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A Mexican Neighborhood Was On The Verge Of Being Gentrified Until Selena Saved The Day

Latinos from all over town in are stopping by a family-owned carniceria in Chicago’s historically Mexican neighborhood, Pilsen, and it’s for more than just tacos. A new series of murals, all featuring Tejana musical icon Selena have been erected as a joint collaboration by three Latinx who wanted to beautify and drive business to the area and have since called the street La Calle Selena.

“In Latin America, you have streets and paseos dedicated to people whether it was culturally or historically,” said organizer of La Calle and creative strategist, Mateo Zapata. “I wanted to bring that tradition and practice as well.

Onlookers of all ages are stopping by to take photos with the freshly-painted murals.

@carniceria_maribel / Instagram

Quinceañeras, families and friends have stopped by the wall for their own picture with the singer-songwriter, lauding the art on social media with the natural geotag for Carnicera Maribel and the natural hashtag, #LaCalleSelena.

The art on the carniceria features Selena in her memorable Amor Prohibido cover outfit, sparkly purple jumpsuit and in her Grammy dress.

@__samanthaperez / Instagram

The paintings were all spray painted on brick.

Asend One, the artist, doesn’t typically work on pop culture icons, but when creative strategist Mateo Zapata approached him with the idea, he was all for it.

“What I wanted to bring with this mural is bring quality — not just a simple rendering of her,” said Asend, adding that he wanted spectators to “taste some Chicago Mexican food. Art is part of the culture and food is art too.”

Zapata used money from the nonprofit he founded, Inner City Culture, to commission the art in May and so began the process to complete five Selena murals across the street.

@ascend_one / Instagram

The mural was completed this August after about three months of work.

These Selena murals have attracted fans and created an influx of foot traffic and business for Carniceria Maribel.

@angmir / Instagram

Alejandro Banda, who is the incoming owner of the establishment and collaborated with Zapata on the inception of the project has noticed the increase of activity in this area since the mural was completed. His family business has been a part of the Pilsen community since the 1990s when his grandfather first opened the shop. The taqueria was a recent addition from just a few years back which Banda, who is in his mid-20s, has been managing.

“I grew up around the store,” Banda said. “It’s been the biggest part of my life and identity. You really get to get the sense of community at the store. Everyone comes around.

“At the heart of it, Carniceria Maribel really does know its meat and tacos. A taco al pastor y de asada and limonada you can get from the back is eaten at the no frills taqueria by the windows. (Photo Credit: Lyanne Alfaro)

Inside, you can purchase anything from your margarita mix to agua fresca to mouthwatering tacos al pastor.

@bigmichchicago / Instagram

Of course, the business would not be complete without a signature carniceria calendar hung on the wall as is typical to give to customers during the holiday season.

And while Carniceria Maribel may be receiving a healthy amount of business as of late, that is not the case for other small businesses in the area.

“We’ve been very fortunate,” Banda said. “But it’s still very disheartening to see a lot of friends and families I’ve known, move out of the neighborhood.”

The cost of living has risen in Pilsen, and the numbers for demographics show it. In the 1960s and 70s, Mexicans arrived in Pilsen in mass numbers. But in a decade alone from 2000 to 2010, the neighborhood lost more than 25 percent of its Latinx population, from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

There are also physical signs of Pilsen’s transformation like when a developer removed iconic cultural murals from the neighborhood’s historic Hispanic community center. Casa Aztlan was torn down to make room for new condos as reported by CityLab. Just last year, community members helped shut down a $52 tour spotlighting gentrification.

Zapata’s commissioned project is more than an art piece for the neighborhood, it’s a strategic way to combat gentrification, he says.

@angmir / Instagram

“Supporting your local business is a realistic (response to gentrification),” he said. “If people go to these corner stores instead of gentrified businesses, they will stay. I do think it could be an effective strategy to avoid displacement from our community.”

Meanwhile, Banda sees La Calle Selena as a way that Carniceria Maribel, an established family business is “adapting.”

A taco al pastor y de asada and limonada is served at the no frills taqueria by the windows.
Photo Credit: Lyanne Alfaro

He considers this crucial for small businesses to survive in addition to support from the local community.

“It gives us an opportunity to re-identify ourselves. It gives us an opportunity to change things up and make things better as a business,” he said.

Banda noted that having immigrants from Colombia and Venezuela as well as a Mexican family business participating in the project adds to the value of the project.

“The fulfillment I get from it has exceeded anything I could have imagined,” said Banda, “A project done by three Latinos of all different backgrounds.”

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