Mexicans in Chicago.

The annual Fiesta del Sol is one of many celebrations in Pilsen which reminds Mexican families of their cultural heritage. Every August since 1973, the Pilsen Neighbors Community Council has sponsored the event which includes live entertainment, music, carnival rides, refreshments, and crafts. This celebration of "hope and achievement" takes place along Blue Island Avenue from 18th to 21st Streets, once the heart of the Bohemian shopping district.

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Figure 1: Benito Juarez High School, 2150 S. Laflin, 1985. 

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