An Echo of Pilsen: “The Call” Against the Chicago Plan 21

Chicago’s ethnically diverse neighborhoods are among the many characteristics that make the city so well-known.  However, the current demographics of Chicago neighborhoods are often considered to be a consequence of decades of gentrification.  While the city has a history of racial tension, businesses and politicians have undertaken many community development efforts, designed to alleviate tensions by improving living conditions and commerce within targeted neighborhoods.

PNCC Depiction of Chicago Plan 21Simply pouring money into low-income areas is not a long-term solution; many of these community development plans have been accused of exclusively promoting the interests of the middle- and upper-class.  For example, the Chicago Plan 21 was a proposal for urban renewal initiated in 1973 by Chicago business executives interested in creating new housing, developing business, and renovating the dozens of abandoned, ownerless buildings and plots in Pilsen and other South Loop neighborhoods.  At the time of the proposals creation, the Pilsen Neighbors Community Council (PNCC), a non-profit, grass roots, community organization dedicated to improving education, local industry, and the physical conditions of Pilsen, had already been in operation for nearly fifteen years.  The PNCC, already invested in stimulating community development in Pilsen, claimed that Plan 21 was not sincerely interested in urban renewal and that the plan would lead to the relocation of most families currently residing in Pilsen.

El LlmadoEL LLAMADO (The Call) was a PNCC-created document, detailing the Council’s position on the plan, which was printed both in Spanish (since the majority of Pilsen’s residents spoke Spanish) and in English.  This call to action contained encouraging words of solidarity: We can stop them if we organize – we’re the people…We elect them, pay their salaries, run their factories, buy their products – they live off us – we create their wealth and they take it from us.  This bilingual document is a small representation of the collection it comes from: the Teresa Fraga Papers.  Now you may be wondering: if all this information is about the Pilsen Neighbors Community Council (PNCC) and their struggle against Chicago Plan 21, who is Teresa Fraga and why did she have these documents.

Fight Plan 21
Bus carrying PNCC members to demonstrate against Chicago Plan 21.

Aside from being an active member of her community, Teresa Fraga twice served as President of the PNCC, first from 1976 to 1978 and again from 1989 to 1990.  But you may be surprised to learn that Fraga started her American life as a migrant worker in Texas before settling in Pilsen in the mid-1960s.  Once in Pilsen, Fraga was appalled by the urban decay and became worried that the negative elements present at the time (gang violence, poor schools, deteriorating infrastructure, etc.) were not suitable for raising her children.  Fraga then involved herself with community organizations, including the PNCC, the Benito Juarez High School Construction Committee, the Pilsen YMCA, the Gamaliel Organizing Institute, and many more.

Though this blog highlighted the Pilsen Neighbors Community Council’s bilingual document against Chicago Plan 21, the collection these materials come from covers a variety of other Pilsen concerns, such as the development of a high school in the neighborhood, and Fragas other social activist pursuits.

The Teresa Fraga Papers is one of DePaul’s archival collections created by organizations or individuals that document events and activities of Chicago’s Latino communities and we are highlighting this collection in celebration of National Hispanic Heritage Month.  For additional information about materials from the Teresa Fraga Papers or other Latino collections, contact Special Collections and Archives at archives@depaul.edu or stop by our department in the John T. Richardson Library, room 314.

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