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Pilsen Neighbors Celebrates 60 years, Plans New Office

Posted by: Gordon on 10/30/2014
4 images from PNCC fundraiser 10-2014
At Pilsen Neighbors' 60th anniversary Oct. 21, Juan Gabriel Moreno was among architects who displayed concepts for a new office building, Gov. Quinn presented a state proclamation, and several hundred partied and ate! At far right, PNCC Treasurer Teresa Fraga and organizer Fernando Rayas were among those who took pictures at the event. 

Last week Pilsen Neighbors Community Council celebrated its 60th anniversary with a party at the National Museum of Mexican Art that raised some $30,000 and unveiled an ambitious new goal: to create a new building for the organization.

The group has come a long way since its founding on the issue of garbage pick-up and rodent control in 1954.

“Prior to the late sixties, Pilsen Neighbors was more of a ‘help you neighbor, beautification organization,” says Teresa Fraga, now treasurer for PNCC, who joined in 1974. “I started when Inez Loredo, a PNCC leader, brought me in to the fight to build Benito Juarez High School.”

Currently PNCC's office at 2026 S. Blue Island Ave. is located across the street from Juarez, whose construction was one of the group's best known victories, in a small house that dates to the era of the New Homes for Chicago program, a community-development initiative that Pilsen Neighbors also helped pioneer.

The group long ago outgrew the small house where its staff of five run community organizing campaigns, support area service providers, and plan the organization's signature annual event, Fiesta del Sol, which draws 1.3 million people to Chicago's historic Latino and increasingly multicultural neighborhood at the end of July for a family-friendly music and community festival each year.

“It was Fiesta del Sol and the five-year organizing battle to build Benito Juarez that put PNCC and Pilsen on the map,” Fraga said. “The Chicago Board of Education was forced to deal with a community that would not take no for an answer. The Chicago 21 [gentrification] plan was stopped, the schools were rehabbed, and new ones were built.”

At the event Thursday, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, Chicago Ald. Danny Solis, longtime organization leader Carmen Velasquez, as well as a host of other elected officials and community leaders spoke to the achievements of Pilsen Neighbors over the years. Several architects unveiled concepts for a new Pilsen Neighbors office building that would include training space, meeting rooms, and offices for the organization as well as space that could be rented out for other community institutions. 

“I look back at the success of our organizing work, and can’t help but say ‘Now what?’” Fraga says. “This makes me go back to square one, like when I started as a young mother in 1974. We need to build relationships, talk to people, create a common vision, organize the people, organize the money and build power!”
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