Starting in March, city-sponsored tours will offer a new view of Chicago’s Hispanic neighborhoods, including their wide cultural, historic and gastronomic offerings.
On March 17, the first public tour will be offered of the Pilsen and Little Village/La Villita neighborhoods, according to Cesar Sanchez, who works with the Chicago Office of Tourism and Culture.
“We’re going to visit Pilsen, we’re going to see the murals and see the National Museum of Mexican Art and afterwards we’re also going to La Villita to see the community and speak about its history and culture,” he told Efe.
These tours will be in addition to the 28 others that are already being run to different areas of Chicago, which is considered to be “the city of neighborhoods” for its 77 very diverse residential areas.
The Office of Tourism and Culture sponsors tours to the Polish and Chinese neighborhoods and has special trips that deal with architecture, labor history and even the metropolitan area’s best pubs and taverns.
Chicago lost 200,000 residents in the last decade, according to Census figures, while Hispanics were the only group that increased in number and now they comprise a third of the population.
Some 38 million people visit the Windy City each year, the Office of Tourism and Culture says.
And although the pride of Chicago are its skyscrapers and new public spaces such as Millennium Park, the neighborhoods are becoming more and more attractive for tourists who are seeking to get acquainted with cultural diversity.
“Each Chicago community has a different history,” Sanchez told Efe.
“In this case, the Mexican culture: we’re going to be visiting and speaking about the culture of the community that has been changing over the years and what we’re seeing here now are predominantly Mexicans,” he said.
La Villita still has not been discovered by foreign tourists, but immigrants come here from Iowa and Michigan to eat and enjoy themselves.
The La Villita Chamber of Commerce calculates that the area has more than 1,000 Hispanic-owned businesses and about 100 Mexican restaurants.
“We’re going to visit at least three different restaurants to let the visitor (experience) the taste of Pilsen and la Villita,” Sanchez said.
It is hoped that the tours will serve to renew interest in La Villita, where the recession caused many people to abandon the neighborhood and close their businesses.
At least that’s how street vendor Pedro Morales Ariano sees it. Each day he makes his living selling woven bracelets he makes himself.
“If more people come, perhaps they’ll buy more bracelets from me. Tourists like art a lot,” the 43-year-old Ariano said. “Many people who come here say that it’s like they were in Mexico. Sometimes the teachers bring the American kids in a bus and they buy bracelets from me with their name” on them.